Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Triple 8 Challenge Wrap-Up

Wow, what a year of reading it's been! And this challenge accounted for a lot of that reading! Thanks so much to 3M for hosting it.

The final list (it changed a lot over the year, though the categories remained the same). I started out with overlaps but managed in the end not to have a single one, woo!

1. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
2. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
3. Real Vampires Have Curves by Gerry Bartlett
4. Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
5. Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
6. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
7. Marked by PC Cast
8. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: 8th Grade Bites by Heather Brewer

Titles with Numbers
1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
2. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham
3. The Three Miss Margarets by Louise Shaffer
4. The Perfectly True Tales of a Perfect Size 12 by Robin Gold
5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
6. One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
7. Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro
8. One Dangerous Lady by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
2. Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
3. Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy
4. Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney
5. Food and Loathing: a life measured out in calories by Betsy Lerner
6. Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark
7. Dear Sad Goat: a Roundup of Truly Canadian Tales and Letters compiled by Bill Richardson
8. Gastroanomalies by James Lileks

1. The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi
2. Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews
3. The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel by Jill Conner Browne
4. Miss Julia Throws a Wedding by Ann B. Ross
5. Miss Julia Takes Over by Ann B. Ross
6. Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not really) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey
7. My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle
8. Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton

Historical Fiction
1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
2. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
3. The Bad Behaviour of Belle Cantrell by Loraine Despres
5. Star-Crossed by Linda Collison
6. Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
7. Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
8. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Set in New York
1. The Perfect Manhattan by Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey
2. The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine
3. Breakfast at Bloomingdale's by Kristen Kemp
4. Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson
5. Ten Things to do Before I Die by Daniel Ehrenhaft
6. The Art of Undressing by Stephanie Lehmann
7. Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein
8. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

1. Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris
2. Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Militant Midwives by Michael Bond
3. Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews
4. Over Her Dead Body by Kate White
5. Piece of my Heart by Peter Robinson
6. Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo
7. Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
8. Till the Cows Come Home by Judy Clemens

New-to-me Authors
1. Cease to Blush by Billie Livingston
2. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
3. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
4. The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans
5. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney
6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
7. Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner
8. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

I feel like a wrap-up should have some final thoughts, let's see...

My faves in each category are in italics, but that doesn't mean I didn't really enjoy most of the books.

Least favourite book: Food and Loathing by Betsy Lerner

Favourite category: Southern - I knew that going in! :-)

Surprising category: Mysteries - I've always thought I wasn't a mystery person, but it turns out there were a lot I wanted to read and I really enjoyed all but one of them.

Least favourite category: Nonfiction - I also knew that going in. But it was good to branch out. And I'd forgotten how much fun humour nonfiction can be, I'll definitely be seeking out more of it to give me some much-needed laughter.

That's it! It was really fun to undertake such a big challenge this year and I'm proud of myself for finishing it.

Review: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper
3 stars

Reasons for reading: thought it would be a good one to be able to tell the library kids about; last Vampire book and the last book for the Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "Twins, Connor and Grace, never dreamed that there was any truth to the Vampirate shanty their father sang to them before he died, but that was before the two were shipwrecked and separated from each other. For Connor, who is taken aboard a pirate ship, there's the chance to learn to swordfight, but for Grace, aboard a mysterious ship of vampire pirates, the danger is great. What will it take for them to find each other?"

My thoughts: This has definite kid appeal. I mean, two of the coolest things out there combined? What more could you want. I see there are now 4 books in this series, so I'm glad to have read the first one. I enjoyed the swashbuckling bits and thought the bond between Connor and Grace was great. The book had a slightly odd feel to it for me, I can't quite put my finger on it - probably because it was set in 2025, yet it had an 18th century feel to it. I liked that the pirate ship's crew was made up of both men and women.

You can really tell this is the first book in a longer series, as it asks more questions than it answers. I don't know if I'm invested enough to read them all, but I'm glad to know what the series is about.

Review: Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
4 stars

Reasons for reading: lots of people I know loved it; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge; Alex Award-winner for the Book Awards Challenge

Description: "Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
Jacob was there because his luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act—in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival."

My thoughts: At first I wasn't 100% sold on this book, I wasn't sure I liked the alternating past and future chapters and I'm not really a circus person. But it came together at the end thanks to some literary sleight of hand from the beginning and the actual ending itself. That sent it right up to 4 stars and I could see why my friends enjoyed it so much.

Gruen clearly really researched circus life and I was really pleased to discover in her author's note that some of the incidents were inspired by real circus elephants. I loved her opening quote from Horton Hears a Who, "I meant what I said, and I said what I elephant's faithful - one hundred percent!" Rosie the elephant is as much a character as any of the human beings. The old photos at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch. The brutality of circus life was quite shocking in some parts and the reality of life during the Depression came across clearly.

I thought she did a good job of writing from an elderly man's point of view and there were some really sad but well-done moments that demonstrated what it's like to get old, particularly that you still feel like yourself, but your body has changed almost beyond recognition and people don't treat you like an adult any more.

An interesting book with a great ending, and an elephant!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: a Slightly Tarnished Southern Belle's Words of Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Nonfiction for Triple 8 Challenge; it's Southern; saw a good review on someone's blog (leave a comment if it was yours! :-) )

Description: "Celia Rivenbark is an intrepid explorer and acid commentator on the land south of the Mason-Dixon Line. In this collection of screamingly funny essays, you'll discover:
* How to get your kid into a character breakfast at Disney World (or run the risk of eating chicken out of a bucket with Sneezy)
* Secrets of Celebrity Moms (don't hate them because they're beautiful when there are so many other reasons)
* Ebay addiction and why "It ain't worth having if it ain't on Ebay."
*Why today's children's clothes make six-year-olds look like Vegas showgirls with an abundance of anger issues
*And so much more!
Celia Rivenbark's essays about life in today's South are like caramel popcorn---sweet, salty, and utterly irresistible."

My thoughts: This was a fun and funny book of essays that helped keep me sane during an almost 2-hour wait for a doctor's appointment. I liked the Southern-ness of it, particularly the one on how to speak Southern. And I completely agree with the title essay - six-year-olds definitely shouldn't be dressed as sexily as they are these days. Rivenbark is a keen observer of everyday life with a biting wit. I'll definitely be looking into her other collections.

