Friday, October 31, 2008

Ulysses Moore adventures

Some quick internet research turned up Pierdomenico Baccalario as the author. Apparently, Scholastic is using a gimmick whereby Ulysses Moore, a key but unseen character, is the author of "manuscripts" discovered by Scholastic employee Michael Merryweather (whose emails to the Scholastic bigwigs begin each book). Oops, I'm blaming Scholastic, but I just checked, and the books were first published in Italy by Piemme, and list Ulysses Moore as the author, and Baccalario as the author. At any rate, it's a gimmick, but it's not intrusive, so I'll let it go.

This is an adventure/historical series for ages 8-12, and I thought it was really cute. I'll certainly buy the next one, since Isle of Masks, the fourth, ends on a huge cliffhanger.

Book 1: Door To Time: Twins Jason and Julia move into a mysterious house in Kilmore Cove, a tiny village in Cornwall formerly owned by the almost hermetical Ulysses Moore. Their parents (still alive, odd for the fantasy genre) leave them in the care of the house's caretaker, Nestor, while they finalize the move. The children make a new friend, Rick Banner, who comes to stay with them. The three children find a strange door and, after solving a series of puzzles and clues, they end up traveling back in time.

Book 2: The Long-Lost Map: Julia, Jason, and Rick are in ancient Egypt, but end up separated. Julia helps Nestor defend Argo Manor from Oblivia Newton, the woman who longs to control Argo Manor and its door to time, while Jason and Rick search ancient Egypt for a map of Kilmore Cove.

Book 3: The House of Mirrors: The children compete with Oblivia Newton to find the secret concealed in inventor Peter Dedalus's home.

Book 4: Isle of Masks: The children travel to 18th century Venice to learn the secret of the doors.

This series is really well-written, funny without relying on gross-out humor, splitting the difference between historical and contemporary settings. The puzzles are fun and add interest as the reader tries to solve the mystery along with the children. The children are engaging, squabbling but cooperative. The time frame is very tight: all four books happen over a couple of days. At the end of Book 4, the parents have come back home, so I wonder how Book 5 will work. Parents are such a nuisance to adventuring kids that most authors just kill them off. Books 1 and 3 have the children searching delightfully backwards Kilmore Cove, Cornwall, for clues. A rich supporting cast and ample secrets and mysteries make these fun. Book 2 has the children exploring ancient Egypt, with details and characters that bring the time and place to life. Book 4 takes place mainly in 18th century Venice with evocative sensory descriptions. The series is skewed a bit younger than Harry Potter (at least the later books), and I think any child who's a fan of puzzles, historical books, and/or fantasy will have a blast reading them. I look forward to seeing what's in store next.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Picture Book Thursday - Fall Edition

I happily proposed fall as a topic for today, figuring we must have a bunch of fall books. Hmmm. It was harder than I thought! This one, Apples, Apples by Salina Yoon, is really our most overtly "fall" book, and it's a winner. A diverse group of apple-cheeked children pick apples with their families, then enjoy the treats their parents make with them. At the end, everyone bobs for apples. The illustrations are very cute and brightly colored, and the simple, singsongy rhymes are fun to read aloud. The flaps revealing the apple treats add interest for young ones. This would be a fun one to read before taking the kids to an orchard and then baking/saucing/pressing the apples.

See, I'm cheating a little, since we've already done Halloween books...twice, but this is such a fun book to read out loud during fall. The three bears decide to explore the spooky old tree, bringing a light, a rope, and a stick, which they lose along the way as they continue through the scary tree. This is skewed much younger than the usual Berenstain Bears books, and the rhythm of the text is perfect for reading out loud. Matt and I both love reading this one, and Lilah is riveted.

Ha! School starts in the fall, so I can slip one more book in here. Lilah loves the Spot series, with or without flaps. This one is "with flaps." Spot's first day of school is great. Each page has a different activity the class enjoys, from show and tell to painting to dress-up. We don't have many "school" books yet, since it's a ways off for Lilah, but this one makes school sound like an absolute blast. Lilah loves Spot and his animal friends. The Spot books aren't necessarily Matt's favorites. He finds them choppy and disjointed, and they really are. Some books seem to have better illustrations than others, too--in some, the crocodile and hippo both look a little lumpy. But it's fun to read them to Lilah because she loves them so much. At any rate, this would be a good one to read to a child preparing for school, since school is very non-threatening and even downright fun.


The Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins is not directly about fall, so I'm cheating a bit with this one. :-) The story is a little girl who is frightened of certain people for various reasons: the boy with big eyebrows and a mohawk playing music really loud as he rides down the sidewalk on his skateboard; the grumpy bus driver; the music teacher with a crazy beard who picks her to sing a solo; the girl in her science class who chews on her pencil and mutters to herself. For each person the little girl thinks is scary, she imagines what they are like at home. The bus driver making pancakes for her kids in the morning, the music teacher reading at home with a shaggy dog on his lap, the little girl from science class learning to ride a bike with her mom alongside her. It's a really sweet book and a good one to teach kids not to be judgmental about what people are like based on their appearances. I threw this in with fall books because several of the illustrations (which are really cute by the way!) have a fall feel to them and several of the pages are about school. And I really like Emily Jenkins! She also wrote Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party.

We're Going on A Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger is a take on We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. It follows the same repetitive text format and uses great sound words as three little kids go searching for various kinds of colorful leaves. Little kids will learn about different kinds of trees and what color and shape their leaves are as the children in the book go on their journey. While I think this is a bit of a rip-off and not nearly as good as the Bear Hunt book, I think it does make for a nice fall book and my girls seem to like it.

My last book for fall is Ruby's Falling Leaves by Rosemary Wells, part of the Max and Ruby series of books. In this book, Ruby is looking for leaves to put in her leaf book for school. Max "helps" her look for them. He jumps into the leaf pile which makes it more difficult for her to find the perfect leaf. But in the end she finds it. My girls LOVE Max and Ruby, the show and ALL the books. We have checked out every Max and Ruby book from the library multiple times and my husband and I pretty much have them memorized. While I don't think this is the *best* Max and Ruby book, it is a fun fall book. If you're looking for more Max and Ruby books, Bunny Mail and Max Cleans Up are particular favorites in this household.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Giveaway!

I'll be announcing a giveaway as soon as I think of a good one, but in the meantime, check out this giveaway of The Heretic's Daughter at She Reads and Reads!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Charlemagne Pursuit by Steve Berry

I believe this is the fifth installment in Steve Berry's Cotton Malone series. I received The Charlemagne Pursuit as an ARC from LibraryThing. I was happy to find it a home in my library, but I haven't read the previous books in the series so I passed it on to my friend Kelly. She recommended the Berry books to me in the first place and I thought she would enjoy reading the latest book before it hit the shelves.

I asked her to relay a few of her thoughts on the book and this is what she had to say:
Readers will not be disappointed by the latest in the Cotton Malone Series. Fast-paced, suspenseful; just when you think you have something figured out you are hit with another plot twist that takes you down a different road. Love the way Berry weaves in very detailed, factual historical info into Malone’s quest - very “Da Vinci Code” in the way it reads; Nazis, Charlemagne, ancient groups of people, American Submarine lore, the Antarctic – all very interesting. Malone gets involved in this book’s quest as a result of looking into the death of his father. This allows us to get to know Cotton on a much more personal level than the other books in the series. The ending verged on being over-the-top, but with the complicated build-up, I can’t imagine it any other way.

