Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Newbery Challenge

Nattie at Nattie Writes has issued a challenge to read 6 Newbery winners. Children's librarian me could not resist, especially since I haven't read nearly as many of them as I should. (Plus, I've already read 2 of them this year, so I'm counting 'em!)

1. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (2007)
2. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (2004)
3. Crispin: the cross of lead by Avi (2003)
4. Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1992)
5. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1991)
6. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

M is for...

Okay, so these aren't going to be in alphabetical order after all - sorry! Just too late in the game. But that's okay, these are both worth jumping ahead in the line!

My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli: the life of Angelica Cookson Potts by Cherry Whytock
Rating: 5 stars

This is the third book of Angel's adventures and I still love her! I want her life - living in Knightsbridge, around the corner from Harrod's, 3 best friends, always surrounded by delicious food... Of course, Angel, like me, has to constantly worry about her wobbly bits, but I have a feeling they're not as bad as she thinks.

In Ravioli, Angel, her parents, their housekeeper, Flossie, and Angel's 3 best buds are off on holiday to Italy. But Angel is pining for Sydney - he kissed her at the end of the last book, but she hasn't been able to get him to give her the time of day since, no matter how many heart-shaped cookies she leaves in his locker. And her glam, beauty-treatment-obsessed mother is acting very strangely - could she be having an affair? And Angel has to show off her aforementioned wobbly bits in a bikini on a beach full of Italian Stallions? Crumbs!

The Angel books are all quick, fun, delightful reads, accompanied by cartoony illustrations and with a yummy recipe at the end of each chapter. Super!

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Rating: 4 stars

DJ Schwenk's family is devoted to 2 things - their rundown Wisconsin dairy farm and football. With her father laid up with a hip injury, her mother throwing herself into her new job as a school principal, and her younger brother playing baseball all summer, running the farm basically falls to DJ. (Her older brothers, both football players, haven't spoken to her dad since a fight at Christmas.) DJ doesn't think much about it, she just gets on with the milking and mucking out. That is, until the coach of a rival football team (who is a friend of the family) sends Brian, a cocky quarterback, over to work on the farm to gain some muscle and discipline. At first DJ and Brian butt heads - she thinks he's lazy, he's used to girly-girl cheerleader types, plus their schools hate each other. But over the summer, they start to train together and become friends. And that's when DJ realizes there might be more to life than cows.

I enjoyed this book. There are lots of funny details, such as the cows all being named after male football players and Mr. Schwenk's disastrous yet tasty attempts at cooking. DJ is a very real character - she gets tongue-tied, says the wrong thing, and often feels really self-conscious. Brian, a snobby jock on the surface, turns out to be a good guy. Even the Schwenks' dog, Smut, has a personality all her own. (And, I confess, with my Minnesotan Husband, I have a soft spot for the Midwest.) This book is funny, smart, and a great getting-comfortable-in-your-own-skin story. The football and farming themes also make it unique, which is nice to see when so many (not all, mind you, there are still some great ones) of the chick lit books coming across my desk all seem to basically be the same fashion/Hollywood/mean girls story.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A is for...

Let's see if I can get a bit more organized and start from the beginning, if I can remember back that far. Here are the A's for the Alphabet Challenge.

The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Rating: 2 1/2 stars

Gosh, I read this one in about January 2006 because I got it for Christmas. Being an Anglophile myself, I put it on my wish list. Plus, although I've gone off them a bit, I used to read the Red Dress Ink books very faithfully.

Shari Diamond is the titular Anglophile. Her other passion in life is her doctoral thesis on Volapuk, a lost language. She meets Kit at a linguistics conference in Chicago and not only is he a British dreamboat, he's a Volapuk scholar who has basically already presented her dissertation topic. Despite that, Shari is smitten and jets off to stay with Kit in London. Honestly, I don't remember a lot about this one, except that things get a bit odd from there, with Shari getting really mistrustful and weird about Kit. I could relate to her Anglophilia and things turned out okay in the end, but I remember being a bit dissatisfied with this one.


Bad Manors by Lisa Armstrong
Rating: 3 stars

When single mum Cat inherits Butley Manor, a rundown health farm (from an unknown benefactor), she's delighted by the thought of leaving her management consultant job and living an idyllic rural life in Dorset with her daughter. But Butley is falling apart and the only clientele left are eccentric old folks who rarely pay their bills. Before leaving London, Cat began a relationship with her flash, handsome colleague Toby Marks and he promises to help her bring the spa back to life. But Toby's polar opposite half-brother is the other owner of the health farm and he has to approve all of the modernizing plans. Twists, turns, sabotage and romance follow.