Review: Down the Nile

Down the Nile: alone in a fisherman's skiff by Rosemary Mahoney
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: book club; late Nonfiction entry for Triple 8 Challenge

Description (from Publishers Weekly): "...the reader is taken on a great trip with an erudite travel companion soaking up scads of history, culture and literary knowledge, along with the scenery. The genesis for the trip is simple: the author's love of rowing. Her plan, "to buy a small Egyptian rowboat and row myself along the 120-mile stretch of river between the cities of Aswan and Qena," is less so. Mahoney (The Singular Pilgrim; Whoredom in Kimmage) conveys readers along the longest river in the world, through narrative laced with insight, goodwill and sometimes sadness. Mahoney's writing style is conversational, her use of metaphor adept. She cleverly marshals the writings of numerous river travelers but focuses on "two troubled geniuses": Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert. The device allows readers a backward glance at the Edwardian travel accoutrements of sumptuous riverside dinners, staggering supplies of alcohol and food, trunks of books and commodious accommodations. The physical environment is demanding. "When I removed my hat, the sun had made the top of my head sting... it was like having a freshly baked nail driven into one's skull." Yet her biggest obstacle isn't the climate but the slippery hurdles of culture and sex. Whether struggling to buy a boat, visiting historic Luxor or rowing, innocent encounters become sticky psychological and philosophical snares."

My thoughts: This is a late entry because I'm just not going to finish the last nonfiction book on my list in time, so I substituted this one, since I realized it was a nonfiction book read during the challenge period. I read it in the summer, so my memory's a bit fuzzy, but it definitely wasn't one of my favourites. The Edwardian parts got a bit long (though I did learn that Florence Nightingale was quite a remarkable and interesting woman and Flaubert a whiny little thing who wanted his mama) and I have no real interest in Egypt, so that didn't help.

But the whole journey seemed rather pointless to me. It took her as long to get a rowboat as it did to row down the small part of the Nile she traveled. Plus, she wasn't alone, she had to have a man in a boat follow her before she could go at all. Her determination to do it seemed misplaced to me, rather like the answer, "Because it's there." about climbing a mountain, which I've never found convincing. She didn't seem to enjoy it much. And the book ended very suddenly, with her going home rather depressed. She did have a good quote from (I think) Flaubert about being glad to go home at the end of a trip (I've definitely felt that, you sometimes do just want it to be over with if it's been a long journey) but the whole thing left me wondering why I'd had to read about it if she hadn't even enjoyed it firsthand.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: The Tea Rose

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: had been on the TBR list a while; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge

First line: "Polly Nichols, a Whitechapel whore, was profoundly grateful to gin."

Description: "East London, 1888-a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger's son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.

But Fiona's life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan's tea trade. But Fiona's old ghosts do not rest quietly, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future."

My thoughts: This was just my kind of book! Nice and long to sink your teeth into, an interesting historical setting, romance, rags-to-riches, revenge... Publishers Weekly sums it up well: "Donnelly indulges in delightfully straightforward storytelling in this comfortably overstuffed novel."

The tea industry and Jack the Ripper elements added even more interest (although the latter is pretty grisly). Fiona is a great character - spirited, resilient, smart and, of course, beautiful. The settings, from East London to Covent Garden to both the common and the glittering areas of New York City are really well drawn. A lot happens, but it doesn't get confusing and even though I knew that Joe and Fiona would eventually get together, I held my breath for them every time it seemed about to happen.

A super read, highly recommended. I've got the sequel, The Winter Rose, all queued up and I can't wait to start it!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review: Star-Crossed

Star-Crossed by Linda Collison
3 stars

Reasons for reading: looked interesting; liked the cover; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge

Summary (from School Library Journal): "Patricia Kelley is the bold heroine of this 18th-century seafaring saga. Left with debts after her father's death, the teen leaves her English boarding school to claim her Barbados plantation. She stows away on a merchant ship, but is soon discovered and threatened with expulsion at the nearest port. The ship's surgeon intervenes and she becomes skilled as a nurse, but finds joy only in her nightly visits on deck when she wears sailor's clothes and learns to climb the ropes. She longs to be with Brian Dalton, the bosun's mate, but he is beneath her socially. In Barbados, Patricia finds that she has no home, and she agrees to the surgeon's marriage proposal. Part two depicts their growing relationship and the work they do to combat yellow fever. Part three finds Patricia a penniless widow and shipwreck victim. Disguised as a man, she signs on as an assistant surgeon on a frigate bound for battle in Havana and is reunited with Brian."

My thoughts: This was a good, well-researched story with many details about 18th century medicine, history, and ships. I confess I got a bit bogged down with all of the references to the different types of sails, etc., but it turns out there's a handy glossary in the back, which would've been good to have seen beforehand. I found the medical and historical details more interesting.

Patricia is very unlikable at first, which was a bit off-putting, but she develops as the story progresses and she realizes that her expectations are not going to come to fruition and she must make a new life for herself. All of the characters are quite well-done, especially Dr. MacPherson, the kind, sometimes gruff bagpiping ship's surgeon who becomes Patricia's husband.

This is definitely a book for high school readers, as there are many references to prostitution, sex, birth control, and lots of graphic details about the illnesses and injuries Patricia has to deal with. (I never need to read the words "bloody flux" again!)

Overall, a good historical story with elements of sea-faring and female empowerment.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Young Adult Challenge Wrap-Up

Finished! Thanks to Joy for hosting it!

My books were:

1.Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
2.Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
3.10 Things to do Before I Die by Daniel Ehrenhaft
4.The Poison Apples by Lily Archer
5.Aurelia by Anne Osterlund
6.Derby Girl by Shauna Cross
7.Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
8.Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling
9.The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
10.Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee
11.Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
12.Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Favourite: Ooo, that's a toughie. But I gave the highest marks, 4.5 stars to Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List and I'd say it's my fave - the characters, the writing, the Buffy references, the two-author technique...I loved it all. I'd say the runner-up is Artichoke's Heart because I could really relate to it and because I found Suzanne Supplee a fresh new voice on the YA scene.

Least favourite: Aurelia. Not because it was bad, but I'd already read Fairest and Princess Academy, which were good, and I'd had enough of the princess/ye olde fairy tale setting thing. 10 Things To Die Before I Die was at the bottom, too, because too much was squeezed into a short book and the ending was too After School Special-ish.

Overall, though, I didn't hate any of the books and didn't give any of them less than 3 stars. This was a perfect challenge for me, as I read YA all the time and am always finding new ones to add to the TBR list as I order them for the library. I'm looking forward to the 2009 one already!

Review: 'Tis the Season

'Tis the Season by Lorna Landvik
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I love Lorna Landvik; it's Christmas!