So I think its safe to say, if you have enjoyed previous Berry books, you should pick this one up as well! Thanks for your thoughts Kelly!

You CAN go home again!

Anyone with warm, fuzzy memories of an 80s sitcom who stumbles across an episode on TV Land will understand why I was a smidge apprehensive about rereading the Bunnicula series, the first four books of which I adored as a child. There are many things I enjoyed as a child (television shows stand out the most) that simply...weren't that good. Fortunately, Bunnicula lived up to my memories, with a bonus of three books I had never read in the series! I had a great time zipping through these again, and it'll be fun to read them out loud to Lilah when she's older.

The premise of the series is that Harold, the Monroes' dog, brings manuscripts to his editor detailing the strange events in the Monroe household. These were much funnier than I remembered, and I suspect much of the humor went over my head as a child. Nighty-Nightmare was published in 1987, and that was the last I had read. I am happy to report that Howe has kept up his standards to produce three delightful sequels since then. Howe parodies horror films and books to great effect, and one assumes he has a blast writing these. The funny thing about the Bunnicula series is how little Bunnicula is in the books. He's completely left out of a few, and he doesn't talk or interact much when he is there. Yet, he's an important presence in the series. A spin-off series "written" by Howie the puppy is also out there, and I have them in my amazon cart!

Bunnicula: The first of the series introduces the Monroe family: Mom, Dad, Toby, Pete, Harold (the dog), and Chester (the cat). The Monroes find a bunny while watching Dracula at the local movie theater, so they name him Bunnicula. When vegetables turn up with all the juice drained from them, Chester decides that Bunnicula must be stopped: "Today vegetables...Tomorrow the world!" Harold is torn between his loyalty to his friend Chester and sympathy for the little bunny. This is a short book with lots of humor, suspense, and memorable characters.

Howliday Inn: Harold and Chester are sent to Chateau Bow-Wow while the Monroes go on vacation. Something strange is afoot there, and Chester insists on investigating in his usual suspicious manner. The other Chateau inmates add fun and color to this entry in the series, which culminates in the Monroes' adoption of puppy Howie.

The Celery Stalks at Midnight: Still one of my all-time favorite book titles. When Bunnicula goes missing, Chester fears for the family, Centerville, even the world. Strange happenings, like Pete and Toby wearing cloaks and taking other children prisoner, strike Chester as evidence that Bunnicula is exerting power over humans as well as vegetables. The solution is hilarious as Chester is proved completely wrong.

Nighty-Nighmare: The Monroes go camping (with the animals and meet up with rednecks Bud, Spud, and their dog, Dawg. When Dawg gets the animals lost in the woods, Chester fears for the Monroes at the hands of Bud and Spud. Bud and Spud (and Dawg) turn out to be nothing like they seem. Howie's puns abound in this one, and spoofs of horror film conventions keep this one going, but Chester's tale of horror is the real highlight.

Return to Howliday Inn: Chester, Harold, and Howie are back at the ol' Chateau. Howie is excited to see where he was born, but Chester and Harold remember the healthy but tasteless food. New and familiar animals brighten this story, and the ending is surprisingly sweet.

Bunnicula Strikes Again: Chester has gone after Bunnicula again, telling Harold ominously (and smugly) that everyone is safe from Bunnicula. Meanwhile, the Monroes are protesting the demolition of the historic theater where they found Bunnicula. If the plot involving Bunnicula's mother is a bit convoluted, the sibling rivalry makes up for it.

Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow: Previous books have mentioned M. T. Graves, author of the FleshCrawlers series for children, read devotedly by Pete and puppy Howie. In this one, Pete wins a competition and the prize is a visit from M. T. Graves. He shows up dressed in black with his pet crow, Edgar Allan Crow, on his shoulder. Chester assumes the crow (and the murder of crows that turns up outside) is an omen of evil, and sets out to unmask Graves. The suspense is well-done, and the solution inventive. A great ending to the series.

Murder! Mayhem! Maine!

Murder Most Maine by Karen MacInerney is the third in her Gray Whale Inn series featuring innkeeper Natalie Barnes. In this installment, there is nary an evil developer in sight! There is, however, a weight-loss group staying at the Gray Whale Inn to liven things up and provide fresh victims for Ms. MacInerney's body count on tiny Cranberry Island. Seriously, this place is worse than Cabot Cove. Anyway, among the weight-loss group are handsome trainer Dirk DeLeon and his business partner Vanessa (a former summer fling of Natalie's boyfriend, John). A shifty reporter is there, ostensibly to cover the weight-loss retreat, seems to be up to something else. When Dirk is predictably found dead, Natalie's kitchen is shut down by the police, forcing her to rely on some of the other islanders. She's an outsider to Maine, but she's starting to find acceptance, and the response of her friends to her predicament is indicative of how far she's come. Her relationship with John takes another blow as John comforts Vanessa after Dirk's death (honestly, this is a symptom of a problem common to cozies: the single woman must have a love interest or two, and obstacles must come up to save the relationship from complacency). And of course, there's the murder. Natalie decides to investigate in part to help reopen her kitchen faster (in homage to the classic culinary mystery Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson?). The weight-loss retreat is entertaining, and the group's members a diverse lot providing plenty of entertainment, and the subplot about the lighthouse and the Underground Railroad is intriguing. As always, the best part is visiting the charming Cranberry Island, its crusty, heart-of-gold residents, and the B&B business. Recipes at the end are more diet-friendly than in the first two books, but a delightful-sounding makes up for most of the blah low-fat fare. I actually think this was the best of the three so far, but you'll want to read the first two to get acquainted with Cranberry Island and the characters who live there.

To sum up: Another fun cozy from MacInerney, who also authors the Urban Werewolf series (not really my thing, so I haven't read them yet). If you love Maine, B&Bs, cozy mysteries, and culinary mysteries, this series should be right up your alley.

My review of #1, Murder on the Rocks
My review of #2, Dead and Berried

Heartwarming Tale of the Heartland

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Brett Witter is part memoir, part history lesson, and part tearjerker. But it's all heart. I wasn't sure what to expect from this, a biography of a cat-turned-library-mascot-turned-international-symbol, but it wasn't the rich, complex story I found. I expected heartwarming reminiscences, sure, and those are present in abundance. Myron weaves together three storylines: the farm crisis of the 1980s and deaths of small midwestern towns, her own personal memoir, and the story of Dewey, a little kitten stuffed into the Spencer, Iowa library's book return slot on the coldest night of the year. Dewey anchors the other two stories, giving them both needed anchoring and a focused perspective. As the story begins, Spencer, Iowa is facing the fate of similar small towns across the Midwest: when the biggest employer pulls out of town at the time the farm crisis has multigenerational farm families selling up or declaring bankruptcy, the writing is on the wall. But Spencer, like the tiny frozen kitten, fights to survive. Dewey becomes a symbol for Spencer, first increasing library attendance by people in hard times who need something good in their lives (and he's a perfect library cat, always seeking the affection of those who need him most), then gaining regional, national, and even international fame.