I took this one on vacation to Scotland in May 2006. It was a fun British fluff read, good for a holiday. Plus, who could resist such a bad pun of a title? It wasn't as quite predictable as you'd except from the genre, which was a plus. Cat's emerging love for Butley and her heroic attempts to save made me really like her and want her to succeed. Extra colour and interest come from the permanent residents of Butley and the local townspeople, including the flamboyant and fun gay couple who own the local pub.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review: Girl From the South

I haven't done many reviews in a long time, I need to get caught up. I'm actually not a very good reviewer, I get too caught up in the details. But here's an alphabet challenge one I did when I first started.

Title: Girl From the South
Author: Joanna Trollope
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Review: I've always meant to read some Joanna Trollope and the Alphabet Challenge gave me the push - T is for Trollope! (That sounds like a cross between Sue Grafton and a ye olde fashioned erotic novel!)

I've always associated her with being a quintessentially English writer, but what do I find when I read my first JT book? Most of it is set in America! (Okay, the title sort of gave that away.) Not that I minded, I'm still very much loving Southern-themed books and this one combines Charleston (where I'm dying to go) with London (where I'm dying to return). Gillon Stokes is the titular girl from the South, but she's not a Southern belle. Her macho brother Cooper loves to tease Gillon for her different ways (of course, Cooper has a huge debt and is actually unhappy with his life). Gillon's sister Ashley is a perfect Southern wife (beautiful, a wonderful hostess, always smiling) and her grandmama Sarah is a very typical Southern matriarch (the city of Charleston and her memories of the past are her life), but Gillon doesn't fit in. She's neither a career woman like her psychiatrist mother Martha or a wife like Ashley - she flits from one low-paying job in the art world to another and often leaves Charleston, but always comes back.

When Gillon's internship at a small Charleston gallery ends, her boss tells her about a job with an art conservator in England and before she knows it, she's living in a dank hostel in London and working as a researcher in the conservator's backyard studio - steps away from his bratty children and filthy house. Gillon meets Tilly at a party for the small arts magazine where Tilly works and the girls hit it off. Tilly invites Gillon to move into her flat with her and her boyfriend, Henry, a not-too-successful wildlife photographer. Henry and Tilly are reaching a crisis point - Tilly wants to get married, Henry doesn't and neither of them know what to do. One day Gillon describes Charleston's wetlands to Henry and spontaneously semi-invites him, saying her father would love to show him around. This is the catalyst Henry needs - just as Tilly has decided to leave him because she can't stand their inertia anymore, he leaves her first and goes home with Gillon, who's horrified to have hurt Tilly, even by accident.

Henry adores Charleston and Gillon's welcoming family. Henry has a sister he's friendly but not close with and a mother who turned to bitterness after Henry's father left. Also, his photographic creativity is fired by the birds and landscape of the South. A bit predictably, Henry and Gillon get together while Tilly is suffering back in London and sort of getting together with Henry's best friend William.

Things wrap up quite nicely but not too perfectly at the end, with Tilly being okay and not dependent on a man for her happiness, Henry and Gillon falling in love their way, without any stifling demands, and Gillon learns a lot about her family and that they're not as perfect as they seem, but they're still hers and she loves them.

Family is, obviously, a big theme in this book. Gillon's relationship with hers improves over the course of the book - they stop viewing her as a misfit (although they wish she'd settle down and stay in Charleston) and actually start realizing she's an important part of their lives, rather than the black sheep. Henry and Tilly both come from dysfunctional families but they reconnect with them - Henry gains a new appreciation for his sister, who shares his experience with their bitter mother and absent father and Tilly re-connects with her rather self-centred but loving mother. Gillon will always come back to Charleston and our families will always be our families.

Another theme is choices. The late 20/early 30-something characters are shown as having so many choices they can't decide on anything (they're all floundering because they're searching for a perfect mate, job, place to live). Those who do make choices are unhappy with them. Tilly has been with Henry and in the same job for a decade and neither is making her happy anymore. Ashley chose the role of ideal wife but when she becomes a mother, she finds herself in a situation she can't handle perfectly, and feels ashamed. The older generation had fewer choices, bound by tradition and their roles in society. Grandmama Sarah reveals that perhaps marrying the first man who asked her wasn't the best plan. Gillon's mother Martha chose to defy tradition by focusing on her pyschiatric practice rather than her family and this decision is starting to wear thin with her husband, Boone.

I found it a good read, especially since I'm in my Southern phase. It didn't set me on fire or anything, but it was an enjoyable story. I'll definitely read more of Joanna Trollope to see what I've been missing all this time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Southern Challenge

And here's the Southern Challenge! This one's fairly quick (thank goodness!) - between June and August read 3 books by Southern authors with Southern settings. I love Southern lit, so I was game. 2 of the books were already on my to be read list, anyway!

  1. Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson (Georgia)
  2. Miss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann B. Ross (North Carolina)
  3. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (Kentucky)

Something About Me Challenge

Here's another one, the Something About Me Challenge.