Description: "Heiress Caroline Dixon has managed to alienate nearly everyone with her alcohol-fueled antics, which have also provided near-constant fodder for the poison-pen tabloids and their gossip-hungry readers. But like so many girls-behaving-badly, the twenty-six-year-old socialite gets her comeuppance, followed by a newfound attempt to live a saner existence, or at least one more firmly rooted in the real world. As Caro tentatively begins atoning for past misdeeds, she reaches out to two wonderful people who years ago brought meaning to her life: her former nanny, Astrid Brevald, now living in Norway and Arizona dude ranch owner, Cyril Dale. While Astrid fondly remembers Caro as a special, sweet little girl left in her charge, Cyril recalls how he and his late wife were quite taken with the quick-witted teenager Caro had become when she spent a difficult period in her life at the ranch as her father was dying.
In a series of e-mail exchanges, Caro reveals the depth of her pain and the lengths she went to hide it. In turn, Astrid and Cyril share their own stories of challenging times and offer the unconditional support this young woman has never known. The correspondence leads to the promise of a reunion, just in time for Christmas. But the holiday brings unexpected revelations that change the way everyone sees themselves and one another."

My thoughts: I like letter/e-mail books and I like books where the characters end up being connected in ways they weren't aware of (although I'm often confused at first, while trying to figure out the connections). Caro could be any one of today's celebutantes, but she manages to get herself together with the help of Astrid and Cyril, which shows how important it is to have even one or two people who really care about your well-being. The beginning, with Caro's antics and the hate she generates in those around her, is pretty funny and the rest moves between funny and sweet, with a bit of sadness thrown in.

A very quick read and perfect for the holiday season. Perfect for the holiday season - I read it in about 2 hours, between 11:30 and 1:30, when I was supposed to have visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. That's my fave thing about being on vacation, being able to stay up reading! Add this one to your holiday reading list (although, at this late date, maybe for next year!).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: The Stupidest Angel

The Stupidest Angel: a heartwarming tale of Christmas terror by Christopher Moore
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Christmas book for Every Month is a Holiday Challenge; Christopher Moore is hilarious

First line: "Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe."

Description (from Publishers Weekly): "Sleepy Pine Cove, Calif., is abuzz with Christmas spirit, but Lena Marquez is fed up with her despicable ex-husband, Dale Pearson. On his way home from playing Santa Claus at the local lodge, Dale spies sneaky Lena uprooting his Monterey pines; he pulls a gun on her, she lashes out with a shovel and—oops!—kills him. Seven-year-old Josh Barker, thinking he's just seen the murder of Santa, prays for a miracle to save Christmas. To Lena's rescue comes Tucker Case, a slimy, reformed Casanova and DEA pilot, who gives her an alibi and sweeps her off her feet. The marijuana-cultivating town constable, Theo Crowe, suspects foul play, but Tucker intervenes with a blackmail scheme to keep the crime buried. Meanwhile, there's a new arrival in town: the glowingly blond Archangel Raziel (last seen in Lamb) has come "dirtside" on a "miracle mission" involving Josh's wish and reviving the town's dearly departed. Pine Cove's biggest challenge surfaces as comically reanimated zombies begin to rise and feast on the living, and a huge El Niño–induced storm swirls."

My thoughts: Christmas zombies! Need I say more? This was a hoot. I think my favourite character was Theo's Xena-inspired B-list actress wife Molly, who's gone off her anti-psychotics to be able to afford Theo's present and the voice in her head is starting to cause some trouble. And that situation is right out of The Gift of the Magi - Molly gives up her meds to buy Theo a blown-glass bong (even though he's supposedly quit) and Theo starts growing pot to buy his warrior princess a her a samurai sword.

Another amusing bit was the Christmas Amnesty theory - that you can show up at the house of someone you haven't spoken to in ages with a present and they have to overlook the past - was satirical but totally true.

It's just funny. Underneath all the weirdness, zombies, and biting wit, there's a good dose of Christmas love in there. A terrific alternative to sugar-cookie sweet holiday stories.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Orbis Terrarum Challenge Finished!

I did it, I read 9 books by 9 authors from 9 countries between April 1st and today!

1. Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani (Lebanon)
2. Indie Girl by Kavita Daswani (Hong Kong)
3. Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (Canada)
4. Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy (Ireland)
5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (England)
6. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran)
7. Theft: a love story by Peter Carey (Australia)
8. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (Germany)
9. Silk by Alessandro Baricco (Italy)

Favourite: On Beauty by Zadie Smith because it gave me a lot to think about and had some really well-written and witty sections.

Least favourite: Persepolis because I'm not really a graphic novel gal

Overall thoughts: This was a good challenge for me, as it helped me read outside my usual comfort zones. I never would have read Theft or Silk without it. And while they weren't my favourite reads of the year, it was good to stretch myself a bit. (I'm particularly glad to now know about Peter Carey, as he seems like quite the extraordinary author, I may read his Oscar and Lucinda.) I don't know if it'll change my reading habits a lot, as it did confirm my belief that reading for pleasure shouldn't feel like work, and a few of these did. But a few mind-stretchers out of 100-odd books in a year isn't a bad thing at all!

Thanks to B&b at Ex Libris for hosting it!

Review: Fashionably Late

Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani
3 stars

Reason for reading: Lebanese author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Summary (from Publishers Weekly): "Plucky, 20-something, Lebanese-Canadian Aline Hallaby has a promising career at one of Montreal's "Big Four" accounting firms; a marriage proposal from her nice (if unexciting) boyfriend; and a closet filled with Cavalli, Chloe, and Christian Louboutin. When she fails her final professional certification exam, the once-dutiful Arab girl plunges headlong into a quarter-life crisis, fleeing to Cuba for a week of heady rebellion (mojitos, men, participation in a beauty pageant) with her two closest friends. There, Ali is forced to decide if she will continue to live according to the expectations of her traditional Muslim parents, or chase her own dreams."

First line: "You know you have a shitty job when your clients would rather slit their own throats than return your phone calls."

My thoughts: This was chick lit with a bit more substance. And with ethnicity, amazingly - most chick lit I've read is mighty darn white, apart from Kavita Daswani, who I also read for this challenge. And also, it's set in Canada, another rare thing. It's funny, I'm more taken aback by Canadian references in chick lit (to loonies, our $1 coins and Canadian chain stores, for example) than I am to American or British ones, simply because I hardly ever see them. It's neat to come across them, though. Ali's struggles with what she wants to do with her life are typical for the genre and so are her issues with her family, although the very traditional Muslim family adds another layer to the typical mother-daughter conflicts in chick lit. And, of course, there are references to the racism Muslims face post-911.