VIcki's story is a tough one to read: divorced from an alcoholic husband, with a small child to support, with health problems that will have you shaking your fist in the general direction of the idiot doctors who made her conditions worse, eventually trying to communicate with a combative teenager. But she's not whiny or self-indulgent. In fact, the whole book has the air of midwestern values: plainspoken, making the best of what you have. She garners sympathy without drama, and I'm glad she had Dewey to support her through her ordeals. Watching her grow in confidence as she finishes her education, relates to her daughter, stands up for Dewey (when the board suggests retiring Dewey when he's no longer young and cute, I wanted to catch a flight out there and smack them) is inspirational. She takes what she has and makes it better where possible.

The mini-history of Spencer (and through it, the whole region) was fascinating. The farm crisis is brought to vivid life, and the way small towns change to survive (some welcoming endless strip malls or undesirable industry, others struggling to maintain the small-town way of life) is illustrated well. The library, under Vicki's direction and with Dewey's help, becomes a strong community center: a place where the downtrodden can look for jobs, acquire new skills, and just enjoy a few minutes of unconditional love. Vicki doesn't overstate Dewey's influence; in fact, when an interviewer asks her for the "deeper meaning" of Dewey, she refuses to give an answer. But the entire book illustrates Dewey's impact on Vicki, on the town of Spencer, and on the psyches of those who cling to his story of hope, loyalty, and survival. A beautiful read.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Neville Winner!

Jennifer, Jennifer, where are you? You are the winner of our Katherine Neville contest and I would love to get your books to you. Please email me by Sunday with your mailing address. If I don't hear from you, I'll have to let the second winner know the books are hers!


'Tis the Season Too!

Halloween has put me in the mood for mystery books! In the last week I’ve finished three! So I thought I would expand on Allison's previous Halloween mystery post.

Fiendish Deeds (A Joy of Spooking book) by P. J. Bracegirdle. Allison wrote a glowing review earlier this year. So I’ll leave you with what she said. But I will add that this was a smart and fun book. I enjoyed Joy’s character and her imagination. I loved the descriptions of the different towns: Spooking (an old, charming established community) and Darlington (cookie cutter, manufactured, boring city). Now, I live in a cookie cutter neighborhood where all the houses are variations on a theme. So I have nothing against that. I just really love old communities with their charm, history and quaintness. I think it would be fun to retire to a place like that, if they still exist by the time we retire. I really do hate established areas being bull-dozed for designer style, cookie cutter monstrosities. Okay, so I completely got off on a tangent there. Anyhoo, this book has some nice themes under the story. I look forward to the next two books in the series. You can learn more at the Joy of Spooking website.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris: I’ve been seeing Harris’ name everywhere lately and for various reasons. Mostly for her Sookie Stackhouse series, which has been turned into the show True Blood on HBO. I’m not particularly into the vampire thing so I decided to try out some of her other series. She has four or five series that are all quite different from each other. Seems just about any mystery fan can find a Harris’ series to suit their tastes. Real Murders is the first book in her Aurora Teagarden series. Aurora is a young librarian in Lawrenceton, Georgia. She belongs to a club where the participants discuss historic and contemporary murder cases. Although the club is a little morbid, all the members find it interesting and each has their own specialty. Unfortunately, a member is murdered at one of their meetings in a copycat of a famous murder. Poor Aurora is the one who happens to find the body. This event starts a string of murders and attempted murders copying famous cases. It leaves the town of Lawrenceton on high alert and the members of Real Murders wondering whose next and what famous murder will be imitated. As with typical cozy mysteries, Aurora does happen to have two love interests but neither of these really get in the way of the story. It will be interesting to see how the love triangle plays out as the series goes on. I thought this was a really good mystery. It was not too predictable. I hate when I figure out who the murderer is early on. And I didn’t figure it out until Harris wanted me to. I’m not sure this is a “cozy” mystery (Allison, what is the definition of a cozy mystery? Does there have to be humor?). There was not much humor in this one. It was a tad bit darker than some other series I’ve tried. But I really enjoyed it and I kind of liked the “seriousness” of it. I will definitely read more in this series.

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris: This is the second book in Harris’ Harper Connelly mystery series. I usually stand by my rule of starting with the first book of a series and reading them in order. However, I made an exception for this one. Grave Surprise was a bargain book calling out my name as I walked by. I checked out the description on the first one thinking I might buy that as well, but I liked the sound of this one better and it was cheaper. SO, there you go. Harper Connelly was struck by lightning when she was fifteen and her brother Tolliver saved her by performing CPR. Through this and growing up with a terrible childhood, the two formed quite a bond. As a result of the lightning strike, Harper now has the ability to “read” dead bodies. She can stand on a grave and know who the deceased is and how they died. She can touch a dead body and have a connection with them. She might “feel” their last moments or “hear” their last thoughts. In this way, she helps many dead bodies to rest peacefully by letting police know their locations or what really happened to them. Tolliver follows her along as her Manager. In this installment, Harper and Tolliver travel to Memphis to do a demonstration for a college class when she discovers a new body in an old grave. The body of a missing girl Harper tried to find two years prior. This discovery begins a whodunit story with Harper and Tolliver as prime suspects. I liked this book. And if I didn’t know it was the second in a series, it would have seemed like a stand-alone to me. I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything. And now, I’m curious to read the first one to see how much Harris’ repeated in the second. This book was definitely a psychological drama. The entire book you’re learning about these characters and watching their reaction to the news of the body discovery and seeing their interaction with each other. You spend the whole book wondering which member of her family really did kill her. And I enjoyed the build up. BUT, the ending was a little flat to me. It seemed Harris’ just all of sudden decided she was done with this build up and revealed the killer and I thought the identity of the killer was sort of lame. I thought it might be someone else. And I thought the killer’s reasoning for killing the little girl was really lame. But I will read the first one and probably read the later books as well. One other thing that bothered me about the book was Harper and Tolliver’s relationship. It just seemed a bit weird to me. He actually is her stepbrother (his dad married her mom) and at one point Harper thinks she might sort of have feelings for him and then shakes it off. I felt like this was sort of unnecessary. But then again, this is a very psychological series so it does makes sense that Harris would delve deep into Harper’s mind.

In comparing these two series by Harris, the Aurora Teagarden series is much more on the cozy, light-hearted mystery side of things and the Harper Connelly series is much more serious, dark, and psychological with some paranormal activity thrown in. The Connelly series is much more like a ghost story, which I actually thought was well done and I liked it. I’ll read more in both series.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

I have a bunch of book related thoughts running around in my head so I thought I would just throw them into a post today.

I picked up Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci at the library the other day. This is the sequel to the graphic novel The Plain Janes. In this installment, the Janes are all crushing on different guys and trying to figure out how to ask them to a dance at school. Their art collective, P.L.A.I.N. is still causing an uproar in the community and Jane applies for a federal grant to make their group legitimate. While I enjoyed this book too, I really liked the first one more. I can’t really put my finger on why I wasn’t quite as fond of this one. It just didn’t strike me quite the same way. If you enjoyed The Plain Janes, you should still pick this one up too. It’s worth the hour (or less) it might take you to get through it.