The goal is to pick 5 books that represent you in some way, post them on the Something About Me blog, and then choose from others' booklists about them. A fun way to learn about yourself and others in the blogosophere. And from my list I think we can learn that I'm not very deep, they're all light books. But I suppose that is actually something about me - I figure there's enough hard, sad stuff in life without reading about it in my leisure time.

See what else you can glean about me from these...

Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik
I belong to a book club of great women, like the ladies in this book. And this was one of the few books that all of our members really enjoyed. Also, it's set in Minnesota, which is where my husband's from and I love visiting there every summer.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My childhood favourite! I really identified with Anne (and still do) - I was adopted, I had a big imagination and loved to read, and I hated my name. I even had puffed sleeves on my graduation dress (looking back, a fashion mistake but I loved it at the time). And as I read the sequels and got older, I developed a literary crush on Gilbert Blythe.

Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
Ah, the mother of all chick lit! I love Bridget - her calorie-counting, her "v. goods" and "v. bads," her embarassing moments... Like her, I feared that I'd die alone and be eaten by an Alsatian. I'm also a huge Anglophile, so I really enjoy the Britishness of Bridge. (Again, literary crush material in Mark Darcy, who is almost as crushable as the original Pride and Prejudice Darcy.)

Lucy Crocker 2.0 by Caroline Preston
Not one of my all-time faves, a fun enough read. I chose this one because Lucy is a former children's librarian and she designs a popular video game. I love computer games (particularly the Sims and EverQuest) and I'm a children's librarian, so there you are. (I fortunately don't have all of the troubles Lucy has with her husband and kids, though.)

The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks
Hilarious!! Lileks is a (sadly former) columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and also an avid collector of old books, postcards, pamphlets, etc. Husband and I started out laughing at them on his web site ( and were delighted when he started turning them into books. In this one, he comments on horrifying recipes from 50's cookbooks. There's lots of gelatine, hard-boiled eggs made to look like penguins, and the choice between "cheesy meat dishes" or "meaty cheese dishes."

Alphabet Challenge

This is the first challenge I embarked on, back in 2006. I haven't quite completed it yet, alas, but I'm almost there. I found it at Karen's Insane Rants.

It's a 2-parter. First, read an author new to you whose last name starts with each letter of the alphabet. Part 2 is to read a book with a title starting with each letter of the alphabet.

Part 1 - Authors A-Z

A Armstong, Lisa - Bad Manors
B Barker, Bradley (& Hepler, Heather) - Scrambled Eggs at Midnight

C Cox, Jennifer - Around the World in 80 Dates
D Didion, Joan - The Year of Magical Thinking
E Evanovich, Janet - One For The Money
F Fforde, Jasper - The Big Over Easy
G Galant, Debra - Rattled
H Harper, Karen - The Queene's Christmas
I Ireland, Liz - Three Bedrooms in Chelsea
J Jaffe, Rona - The Room-Mating Season
K King, Cassandra - The Same Sweet Girls
L Lowe, Steve (& MacArthur, Alan) - Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?
M Murdock, Catherine Gilbert - Dairy Queen
N Noble, Elizabeth - Alphabet Weekends
O Olson, Shannon - Welcome to my Planet
P Palmer, Liza - Conversations With The Fat Girl
Q Quick, Amanda - Wicked Widow
R Rankin, Ian - Fleshmarket Close
S Shulman, Polly - Enthusiasm
T Trollope, Joanna - The Girl From The South

U Urquhart, Jane - A Map of Glass
V Vail, Rachel - If We Kiss
W Wolitzer, Hilma - Summer Reading
X Xol, Eduardo - Home Sense
Y Yaccato, Bruce - Screen Legends
Zadoorian, Michael - Second Hand

Part 2 - Titles A-Z

A The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
B Bombshell by Lynda Curnyn
C Chloe Does Yale by Natalie Krinsky
D Digging to America by Anne Tyler
E Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
F Faking 19 by Alyson Noel

G Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner
H Hazing Meri Sugarman by M. Apostolina
I It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod Murder by Rosemary Martin
J Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
K Kiss Me Quick by Julie Highmore
L Love, Cajun Style by Diane Les Becquets
M My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli by Cherry Whytock
N Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
O The Other Woman by Jane Green
P Playing James by Sara Mason
Q The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
R Rococo by Adriana Trigiani
S The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
T Tongue in Cheek by Fiona Walker
U Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
V Valiant by Holly Black
W The Wives of Bath by Wendy Holden
X The Xenocide Mission by Benjamin Jeapes

Y A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Z Zara by Mary Hooper

(I gave up trying to review them all since I only just started this blog, But ones with reviews are in red, check the Alphabet Challenge label for the reviews as it was too frustrating to try and add them after I already had the list done.)

A new blog!

Welcome to my second blog, The Tiny Little Reading Room. I've started so many reading challenges recently that I thought they needed their own space.

Here you'll find the challenges I'm doing and the reviews I'm writing for them, as well as other book-related stuff.

For my main blog of library tales, visit Tiny Little Librarian.