In addition to the Montreal setting and the Lebanese community, the book also explores Cuba, particularly the divide between what the North American toursits see and what life there is actually like.

But I have to say, maybe I'm getting a bit old for chick lit, because I found myself thinking, "Oh, poor, poor pitiful beautiful, fit, fashionable, healthy, well-educated you, Ali!" a fair bit. She seems pretty Gen-X-ish - obsessed with fashion and rather a slacker. Harder-working than many due to pressure from her parents, but she's stunned when she gets called on her at-work Internet surfing and inappropriate business attire. But then, that's what 20-something chick lit is about and finding love and a career are valid issues, if a bit hard to stomach when you're older, married, and definitely not wearing midriff-baring tops to the club on the weekend (not that I ever did!). Maybe I need to hurry up and have a baby so I can start relating to chick lit's older sister, mommy lit.

I did find the book a bit long - there seemed like a few times where it could have ended quite nicely and then kept on going. But I did like the conclusion with Ali triumphing over the scary women at her accounting firm and finding her true career passion and the right guy (as you knew she would). And, as PW say in their review, Dajani's wit and warmth shine through, both of which are welcome.

Apparently Dajani has a new book out about Ali's cousin Ranya, who is duped into marrying a gay guy because he's wealthy Muslim boy from a good family. I might give that one a try. For chick lit with a few twists, she's worth a read.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Themed Reading Challenge

Okay, I just said I wasn't going to join any more challenges, but I did this one this year and it was fun, so I want to do it again! :)

Here's how it works:

Books should be chosen from the reader’s TBR pile (this may be an actual physical pile or a virtual pile).
The goal is to read 4 to 6 books linked by theme.
Overlaps with other challenges are allowed.
Readers may change their list of books at any time.
Readers may choose three different levels of participation:
- Read at least 4 books with the same theme.
- Read at least 5 books that share at least TWO themes.
- Read at least 6 books that share MORE than two themes.

Caribousmom is hosting it again. Sign-up and more details are here.

My theme is Sisters. It's pretty generic, but I have quite a few with that tag on my LibraryThing TBR list, so sisters it is.

1. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
2. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

3. Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
4. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Three Girls and Their Brother by Theresa Lebeck
Glitz by Louise Bagshawe (overlap with Celebrate the Author Challenge)
Jars of Glass by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler (overlap with YA Challenge)
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle

Support Your Local Library Challenge

J Kaye's got yet another challenge! It's got three levels:
** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

Now, 98% of my books come from the library where I work, so I won't be joining this one (I think I've almost reached my challenge limit, anyway). BUT I wanted to highlight this one for everyone else because, hello, librarian here - it's part of my life's work to support anything library-related! :)

This sounds like a great one, so check it out here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: The Art of Undressing

The Art of Undressing by Stephanie Lehmann
3 stars

Reasons for reading: 2 of our circulation staff recommended it for a quickie read; last New York book for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "Ginger's mother, Coco, used to be an exotic dancer, though now she makes her living selling sex toys and teaching classes like "The Fine Art of Striptease." A straitlaced, self-respecting twenty-five-year-old, aspiring pastry chef Ginger has no desire to follow in her mother's high-heeled footsteps. She's too busy trying to convince her sadistic French cooking school instructor of her talents in the kitchen. When Ginger gets sweet on a fellow student, she finds herself ill-equipped in the art of seduction. And when she discovers she has a reputation for being "just one of the guys," suddenly, she's looking for some motherly advice on how to catch the man she loves."

First line: "So you all think I'm a whore!"

My thoughts: This was pretty predictable chick lit. Though published in 2005 it felt really dated to me, from the heyday of cardio striptease classes and the Sex and the City gals making the rabbit vibrator famous. Ginger seems like the typical chick lit heroine - not sure where to go with her career or love life, insecure, issues with her mom... No real surprises. Ginger's jealousy both as a child and an adult of the attention paid to her mother by men was kind of disturbing (I can see the jealousy over the enhanced breasts and sexy attitude, but she also seems jealous about anyone, client or boyfriend, that spends time with her mother). A quick read and not a bad one, but definitely further proof that I'm over my generic chick lit phase.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Seconds Challenge 2009

Another challenge run by J. Kaye - yay! The sign-up page is here.

Here are the guidelines:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need to have a blog to participate.
2. Read 12 books by authors that you have only read once. It doesn't have to be a series.
3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009. Don't start reading until January. 4. You may list your chosen books any time during the year. Change the list if needed.

I really need this one, I started so many series this year! (Not that they have to be in a series, but I think most of mine will be.)

Here's my in-progress list:

1. Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever by James Patterson
2. Murder with Puffins by Donna Andrews

3. Three Can Keep a Secret by Judy Clemens
4. Grounds for Murder by Sandra Balzo
5. Season of Ice by Diane Les Becquets
6. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
7. The Dead and the Gone by Mary Beth Pfeffer
8. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
9. Betrayed by PC Cast
10. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
11. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
12. Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Breakfast at Bloomingdale's

Breakfast at Bloomingdale's by Kristen Kemp
3 stars

Reasons for reading: has been on the TBR list for a while; New York book for Triple 8 Challenge

Description (from Children's Literature): "A teenage girl's grandmother passes away before she is able to help her transition to life in New York City as a budding fashion designer, and so the protagonist, whose own mother has no sense of how to parent, must go to the city alone and make her way without a high school diploma, without a guardian, and without her sewing machine."

First line: "As most of you know, my grandmother and I were like conjoined twins - so what if we were fifty-eight years apart."

My thoughts:
The premise is a good and trendy one in this post-Project Runway world - Cat (not her real name) runs away from upstate New York to the Big Apple to enter a design-for-Bloomingdale's contest after her beloved grandmother Nina dies. Her mother is a seriously dysfunctional psychologist and Cat's boyfriend decides at the last minute not to go with her. She has to make her way in the scary city, which she does by somehow charming people despite being incredibly angry and rude and often lying and stealing (it's probably the Audrey Hepburn vibe she has going on, which is what inspires her designs).