On another graphic novel note. While we were at story time this week at Barnes and Noble, I noticed a “Comics and Manga” shelving section in the Children’s area. I hadn’t paid any attention to this before, but I looked through the selection while Ella was working on her coloring sheet. There is quite an array of graphic novels for grades 3-7. I was amazed! There are Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew mysteries in graphic novel format! There’s a whole series of Amelia’s Notebooks by Marissa Moss that look really fun. Moss also has one called Max’s Logbook for younger male readers (perhaps a nice a follow-up book to the Wimpy Kid series?). I was just really intrigued at the array of graphic novels available to this age group. And what a great thing for reluctant readers! They had a series called Phonics Comics that I’m going to look into for my five year old. She loves to “read” and wants more than anything to be able to read on her own but she’s just not quite there yet. So I think she might really like the Phonics Comics because she can look at the pictures and “read” the story. I also ran across a graphic novelization of Artemis Fowl. I’ve read the first couple in this series and own them all. I requested the graphic novel from the library. I think it will be fun to see what how the story is in a visual format.

Okay enough about graphic novels.

I received my Bookmarks Magazine in the mail yesterday. I always love getting this magazine. I find some time when I can be uninterrupted, sit in my comfy chair with a cup of tea and look through it marking the books I’d like to add to my TBR list. Well, this time I was very disappointed! I had already heard of almost all the general fiction books they were reviewing! I couldn’t believe it, almost all of them were LibraryThing Early Reviewer books, or on other ARC sites. Or I’ve read about them on the many book blogs I have in my Google Reader. This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One, I’m really surprised at how knowledgeable I’ve become about the book world just by paying attention to more book blogs than I used to (LOVE my Google Reader!) and by participating in early reviewer programs. I also think this says A LOT about marketing in the book world and what a GIANT part book blogs and book review websites, such as LibraryThing and GoodReads, play in spreading the word about an upcoming book. You can now hear about new books months in advance! In the past, I think many times you didn’t hear about new books coming out except maybe a month or a few weeks in advance. It’s just really interesting to me that we are witnessing an evolution in the book world first hand. I guess I’ll hang in there for a couple more issues of Bookmarks, but I might have to consider letting my subscription go….

Picture Book Thursday!

Today, we have Halloween Part 2!
We were at story time on Tuesday morning this week and Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex was featured. This was a lot of fun! As you can guess, it is a take off of Goodnight Moon. It follows the same rhyming patterns as Goodnight Moon and the illustrations are so fun! Just like in the classic book, you can look through the pictures and find all the things the text is talking about. Just a really fun Halloween book, in my opinion. My five year old loved it!

Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley is a year round favorite in our house by both my 3 and 5 year olds. With each page, you "build" the monster's face. The pages layer onto each other with cut-outs so each page you turn adds two eyes, or a nose, through all the different facial features. Once the face is created, you get to tell each piece to "Go Away" and eventually, "Go Away, Big Green Monster, and DON'T COME BACK!". My older daughter is in speech therapy and one of her sounds this past year was the initial "G" sound. This book was a fantastic book to do with her because the second half she would say "Go Away!" with me on every page. This is a good book for younger kids too. I would say ages 2 and up. The text is very simple and not much on each page. And it would be a good book to over different facial features with really young kids.

We received this book for Halloween from my mother-in-law a couple years ago and it was so well liked, the pages were ripped and taped together and ripped again. Obviously, our copy is a bit mangled. But its a very cute little book and a great one for toddlers and preschoolers. Fun illustrations of the kids in their costumes with rhyming text in short little spurts. A good one, especially if you're looking for a counting book.

AND if the books we've reviewed have left you wanting more, Barnes and Noble actually has a really great list of Halloween books on their site. You can check it out here.


Spot's Halloween, by Eric Hill, is a Halloween book in the Spot tradition. Spot can't decide what to dress up as for Halloween. The typical illustrations show Spot wearing each possible costume, and at the end, he and his friends go trick-or-treating. Lilah loves Spot, and this is a cute book in our Halloween collection.

Corduroy's Trick or Treat is illustrated by Lisa McCue, an illustrator we love for beyond-adorable fuzzy animal pictures that are more true-to-life than than the usual board book animals. Corduroy and all his friends are sweet in their costumes at the Halloween party, and simple text describes the usual Halloween activities. If the text lacks the magic of the original Corduroy, the cute illustrations make it a sweet, fun addition to the Halloween library of a younger child.

Baby Snoopy's Pumpkin is adorable! Each page is a different shape, with the largest being Snoopy's head. Baby Snoopy and Baby Woodstock plant a seed, watch is sprout and get bigger, and finally produce a pumpkin. On the last page, they decorate it. This is as much about gardening as Halloween. Lilah likes the differently shaped pages, Baby Snoopy and Baby Woodstock, and the bright orange pumpkin, and it's a fun little book to read (and, if you happen to have a flight coming up, is very small and portable!).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'Tis The Season

I love this time of year! Halloween decorations, the nip in the air, the gorgeous fall colors. It's the perfect time for snuggling under the covers and reading something spooky. I've been reading Shirley Damsgaard mysteries again; once I discovered she had written five, I had to read them all. The sixth, The Witch's Grave, comes out in December (memo to Avon Books: why not October?).

My review of Witch Way To Murder, the first in the series.

My review of Charmed To Death, the second in the series.

The third in the series is The Trouble With Witches, in which a journalist friend asks for Ophelia's help investigating the disappearance of a girl involved with a possible cult in Minnesota that concerns itself with psychic abilities. Naturally, Abby and Darci help her out. They encounter a strange girl named Tink who is being raised by her aunt and uncle (Jason and Juliet), the leaders of the group. Abby and Ophelia can sense the presence of evil at a strange cabin in the woods: who is behind it? The strange Native American man who hates whites? Tink, who clearly has unrealized power? The strange man they've seen in the area? And did the missing girl leave under her own steam, as Juliet and Jason insist? There's a lot going on in this entry in the series, but it's balanced very well between the paranormal and the mystery. The scenes at the cabin are downright creepy. The character development continues to be consistent, yet interesting, as Ophelia learns more about her heritage and how to use her gifts.

The fourth in the series is Witch Hunt, in which a biker gang has descended on Summerset. Darci's cousin is accused of murdering one of the bikers, and she begs Ophelia to investigate. Though Ophelia has her hands full with her foster daughter, Tink, she reluctantly agrees. This entry took a little more work for me to get into, and I'm not sure exactly why. Biker gangs are not one of my favorite plot devices, so that may explain it. Darci's boyfriend really stretched credibility a bit--though Damsgaard takes pains to have Darci explain the attraction to Ophelia, I had trouble believing that such a strong, self-aware character would submit to her boyfriend's fashion preferences and behavior modification. I really wanted Ophelia to smack Darci and say "Snap out of it!" though I understand her point that it wouldn't have done any good. And, given what I've read about domestic abuse, Darci's slowly changing behavior and defense of her boyfriend's controlling nature are pretty accurate. That doesn't make it less frustrating, though. At any rate, though this wasn't my favorite in the series, it was still an enjoyable read. The added dimension of Ophelia's mothering really stretches her character in a delightful way, and her challenges in dealing with a teenager who is also a talented medium are well-handled.

The fifth in the series is The Witch Is Dead, in which a funeral director dies just after Tink senses something "icky" about him. When her dog pulls a skull out of the woods, Tink feels she's being punished for failing to prevent the funeral director's murder. Meanwhile, Abby's Aunt Dot (who sees fairies) has come to town, Darci has bullied Ophelia into speed-dating, and the hyper-organized Gert is taking Darci's place at the library while Darci goes back to school. Again, all these elements are balanced very well, and when Tink disappears in the midst of Ophelia's finalizing the adoption, the mystery is gripping.

Oveview of the series so far: Damsgaard is an excellent writer, and the paranormal elements are balanced perfectly with the traditional arc of a cozy mystery. One of the best parts about cozy mystery series is the reader's ability to watch the characters grow over time, but after several books, characters can become stale. That's not a problem here. Damsgaard brings tertiary characters in and out of the books to keep them fresh and to challenge the main/secondary characters, forcing them to grow in believable ways. Even better, she defies the cozy mystery convention that a single woman in a cozy series must be in want of a boyfriend. Although Ophelia dates/makes connections with men in the books, there's no annoying, dragged-out love triangle, and no romance that must be stalled in contrived ways to keep the heroine from being married with five kids by book 3. Even better, Abby, Ophelia's grandmother, has a romance in the books, a sensitive portrayal of an older couple that is neither chaste nor the butt of jokes. Darci, the bubbly blonde, defies dumb blonde jokes with her insight and perseverance, and she brings the more serious Ophelia out of herself in fun ways. The plotting of the mysteries is tight and the paranormal elements appropriately creepy. All five books in this series are fun, spooky, gripping reads with well-developed characters and intriguing plots. I highly recommend them to cozy mystery fans, even those who are unsure of a paranormal series.

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

I really didn't like the first collaboration between Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, though I'd loved previous Crusie books. The mix of military/action and romance/mystery/humor was just not well-executed. When I read positive reviews of Agnes and the Hitman that began, "I didn't like Don't Look Down, but..." I knew I wanted to give the duo another try. And, really, they're a likable pairing. Check out their website. Click on "How it happened" and "How it works." Funny stuff (and actually, it explains a lot). But on to the book!

Columnist and cookbook writer Cranky Agnes has a history of whacking guys upside the head with frying pans. This is understandable, since she's been engaged to some real jerks. But the most recent whacking, of a lowlife out to steal her dog, ends in death when the whack-ee falls into a previously hidden basement, possibly the site of the murder of an old mob guy. Confused yet? This plot is a doozy, but it's masterfully controlled, unlike the convoluted mess of Don't Look Down. Agnes got her house in a deal with Brenda Fortunato, in exchange for planning Brenda's granddaughter's wedding, and it looks like Brenda may be trying to renege by sabotaging the wedding. Agnes's fiance is starting to look like he could use some frying-pan action. And her basement may be the site of an old mob boss's murder (and the hiding place for $5 million). So her hands are pretty full when Shane, attractive and sensitive hitman, shows up. There is still a ridiculous body count, intrusive military speak, and unbelievably cruel treatment of bad guys, courtesy of Mayer, but either he's getting better at this chick lit thing, or Crusie had the plot more under control this time, because it's a pretty fun read. Lisa Livia (Brenda's daughter) is a fantastic character, Shane is actually a nice guy, so you can see the attraction for Agnes, and Agnes herself is a lot of fun.

Fans of Jennifer Crusie can rejoice in this one, and I think Evanovich fans would get a kick out of it, too. The authors have outtakes right here, but they have spoilers, so read the book first.

My review of Don't Look Down

The Thief Lord

I don't know why I hadn't read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke awhile ago, since I had read Inkspell and Inkheart and loved them, but I read it last week and loved it. I probably enjoyed it more than most people because I feel the same way about Venice as Prosper (the main character in the book) does. The book is set in Venice - it's about two brothers who run away from their guardians - an aunt and uncle. They go to Venice because their mother always told them how wonderful Venice is. They end up living with three other children (orphans) in an empty abandoned movie theatre. The Thief Lord finds the theatre for them and supposedly steals items and then sells them to support the children. The Thief Lord is a child himself - probably about 12 or so. He comes to visit them and eats with them, but never spends the night.

The aunt and her husband come to Venice (they're German) as they've heard that Prosper and Bo are there. They hire a detective (who loves disguises of all kinds) to find the boys. The aunt only wants Bo because he's about five and looks like an angel with blond curls. Prosper or Prop as he's called is too old at 11 thus he will be sent to a boarding school. The boys are inseparable, so they ran away and ended up in Venice.

The other children - a bookworm girl about Prop's age and two boys - one who likes to steal and one who isn't wanted at home all get along well with Prop and Bo. The Thief Lord sells his stolen items to a greedy antique dealer, who offers him a job from a count. It involves a lady photographer and a old wing from a lion on a carousel. The carousel is magic.

Of course, the Thief Lord actually is a spoiled little rich boy who wants to be a grown up and is only pretending to steal things from his father's house. There are multiple mini-plots which make this an eventful and fascinating book. The references to the churches and plazas of Venice just added to my enjoyment of the book.

Eventually all the pieces of the plot are resolved - some expected and some unexpectedly. I highly recommend this as a teen adventure/action book with enough twists for everyone.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Katherine Neville Winner!

I went to this morning and #37 won! Jennifer come on down! You are the winner of the Katherine Neville contest and now the rightful owner of The Eight and The Fire.

Could you please email me (hollybooknotes[at]gmail[dot]com) with your full name and mailing address? I'll get those in the mail to you yet this week!

Thanks to everyone who participated!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More Giveaways

Dewey over at Hidden Side of the Leaf is giving away a whole box of spooky books for Halloween from the Hachette Book Group! Run on over now to throw your name in the hat! The giveaway ends tomorrow (Friday) at noon!

And don't forget to enter our giveaway for the set of Katherine Neville's books: The Eight and The Fire! You have until Sunday!

Picture Book Thursday: Halloween Part I

We have so many Halloween's hard to choose which to feature. Good thing we have two weeks in a row of Halloween books!

Where Is Baby's Pumpkin? by Karen Katz: We've been reading Karen Katz's lift-the-flap books to Lilah since she was tiny, and she continues to enjoy them. If you've read the previous holiday entries in this series, you know the drill. With seasonally appropriate substitutions, this is the same as Where Is Baby's Valentine? and Where Are Baby's Easter Eggs? Like those books, Where Is Baby's Pumpkin? features shiny, sparkly details in the items Baby finds beneath the flaps. Baby is looking for her pumpkin so she can go trick-or-treating. She looks in a variety of locations, finding other Halloween-related items (a black cat, a ghost, some bats)...will she find her pumpkin on the last page? These are simple and predictable, but fun for little ones. Lilah loves lifting flaps and the sparkles definitely add something to the holiday books. Baby is adorable in her little kitty costume. A winner!