But something about the book just doesn't quite work. A big part of it was the fact that Cat really isn't likable and there's something a bit off about her narration - it's almost stream-of-consciousness. I enjoyed hearing about her designs and liked that she had talent. I have a soft spot for New York, so I liked reading about Cat's pilgrimages to Bloomingdale's and Tiffany's, things that I did when I visited years ago. I also thought her life with Nina (a gifted steamstress, heiress, and hard partier who had made out with Frank Sinatra, Tommy Hilfiger, Steven Tyler) was interesting. But a lot of the story felt just odd. It's no wonder that Cat is so hard to like, her mother is horrifying (leaving her at a psychiatric centre when she can't find anyone to look after her) and even Nina turns out to be pretty messed up (though that revelation does lead to a good line from Cat "She was far from perfect but I still love her perfectly.").

Basically, I was expecting fun and frothy, but got a lot of angry and bitter. I think it would still be a hit with young fashionistas, but I found it a bit disappointing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Fancy White Trash

Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling
3 stars

Reasons for reading: the cover; thought it sounded good when I ordered it for the library; last book of the Young Adult Challenge

Description: " "If only life were as easy as your sisters." Abby's heard that one before. And it's true - Shelby and Kait aren't exactly prim and proper. Abby is determined not to follow in their footsteps, so she has created the One True Love Plan. The most important part of the plan is Rule #1: Find Someone New. This means finding a guy who hasn't already dated Shelby or Kait. But when Abby starts falling for the possible father of Kait's baby, she has to figure out if some rules are meant to be broken." "

My thoughts: Wow, the title certainly delivers - this novel is full of white trashiness! Abby's mother and two sisters have all slept with the same man, Steve the guitar player. Her mom is now married to him. And pregnant by him with her 4th child. Her sister Kait's newborn baby is most likely (but maybe not...) his, too. The Jerry Springer aspects were entertaining and different, especially for a YA novel. Abby's 5 rules of the One True Love Plan have been developed by watching soap operas (to which she refers a lot - usually to the biggest cliches out there, which is fun) and from watching her mother and sisters and deciding to do exactly the opposite of what they do around men. Adding to the drama are the fact that Abby's best friend Cody is gay but won't admit it and the guy she's falling for is his brother, Jackson.

The whole thing is a little over the top, but it was an enjoyable, quick read. All of the sleeping around plus a scene where Cody is pelted with butt plugs make this a book for older teens, definitely. But Jackson is rather swoon-worthy, Cody's a great friend and I admired Abby for wanting to escape but still loving her crazy family.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Review: In Defense of Food

In Defense of Food: an eater's manifesto by Michael Pollan
2 stars

Reasons for reading: For book club; Nonfiction for Triple 8 Challenge

Description:"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." These simple words go to the heart of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, the well-considered answers he provides to the questions posed in the bestselling The Omnivore's Dilemma. Humans used to know how to eat well, Pollan argues. But the balanced dietary lessons that were once passed down through generations have been confused, complicated, and distorted by food industry marketers, nutritional scientists, and journalists-all of whom have much to gain from our dietary confusion. As a result, we face today a complex culinary landscape dense with bad advice and foods that are not "real." These "edible foodlike substances" are often packaged with labels bearing health claims that are typically false or misleading. Indeed, real food is fast disappearing from the marketplace, to be replaced by "nutrients," and plain old eating by an obsession with nutrition that is, paradoxically, ruining our health, not to mention our meals. Michael Pollan's sensible and decidedly counterintuitive advice is: "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food." My thoughts: Well, some of them are book club's thoughts, too - we just discussed it last night. Overall, I like Pollan's simple manifesto of "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I've particularly been trying to concentrate on the plants part, as I constantly struggle with my fruit and vegetable intake. So that's positive.

But, for all of Pollan's questioning "nutritionist" research, some of the research he quotes isn't very convincing. While the study (which he comes back to numerous times) of the aborigines who were able to lose weight, reverse diabetes, etc. when taken out of their sedentary city lifestyle and taken to the bush to eat their "traditional diet" is interesting, but if you took me away from my stressful job, family and social obligations, housework, general busy-ness of life, and, of course, the TV and computer and all I had to do was walk around gathering food in the fresh air, I'd get healthier, too. While I'm sure the food had a lot to do with it, it seemed to ignore other factors, something that Pollan constantly calls other research on throughout the book.

The beginning of the book is a slog, quite repetetive, with a rather off-putting evangelical slant to it (although he does say right in the title it's a manifesto). The second half, with practical tips, is better. Although the tips for paying more for food ("those who can") comes off as rather elitist, and it's really not a good year to be told to spend more money (not that Pollan knew that when he was writing).

I did start noticing all of the packaging that makes health claims. My favourite is a new line of frozen vegetable mixes that, rather than just saying the names of the veggies, labels them as "Fibre," "Antioxidants," and "Omega-3's" with the names of the actual vegetables in tiny print underneath.

The best line in the book? "But don't take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rest in Peace, Dewey

Really sad news for the book blogosphere - Dewey of The Hidden Side of a Leaf has passed away. She was an amazing blogger who cared so much about reading and about bringing bloggers together to meet new people who shared their passion for books. She'll be missed.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Review: Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I've been curious about this series since it came out; Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel are kids who are pretty normal-except that they're 98% human, 2% bird. They grew up in cages, living like rats, and now they're free-but being chased by the wicked, wolf-like Erasers, who've kidnapped Angel. Led by Max, the "Flock" embarks on a quest to find Angel, infiltrate a secret facility to track down their parents, get revenge on an evil traitor, and try to save the world-if there's time. "

First line: "The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective."

My thoughts: This was a great thriller with the cool (yet horrifying) twist of genetic engineering. I really liked how the flock acted like a family and would do anything to stay together and protect one another. And it's certainly a high-octane ride - in addition to the mystery of why they were created, the kids can never let their guard down for a moment. I thought Max was a great leader while still coming across as a scared and confused 14-year-old girl. And, while not the deepest character portraits ever, each kid comes through with their own personality pretty well, particularly Fang.

One mildly weird thing was that Patterson slightly changed the names of famous places in New York, such as Tavern on the Green and FAO Schwartz - given that Patterson used various product names and locations throughout the book, it really stuck out to me that he changed those names. But perhaps it's a legal thing.

This might just be a series that I have to read til the end!

Review: Theft: a love story

Theft: a love story by Peter Carey
3.5 stars

Reason for reading: Australian author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Description: "Michael—a.k.a. “Butcher”—Boone is an ex–“really famous” painter: opinionated, furious, brilliant, and now reduced to living in the remote country house of his biggest collector and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh, a damaged man of imposing physicality and childlike emotional volatility. Alone together they’ve forged a delicate and shifting equilibrium, a balance instantly destroyed when a mysterious young woman named Marlene walks out of a rainstorm and into their lives on three-inch Manolo Blahnik heels. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, she’s also the daughter-in-law of the late great painter Jacques Liebovitz, one of Butcher’s earliest influences. She’s sweet to Hugh and falls in love with Butcher, and they reciprocate in kind. And she sets in motion a chain of events that could be the making—or the ruin—of them all."