I hadn't encountered Spookley the Square Pumpkin until Barnes and Noble gave us a free Spookley bag for buying three Halloween books. Spookley the Square Pumpkin: Colors and Numbers is two books in one (finish reading the first, then flip the book upside-down to read the second. Lilah is in a very colors/numbers oriented place right now, plus she adores pumpkins, so this was a big hit. It's pretty straightforward. Colors shows one pumpkin on each page with a little rhyme telling what color the pumpkin is. Numbers shows an increasing number of pumpkins until we reach 10. My only quibble with this is that Numbers doesn't show the same pumpkins on each page and just add one new one. Except for Spookley, all the pumpkins change on each page, if that makes sense. I think for counting, it would make more sense to have Spookley for #1, Spookley and Green Pumpkin for #2, Spookley, Green Pumpkin, and Red Pumpkin for #3, and so one. Instead, you have Spookley and an ever-changing array of different pumpkin friends. Anyway, Lilah loves this one, and it's pleasant to read aloud. A bonus: unlike practically every other Halloween book we have, there is NO mention of candy!

Monster Tales: Pumpkin Patch Party is a tiny (couple of inches) board book with flaps. Since the whole book is tiny, the flaps are too small for little fingers to pry up, so parents will need to loosen them the first time. This is one of our traveling on the plane books because it takes up almost no space in the diaper bag, but takes a while to read (sometime, I'll have to post our favorite books for plane travel--it's funny to watch me calculating the space taken up versus length of time it keeps Lilah entertained). It features Lilah's favorite Sesame Street characters at a Halloween party. The flaps reveal the monsters beneath the costumes. Kids who love flaps, costumes, or Sesame Street will probably love this one--Lilah adores it.


One of my 5 year old's favorite Halloween books is Harriet's Halloween Candy by Nancy Carlson. We got this book from the library last year and she still loved it when I brought it home again this year. Harriet gets quite a haul trick-or-treating and even though her mom asks her to share her candy with her little brother, she hides it all (except for one piece of coconut candy that she doesn't like anyway). Throughout the next day, she eats some candy and then moves her stash to a new hiding place until she just decides she should eat it all. By the end of the book, her tummy is telling her she's had enough candy and eventually shares with her brother. It's a fun little book with a nice lesson that maybe we shouldn't eat ALL our Halloween candy in one sitting. :-) This is a nice Halloween picture book and the illustrations are fun.

Halloween Hats by Elizabeth Winthrop is a cute Halloween picture book. It opens with children finding their costumes (and hats) in a attic. As you turn the pages, you see children in all different costumes with hats. Some of the same children appear on several pages so you can have fun looking through the book and recognizing the kids from the previous pages. In the last two pages everyone throws their hats up in the air to become someone new. The text is short, simplistic rhyming and perfect for the younger end of picture book listeners. The story is nice here, but I think the illustrations make it really fun.

That's it for today! Stay tuned next week for another roundup of Halloween books!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another WWII winner

I just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I received this as an ARC from Random House/Ballantine Books. It won't be released until January 27, 2009. BUT, if you can get your hands on a copy now, do it! I rarely give five stars to a book. I save that rating for books that really amaze me or have some quality that make it an instant favorite of mine. This is THE best fiction book I have read in 2008. AND this is a DEBUT novel by Jamie Ford. Really, I'm just wowed.

For some reason, WWII books are finding their way to me lately, first The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, now this book, and I just received Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay in the mail. Okay, so now that I've built Ford's book up so much, I hope you aren't disappointed when you do read it. But I don't know how you could be.

Now on to Hotel on the Corner. The story flip-flops between Henry Lee age 12 in 1942 and Henry Lee age 56 in 1986. The young Henry is struggling to fit in as a Chinese American in Seattle going to an all-white prep school. His parents are extremely traditional (they do not even speak English) and he has a hard time relating to his father. Henry is on scholarship at the school and helps out in the kitchen and after school. He is caught between not fitting in at his school and not fitting in with his community because he does not go to the Chinese school. One day, a Japanese girl named Keiko joins him in the school kitchen and the two start a wonderful friendship. Henry's parents do not understand or approve of him befriending a Japanese girl on the eve of the rise of Japanese internment camps. As she is sent away, he tries his hardest to save her and not lose her, the first girl he has ever loved.

The Henry of 1986 is mourning the death of his wife after spending seven years caring for her while she suffered through cancer. He finds history repeating itself slightly with regard to his relationship with his son. They are not very close and in fact do not see eye to eye on many thing. A relationship of misunderstanding. However, as Henry starts to get on with his life after his wife's death, he finds himself thinking of Keiko and what happened to her. Surprising to Henry, his son helps him work through his feelings.

There is a cast of colorful characters throughout the book in both time periods. A few follow throughout the time line. Ford crafted a wonderful and realistic story of a tumultuous time in history. He's created a social history of Seattle during the war. A story of race, culture, family, friendship, love and hope. I was hooked from the beginning and whipped through the pages to find out if Henry and Keiko ever found each other again. You must read the book to find out! ;-) No spoilers here. Ford also brings in a bit of the jazz scene of Seattle in the '40's. I think the flow of this book is really good, even going in and out of the different time periods. I just love all the relationships portrayed and the history is interesting and there without being too distracting. The people in the book are at the forefront not the events.

Now, go find your "to be read" list and mark this book down as the first TBR of 2009!

A New Contest!

I was just sitting here doing my morning blog reading on the computer, when it hit me! It's Tuesday! Contest time!

It's actually Tuesday, October 14th, which is the official publication date for Katherine Neville's The Fire!

I have a copy of The Eight and an ARC of The Fire that we are giving away here this week! My reviews are here and here, respectively.

To enter the contest, do one or all of the following:
1. Leave a comment saying you would like to be entered.

2. Answer these questions for one bonus entry each:
a. Do you play chess?
b. What adult adventure/treasure books or authors do you recommend to other readers?

3. Post about this contest, leaving me the link in your comment and receive THREE extra entries!

Post your comments by Sunday, October 19th, 11:59pm Central Standard time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mystery Monday!

Vacation blogging is always hit or miss with me, so I have several mystery reviews to post today. I will have to put up a post-vacation-book-shopping photo (despite my piles of TBR books, authors and publishers insist on producing more books). I haven't yet put my TBR books into my LibraryThing catalog, but I really need to start doing that.

Little Shop of Murders by Susan Goodwill: This is the sequel to Brigadoom! and the second Kate London mystery. I've concluded that these are best read once a year (and it's a good thing they come out in the spring, since Plum books are July releases). I still enjoyed this entry, but since I read the first book quite recently, the ghost of Stephanie Plum seemed more insistent this time. A couple of details in particular nagged at me: Kate has an eye twitch to which the author alludes several times, and Aunt Kitty's knobby knees are mentioned when she wears age-inappropriate clothing. Throw in a crazy old guy robbing a bank, and amiable repo man, and a sweetly inept biker gang impersonating hardened criminals, and you have quite a rash of coincidental echoes of Evanovich. And yet...I can't NOT recommend this book.

Aunt Kitty is staging Little Shop of Horrors in the Egyptian Theatre. She and Kate are in line to deposit quite a bit of cash at Mudd Lake Savings Bank when it's held up by Kitty's boyfriend, who makes off with the money the Egyptian needed to pay for its Audrey puppets. A repo man camps out next to the theater, waiting for his chance. Kate (and Kitty and Verna, of course) decide to investigate since the opening is mere days away. When the Audrey puppeteer quits, stage-fright stricken Kate takes over, mowing down the actors in the unwieldy puppet. A convoluted plot unfolds, involving a biker gang, a master criminal with a corporate attitude, and funny money turning up all over Mudd Lake. Will Little Shop of Horrors be an unmitigated disaster, ruining the Egyptian's chances of recovery?

I enjoyed the first book, and I thought this one was quite fun as well. If you think the Stephanie Plum similarities will drive you crazy, maybe check out the first at the library and see how it goes. These are well-written, madcap mysteries with lots of humor and a touch of romance. I really like the characters and the locale of Mudd Lake, and I think there's a lot of originality in the series...just not quite enough.

The Tale of Hawthorn House by Susan Wittig Albert: This is a series I never fail to call "utterly charming" whenever I mention it, but it's not for everyone. If you prefer pulse-pounding suspense or bloody murder scenes to talking animals, fairy folk, precocious children, and details of village life, definitely look elsewhere. I think this is a series I would love to read out loud when Lilah is a bit older--that's how tame it is. There's little death and violence, and the narrator is so sweetly, conversational that these feel (as they are meant to) like Beatrix Potter tales recast for grown-up (and advanced children) to read. They are based on Beatrix Potter's life after the death of her fiance, when she purchases Hill Top Farm in the Land Between the Lakes (in defiance of her parents, who do not want her to be independent of them). Albert uses real and imagined characters to give richness and authenticity to the supposed village mysteries solved by the fictionalized Miss Potter. In this, the fourth entry (the first is The Tale of Hill Top Farm), Miss Potter finds a baby on her doorstep. She sets out to find the parents of Baby Flora. Meanwhile, Jemima Puddle-Duck is sitting on a clutch of eggs that are taking far too long to hatch, Dimity's romance moves along, the village gossip mill gets several things dead wrong, and Miss Potter notices her feelings for Mr. Heelis seem a bit different. The reader knows the answer to Baby Flora's parentage, but Miss Potter, not having read the Prologue, has to use some inventive sleuthing, along with her friend Sarah Barrows. I recommend this to adults who enjoy a gentle mystery amidst richly described village life, and to children who are strong readers and enjoy mysteries.

My review of The Tale of Hill Top Farm

A Holly Jolly Murder by Joan Hess: This was not what I expected at all, but it was fun. The twelfth in the Claire Malloy mystery series (the first in Strangled Prose) sees Claire, accusing by boyfriend Peter as set in her ways, impulsively accepting an invitation to a winter solstice celebration by neo-Druids (Farberville has everything!). This drags her into a contentious group with different worship ideas and hidden agendas, culminating in Claire's finding yet another body. Claire cannot resist the pleas that she solve the mystery, and she snoops and pries as usual. Meanwhile, Caron and Inez have taken on jobs as Santa's helpers at the mall, with predictably (though enjoyably) disastrous results. Claire and Peter's relationship gets thrown for quite a loop, so if you can't stand the cliffhanger, have #13 ready.

A Conventional Corpse by Joan Hess: Can it be possible that Joan Hess has yet to target the mystery convention? It's a scene made for Claire Malloy's acerbic observations and snooping. All Claire wants to do is make a mint selling books for signings at Farber University's first annual mystery convention. But with Sally Fromberger felled by illness, Claire takes the reins of the convention, managing a group of contentious, demanding authors who are thrown for a loop by the appearance of an editor with ties to all of them. The individual authors are funny, but their crass response to tragedy (constantly speculating as though the death were fictional) was a bit tiresome. Caron, Arnie, and the spoiled hell-cat were very funny. The subplot of Claire's relationship with Peter meanders some more, an indication that thirteen books is a long stretch to keep a romance up in the air. But that's never been the central part of this series for me, so that was fine. What I enjoy about the Claire Malloy books is her wordplay, clever observations, and unapologetic snooping, and those were evident in abundance.

Out on a Limb by Joan Hess: Miss Parchester has decided to live up in a tree in the 14th book in the Claire Malloy series. No, she hasn't gone crazy; she's representing the Farberville Green Party, protesting a development that plans to remove the old tree. Meanwhile, Caron finds a baby on the doorstep, and when Claire is seen diaper-shopping, rumors fly that Caron is the mother. Caron, always overdramatic, is really funny in this situation, and when the mother of the baby is arrested for her father's murder, the plot is engaging. There's an evil developer, always a fun potential villain, Miss Parchester clearly hiding something, and Caron acting a bit grown up in her concern for the baby. This was a fine entry in the series.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Masterpiece by Elise Broach

I won a signed copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by A Patchwork of Books. I was so excited to win. It sounded right up my alley. And I wasn't disappointed!

Masterpiece is a story of friendship mixed with a little art history and art theft. A lonely little boy named James, who is all but ignored by his mother and stepfather, discovers a little beetle named Marvin has a wonderful artistic gift. James receives a pen and ink drawing set for his birthday from his artist father. During the night, Marvin discovers the new set on James' desk. Curious, he starts dipping his front legs into the ink and creates a wonderful little drawing of the scene outside James' bedroom window. Delighted by the drawing, James discovers Marvin created it and an unlikely friendship is formed. The adults in James' life think he created the tiny, intricate drawing and are in awe of his new found talent. Upon a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, James is asked to create a copy of a famous Albrecht Durer drawing. His copy is so close to the original that the museums curator develops a plan to try and catch an art thief. Throughout the story, Marvin and James work together first to create the drawings then to help solve the art mystery.

This book was a delight for me to read. It was fun to see art history woven into the story and I'm thrilled that this book might spark an interest in art history for children reading it. Though the friendship between James and Marvin is unlikely, it seems to work for this book. It is fun to read about Marvin's world and how the beetles view humans. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys juvenile fiction. You won't be disappointed! And Kelly Murphy's pen and ink illustrations are so lovely. They fit right along with the story so well. Oh, this one was so fun and I look forward to reading more of Broach's books in the future.

Broach also wrote Shakespeare's Secret, which Allison reviewed here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Here are a couple giveaways going on:

The Literate Housewife if giving away 3 copies of The Witches Trinity by Erika Mailman.

Bookish Ruth is also giving away a copy of Tethered by Amy MacKinnon.

Run on over and check them out if you're interested! :-)

More Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I borrowed this charming novel by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows from Allison. Her review can be found here. I feel like this book has been all over the place and Allison wrote such a wonderful review that I won't rephrase the story.

It took me a bit to get into the book and get used to the style of writing. In Part 2 of the book, we follow Juliet to Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I enjoyed this half of the book more than the first half, which took place in London. I loved the quaintness of Guernsey and the various characters, especially Isola and Dawsey. I found the overall story of the German occupation very interesting. Juliet's male companion, Mark really annoyed me with his arrogant attitude. I was pleased when she finally made a decision regarding her future with him.

Many people suggest this book would be a good book club choice. I agree, the historical content is interesting and the characters are intriguing. More Guernsey Literary... reviews: Charlotte's Web of Books, Lesa's Book Critiques, and Thoughts of Joy.

Sidenote: Stay tuned next Tuesday for another giveaway!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Picture Book Thursday!!