First line: "I don't know if my story is grand enough to be a tragedy, although a lot of shitty stuff did happen."

My thoughts: This one gets the extra half star for creativity and talent, because the device of telling the story in alternating points of view (Butcher is intelligent and biting yet also romantic, Hugh is bizarre yet poetic) was very interesting. But it was just a bit too much for me at times - Hugh's chapters can be pretty hard to get through and Butcher isn't a particularly likeable character. And most of the art references went over my head. I don't know if it's grand enough to be a tragedy (as with most tragic literary figures, I think Butcher brings most of his trouble on himself), but there's a lot going on. Too much, in fact - romance, the brothers' relationship, the backstory of their lives, Butcher's career plus the actual theft. I'd been reading a lot of harder-to-get-through books at the same time, so maybe my brain was tired out. Oddly, Private Peaceful featured a mentally disabled brother, too, a weird bit of reading serendipity.

Peter Carey is an Australian who now lives in New York and both settings are drawn well - particularly the brothers' small hometown of the Marsh. But also both tenement apartments and a ritzy club near Gramercy Park, as well as the bright lights of Tokyo. I think for someone whose brain wasn't tired and perhaps knew more about art than I do, this would be a good read.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Weekly Geeks #26

Here are the instructions for Weekly Geeks #26 - fun, I like getting to know new bloggers!

1. Using the WeeklyGeeks category here in my blog, find 5 Weekly Geeks you don’t know. The easiest way is probably to look at the Mr Linkies in my weekly Saturday posts.
2. Visit each of your 5 new blogpals and snoop around their blogs to find at least one thing you have in common.
3. In your blog, write a post, linking to your 5 new blogpals, about what you have in common with them.
4. Come back and sign Mr Linky.
5. As you run across other Weekly Geek posts (or deliberately seek them out) if you see anyone mentioned who has something in common with you, pay them a visit.

So, I visited...

Jessi at Casual Dread - we're both fans of the hilarious Carl Hiaasen, woo!

Melanie at the Indextrious Reader - we are both Canadian librarians and fans of the blogbrarian Miss Information

The BookDads - know, as I do, that Todd Parr writes great picture books about all kinds of families.

Edgy at Books Are King - is a Young Adult fiction fan, like me.

Icedream at Reading in Appalachia - we both loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Young Adult Book Challenge 2009

J. Kaye is hosting next year's Young Adult Book Challenge, hooray! You can sign up here.

The rules:
  • Read 12 Young Adult novels. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.
  • Challenge begins January thru December, 2009.

Here's my current list, subject to changes. The problem was picking just 12...

1. Jars of Glass by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler
2. Death by Bikini by Linda C. Gerber

3. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
4. Suck It Up by Brian Meehl
5. Masquerade by Melissa de la Cruz
6. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
7. Envy: a Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen
8. Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
9. Paper Towns by John Green
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
11. Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Elizabeth Gehrman
12. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: Silk

Silk by Alessandro Baricco
2.5 stars

Description: "In 1861 French silkworm merchant Hervé Joncour is compelled to travel to Japan, where, in the court of an enigmatic nobleman, he meets a woman. They do not touch; they do not even speak. And he cannot read the note she sends him until he has returned to his country. But in the moment he does, Joncour is possessed."

First line: "Although his father had pictured for him a brilliant career in the army, Hervé Joncour had ended up earning his crust in an unusual career which, by a singular piece of irony, was not unconnected with a charming side that bestowed on it a vaguely feminine intonation."

My thoughts: This book seems to have gotten raves all around the world. And it's quite an interesting book - it's like a haiku of a book, really. Very short, each chapter rarely longer than 3 or 4 paragraphs, if that. As they say on my favourite British real estate show "Small but perfectly formed." (I confess, as I started reading it, my reaction was "Yay! It's really short!' - I'm running out of time to finish all my reading challenges before the end of December.)
Unlike the other books I've read for Orbis Terrarum, I didn't see any hints of the author's Italian background. At first I thought this was strange, but then thought about all the historical fiction I've read that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the author's country of origin. It's just that this happens to be the first book of the challenge that didn't contain anything like that.

Overall, the book just wasn't for me. I'm not really a novella person, I like more meat to my stories. The historical bits about the silk trade were fairly interesting, but about 1/8th of the text is repeating the lengthy trail of Joncour's journey to Japan each year, with barely any change in the paragraph from one year to the next. And I found the no-touching, no-speaking love affair a bit hard to believe.

But for someone willing to be carried away on the silken path, it could be just the thing.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: Piece of my Heart

Piece of my Heart by Peter Robinson
4 stars

Reasons for reading: been on the TBR list for a while because of a long-ago good review; Mystery for the Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "The novel opens in 1969. Yorkshire’s first outdoor rock festival has just finished, and the psychedelic pastoral band the Mad Hatters and other top British groups have departed. Even the last of their fans has gone, leaving behind only a muddy field, littered with rubbish. Volunteers are cleaning up when one of them finds the body of a young woman inside a sleeping bag.Stanley Chadwick, the straitlaced detective called in to find her killer, could not have less in common with — or less regard for — the people he now has to question: young, disrespectful, long-haired hippies who smoke marijuana and live by the pulsing beats of rock and roll. And he has almost just as little in common with his own daughter, who lied to him about her whereabouts and slipped off to the festival.More than thirty-five years later, Inspector Alan Banks is investigating the murder of a freelance music journalist who was working on a feature about the Mad Hatters for Mojo magazine. This is not the first time that the Mad Hatters, now aging rock superstars, have been brushed by tragedy, and Banks has to delve into the past to find out exactly what hornet’s nest the journalist inadvertently stirred up."

First line: "Monday, September 8, 1969 - To an observer looking down from the peak of Brimleigh Beacon early that Monday morning, the scene below might have resembled the aftermath of a battle."

My thoughts: This is the 16th Inspector Banks novel - I had no idea when I picked it up. While there are some references to previous events, such as the death of Banks' brother and his former involvement with a female colleague, I didn't feel as though I needed to have read the others in order to understand this one.

And I really enjoyed it! It's a great mystery and, as The Times remarked, it, "Brilliantly interweaves past and present." At first I was a tiny bit confused when it jumped to 2005, but I soon got the hang of it. I thought the 60's were painted very well and it made me remember I keep wanting my husband to teach me more about Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. (I have a pretty big hole in my classic rock knowledge, sadly.) I thought both mysteries were interesting on their own and couldn't figure out how they were going to intersect, which added to the suspense.

There is a theme of fathers and daughters running through the novel, particularly how fathers want to protect their daughters and don't always manage it very well. I thought the supporting characters were well-done, particularly Banks' colleague Annie Cabbot and Winsome (isn't that a great name?), a Jamaican beauty in the department. While I often don't like side plots, the one Banks and his colleagues having to come to terms with a new, ambitious and not-particularly-friendly boss.

The only slight con? I've had Janis Joplin's "Piece of my Heart" running through my head on and off since I read it! :-)

I don't know if I want to go back 15 books, but I think this series could be really interesting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
3.5 stars

I've been putting off reviewing this one because it's such a crazy-hot book that everyone's already talked about and I don't think I have much that's new or interesting to add to the discussion. I'm also amibivalent about it - I enjoyed the series but had some reservations about the writing in the last few books. But when I did the Weekly Geeks ask a question about a book I haven't reviewed thing, I got a couple of questions, so I'll just go with those.

Heather J asked:
Breaking Dawn - how does it compare to the other books in the series (I haven't read them yet, but I'll get around to it!)?

Hmmm.....well, I found the books, like the Harry Potter books, got longer and less entertaining as the series went on. I loved Twilight - 5 stars, thought it was really fresh and really something that teens would love reading. And while I wanted to find out what happened, I found them getting harder to slog through. Meyer really loves flowery prose and repetition, I find. She won't use one paragraph if she can use several pages. And by the 4th book, at 754 pages, I thought she really needed a good editor. I felt there were a lot of sections she could've left out and, without adding a spoiler, some parts were really creepy in a not-good way.

Lightheaded asks:
What do you think of the Volturi resolution? I ask because it's the thing that disappointed me :)

I agree, it was rather disappointing. It felt like there had been sooooo much waiting around for them to show up and then there just wasn't much action. I was glad of the happy ending, but something a bit more climactic would've been good.

Final verdict? I don't think we need another book in this series, but apparently there's going to be one. I honestly don't know if I'll end up reading it, I feel really OD'd on Edward and Bella and their forever perfect love. The series definitely has its moments and has turned into a phenomenon, but just because the characters can live forever, it doesn't mean the series has to. I am looking forward to the Twilight movie, though! :-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Private Peaceful

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Remembrance Day book for Holiday Challenge; Historical fiction for Triple 8 Challenge; heard the author speak recently and was amazed

"As the enemy lurks in the darkness, Thomas struggles to stay awake through the night. He has lived through the terror of gas attacks and watched friends die by his side. But in the morning, Thomas will be forced to confront an even greater horror. As the minutes tick by, Thomas remembers his childhood spent deep in the countryside with his mother, his brothers, and Molly, the love of his life. But each minute that passes brings Thomas closer to something he can't bear to to think about--the moment when the war and its horrific consequences will change his life forever."

First paragraph: "They've gone now, and I'm alone at last. I have the whole night ahead of me, and I won't waste a single moment of it. I shan't sleep it away. I won't dream it away either. I mustn't, becuase every moment of it will be far too precious."

My thoughts: I was really impressed and touched by Morpurgo's storytelling and how passionate his is about the subjects of his books. After hearing him speak, I knew I had to read one of his books, and since I'd seen him just before Remembrance Day, this one fit the bill very well. While the subject is very sobering, I'm glad I read it and would recommend it.

The book was inspired by a telegram in a museum in Ypres that bluntly informed a mother her son had been shot for cowardice. With some research, Morpurgo found that almost 300 soldiers had died this way, with barely a trial, rarely any representation, and with no consideration for the effects of war on their minds and bodies. Outraged, he wrote this book. And apparently he saw the surname Peaceful on a gravestone in Ypres, which I think adds the perfect touch.

There is a lot of bird imagery in the book (and, from hearing him speak, I think this is a central theme with the author) - birds representing the spirits of the dead, birds bringing joy and hope, the absence of birds indicating despair. There are little pictures of butterflies separating the paragraphs and also on the cover, but I think they should have been birds.

I think this is an excellent war-themed book for teens, as it's not just about the war - a lot of time is spent revealing Charlie and Tommo's life before the war - their close relationship, the hardships their family has endured, their love for the same girl. The scenes in France are very realistic, with many details about life in the trenches. The ending is a surprising twist and I found that it made an already well-written story even better and more poignant.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime

Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
3 stars

Reasons for reading: read a good review of it long ago so it's been on the TBR list for a while; Historical Fiction for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: "Tucked away in her parents' lavish Beverly Hills mansion, young Fleur de Leigh has all the benefits of a privileged and glamorous upbringing. Or so she is frequently told. Fleur's mother, a flamboyant, ambitious B-movie actress and eponymous star of The Charmian Leigh Radio Mystery Half-Hour, and her aloof father, currently reduced to producing the TV game show Sink or Get Rich, casually entrust their daughter's welfare to a procession of nannies, cooks, and character actors. Surrounded by falsies, false eyelashes, and lust for fame, Fleur seeks to learn from her eccentric caretakers the difference between genuine love and its many imitations."

First line: "We'd been studying Bedouins in my fifth-grade class, how they carried only what they needed or loved on the backs of ornery camels, and how other, territorial groups kept them hopping."

My thoughts: Weirdly, I'd thought this was a mystery. I had to switch it from the Mystery to the Historical Fiction list at the last minute.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this one (I seem to be saying that a lot lately!). It was witty and I enjoyed the old Hollywood setting (Fleur sneaks into the grounds of Pickfair and the Barrymore mansion). I liked the structure - each chapter lasts the length of the stay of one of Fleur's nannies or other transient adults in her life. Some of the nannies are very funny indeed and some are scary. And I was pleased by the ending, where Fleur learns to stand up to her truly odious parents. But I seem to have read a big bunch of (admittedly very different) books involving bad parents in the space of a few weeks, so that might have affected my reaction - though I'm sure the Leighs are meant to be parodies, they're so terrible I found them really hard to stomach.

I also have a feeling maybe I didn't get below the surface enough. For example, there are discussion questions at the end of the book and one of them is "The word crime in the title is used as a metaphor. What crimes take place in Fleur's household? What is Fleur's crime?" Well...her parents are walking crimes against parenthood and there are some actual crimes (like theft) that take place, but I have no idea what Fleur's crime was. I actually shouldn't read questions at the ends of books, they make me feel dumb. :-)

To me, the whole tone of the book felt cold, I think that was the problem, and so it left me a bit cold. When I read the author's note and discovered the book was fairly autobiographical, I thought "Aha, that explains it, there's a lot of bitterness there." But overall, it seems to have warmed reviewers' hearts, even leading to comparisons to my beloved Eloise at the Plaza, so perhaps I missed something.

(But honestly, what is up with that hideous cover??)

Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Maria Lewycka
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: recommended by a friend; German author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge; New-to-Me Author for Triple 8 Challenge

Summary (from Booklist): "Vera and Nadezhda have not spoken to one another since their mother's funeral two years ago. But the news that their eccentric 83-year-old father, Nikolai, wants to marry a 36-year-old woman from Ukraine so that she can stay in England causes them to work past their differences to save the old man from himself. Despite their efforts, Valentina moves in with Nikolai and begins to demand the good life the West is supposed to provide her, from a "civilized person's Hoover" and a "not-peasant-cooking" stove to a Rolls-Royce. As Valentina's demands become more ridiculous, the sisters band closer together to get her out, while Nikolai begins his laborious work on the history of the tractor and its effect on society. While the sisters and Valentina spar, Nadezhda struggles to put together the pieces of her family's past in Ukraine and Germany during World War II."

First line: "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee."

My thoughts: The last line of this book's review in Publishers Weekly is ""I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy," Nadezhda says at one point, and though she is referring to Valentina, she might also be describing this unusual and poignant novel." And that really sums the book up. And I think that was the problem, I didn't want a tragedy. There are some really funny parts, I think it would probably make a great movie. Valentina's pidgin English and heaving bosom make for some great laughs. And the saga of how Nikolai buys her not one but 3 cars is hilarious (one of them earns the name Crap car). Perhaps if I'd listened to it on tape, as the friend who recommended it had, I'd have gotten more out of it, rather than struggling with the Ukrainian names and words. But the pathetic father, the feuding sisters, the scheming and often cruel Valentina and the sad family was too much for me at times. I often found it very sad.

And, I have to say, the long passages from the tractor treatise were pretty boring. (Funny aside, I told my dad the name of the book and he, clearly not thinking much of Communist engineering, said, "What is that? They make them and then never repair them?") There were a couple of parts where it mirrored what was happening in the book and a few that were amusing, but overall, I skimmed over them.

As an aside for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge, it clearly reflects the author's heritage, both her Ukrainian background and her current life in England.

So...I have a feeling maybe this was the wrong book at the wrong time for me. I was reading On Beauty at the same time and it also features a totally self-centred father, so I was a bit OD'd on that aspect. But it definitely has some funny moments. If you're an audio book fan, I'd suggest maybe checking it out that way. Or just make sure you're in the mood for some tragedy with your comedy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Top 10 Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress

Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: been on the TBR list for a while; Number Title for Triple 8 Challenge

Description: Sophomore year, Nicolette Antonovich was dumped two days before prom by the hottest guy at school. As a result, she became the proud owner of one unworn, perfectly magical pink vintage dress. But Nic is determined to put that night behind her for good. She's a junior now— older, wiser, and completely overwhelmed by a new set of problems: (1) The bank's ready to foreclose on her childhood home. (2) Her father's too busy with his "replacement" daughter to care. (3) Her best friend's brother is an eternal thorn in her side. (4) Her best friend isn't exactly the rose attached to that thorn. (5) Rumors are flying around school that could get her kicked off the volleyball team, which would (6) ruin all chances of a college scholarship. (7) She still likes the boy who dumped her in the first place. (8) And what in the world do you do with an unworn prom dress, anyway? Strangely, it's getting to the bottom of this last dilemma that just might hold the answer to all Nic's problems.

First line: "A heavenly floral scent surrounds me as the zipper of The Dress magically closes against my back."

My thoughts: This was a cute little book. I enjoyed the descriptions of The Dress - I had a pink dress I loved, myself. :-) I liked that Nic was short and still able to be a great athlete. One weird, sad thing is that Heath Ledger is mentioned twice as an uber-hunk. Alas.

I did find that for me there were a few too many problems squeezed into a short book - the mortgage, her mother about to lose her job, her father's distant behaviour, the rumours, the friend and boy trouble... A few too many things going on at once. I liked Jared, the love interest, with his root-beer brown eyes and kindness. The situation with her best friend Alison seemed weird - Alison seemed like not a particularly great friend, really. But it had some funny bits and a nice ending, I think teens looking for some light chick lit reading would enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
5 stars

Reasons for reading: liked the sound of it; it's one of those It Books this year; book club selection; New-to-Me Author for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever."

My thoughts: The word that kept running through my head as I read this book was "charming." It also reminded me a lot of 84, Charing Cross Road, which I really enjoyed last year. I'm wavering between 4.5 and 5 stars, but I decided to go for 5 because I really enjoyed it. The only thing that would make it lose 1/2 a star is that towards the end I found it, for lack of a better word, wobbled a bit - I wasn't 100% sold on the part Isola's notebook played in the ending,for example. But that's a fairly minor quibble.

Heather J asked: Did the letter writing format work for you? Does it live up to all the hype I've been hearing about it?

Yes, I enjoyed the letter format. But I've always been a fan of epistolary novels. One of the women in my book club said she found it a bit hard to follow at times. But I thought it was really wonderful the way Juliet could communicate and become friends with the Guernsey folks through letters, before she'd met them. And also, it fits the time period. Obviously, there was no e-mail, but even phone technology wasn't all that advanced in the 40's, plus I'm sure the war had knocked a lot of it out. The older British folks I know still treat the phone as an expensive luxury, actually. It also works as a way to bring together all of the characters - I think a Juliet chapter, then an Isola chapter, then a Sidney chapter, etc. would've been rather boring. The letter format really makes it seem like things are unfolding in real time.

I do think it lives up to the hype. We were trying to decide at book club why it has such hype, and came up with some theories. I think it's that the title really stays in your memory and that it's about the love of reading and bookish people like bookish books. Another club member pointed out that Eat Pray Love's Elizabeth Gilbert did the blurb, which is pretty huge. As I said, I found it charming and also feel it has a bit of everything - lots of humour, interesting characters, romance, history, and some tragic tales to go along with the lighter ones. I think also that people (like me!) don't know much about the German occupation of the Channel Islands, so that makes it even more interesting than other novels set in the same period.