Our theme this week is Friendship. I'm going to start with one book that I think is adorable: Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems. This is the sequel to Knuffle Bunny. In this book, Trixie takes her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school with her and realizes another little girl has a Knuffle Bunny too! They argue over whose Knuffle Bunny is better until the teacher puts the Knuffle Bunnies on timeout. At the end of the day, they each get a Knuffle Bunny back to take home. In the middle of the night, Trixie discovers that the Knuffle Bunny she has is NOT hers! She insists on making an exchange in the middle of the night. At the end of the book, the two little girls become good friends and play with both their Knuffle Bunnies together. It's a sweet tale and the pictures are animations over photographic backgrounds. Very cool! The first book is great as well, you should check out both of them. We have a couple beloved animlas in this household so these books really spoke to my daughters.

Another great picture book about friendship: Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Craig Hatkoff. Owen, a baby hippo is displaced during the Dec. 2004 Tsunami. People worked to save him, but it wasn't until he befriended Mzee, a 130-year old turtle that Owen became happy. He actually thought she was his mother. :-) The two adopted each other and do everything together. Their story was turned into a picture book after photos of them were passed around the email world, making them celebrities. Great story accompanied by photographs of the two friends. Also a nice way to show children that two friends do not have to be just like each other. Also check out the sequel: Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship; and board books: Owen & Mzee: Best Friends & Owen & Mzee: A Day Together.


I'm featuring three board books for younger children today, each from a series all three of us love.

Gossie & Gertie by Olivier Dunrea is the second book in a series that begins with Gossie. The story couldn't be simpler or more enchanting. Gossie and Gertie are best friends, and Gertie always follows Gossie around...until one day, she doesn't! The text is simple, with effortless rhyming and a readable rhythm, and lots of repetition for little ones. The message about friendship is sweet: Gossie doesn't get mad when Gertie decides not to follow her one day. The illustrations are simple line drawings with primary colors, and little details like beetles and turtles that really add to the scene. Gossie and Gertie's world is the barn and farmland, and Gossie and Gertie have fun with a variety of wholesome, non-video-game activities, always a bonus. Lilah requests these frequently: "Read ducky book!" (Gossie and Gertie look a lot like ducklings, and I have yet to convince Lilah they're not!)

Little Quack's New Friend by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Derek Anderson, is another fun toddler book. In this entry in the series, Little Ribbit, a small green frog, asks Little Quack and his siblings to play. Only Little Quack agrees to play with the newcomer; his brothers and sisters dismiss Little Ribbit as too green, too small, and a FROG. As they watch Little Quack and Little Ribbit have a great time, the siblings decide to join in, concluding that it doesn't matter how different Little Ribbit is, they "all like to play!" The sounds the friends make while playing ("plunka splunka" jumps to mind) complement the exuberant story and are really fun to read aloud. This is much more text-heavy than the Gossie books, but it keeps Lilah's interest (as do the others in the series) until the end. The illustrations are lush and bright; the scene is the ducks' pond, with reeds, mud, and lily pads, and the motion is depicted really well--these ducks and frog are clearly having a great time. The lesson is certainly not unique in children's literature, but it's done here with great exuberance and fun, so I would call this a stand-out.

The "How Do Dinosaurs...?" books by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague are cute, fun reads, with lilting rhymes and clear messages. How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends? is no exception. Dinosaurs are surprisingly considerate, taking turns and sharing, and NOT moping or pouting. The illustrations are funny, with distinct dinosaur species represented as the children, and smaller humans as the parents. Each dinosaur species is written in the drawings for children who are getting dino-crazy. Lilah loves dinosaurs (she actually stomps around like a dinosaur when carrying a dino stuffed animal), but I imagine these books are great for parents of boys who may be less interested in sitting still to read. The message in this book is very simple: share, take turns, and be nice to your friends, but it's so fun to read and accompanied by such rich, detailed images of dinosaurs that children won't find it preachy.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Schooled by Anisha Lakhani

I was selected to receive this book last June for LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Through a series of errors from the publishers, some people didn't receive their copies until last week. I was one of those people and was excited to see it show up in my mailbox, finally. I have been in the mood for light fare lately so I jumped right in.

This is the story of Anna Taggert, a first year teacher at a prestigious Manhattan private school. There is a note in the beginning of the book that says Lakhani did indeed teach in private schools, but that the characters and their actions in this book are entirely fictionalized. Riiiight. Remember The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Yeah, those were both fictionalized accounts as well, yet, the authors of Nanny Diaries were nannies and the witchy editor in Devil Wears Prada closely resembles the editor of Vogue (was it Vogue, I can't remember now, but some real-life editor of a high-end fashion magazine). So, I believe there is probably some truth to this outrageous story of spoiled rich seventh grade students who seem to have tutors who do all their work and attend multiple bar/bat mitzvahs in one weekend.

Anna starts out as a fresh faced 22-year-old ivy league graduate excited at the prospect of molding young minds, even if she's not getting paid a major league salary. Within two months of working at the private school, she has figured out teaching there is a no-win situation. If she teaches her students too much, the parents call saying their child is overworked. If she relaxes on the teaching, she finds that her students are spending their days watching movies and working on other homework during her class time. Not really the experience she had in mind. She stumbles into the world of tutoring and discovers she can make her whole month's teaching salary in one week tutoring just a few hours. She is seduced by the money, freedom to move out of her crappy apartment, buy designer clothes, and the change in her students' attitude toward her. She was now the "cool" teacher they all loved. But the tutoring begins to take its toll on Anna both morally and physically. She has to decide if she wants to keep up with her lavish yet empty lifestyle or actually teach the children something.

This book was very light and fast. I felt like the story was a bit tired though. As I mentioned, it is quite similar to The Nanny Diaries and Devil Wears Prada. Or actually, maybe a combination of both of those. We get a look at the world of the rich and their children. We also are treated to an array of designer names thrown out at us. The story of a homely, somewhat naive middle-class woman being seduced into the world of the rich, but will she give up her morals and everything her parents taught her about being a good person, in order to have the latest fashion trend? This is a good read for vacation or after a particularly hefty book, but it is predictable and lacks real substance.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Picture Book Thursday!

Allison and I are going to start a new feature on the blog! Picture Book Thursday! Since she and I are constantly reading books to our little ones, we thought we'd share some with you! I'm sure we have some parents reading the blog who might be looking for a new fun book to read to their kids. Or perhaps others have kids they know and would like gift ideas. At any rate, hope you enjoy it! :-)

I think we decided on a bear theme for our first installment of Picture Book Thursday, which is very fitting for the first book I've chosen to review! My daughter Lily turned three this weekend and she received several books as gifts. One of them was The Bear with Sticky Paws by Clara Vulliamy. In the book, a little girl named Lily is being defiant to her mother. She won't wash her face, brush her hair, or get dressed. And "No!" is her favorite word. After her mom leaves for the day, a little white bear shows up at the front door. Lily and the bear have fun snacks and play making a big mess in the house. When Lily tries to get the bear to take a bath, brush his fur and go to bed, all he says is "No!" Then he leaves and in comes Mom! Lily then tells her mom she will clean up the mess, wash her face and brush her hair. I think the illustrations are really sweet and have a bit of a nostalgic feeling to them. They are a nice change of pace from the many television derived books in our house (Dora, Little Einsteins, the new Curious George books, Disney Princess, etc.). This adorable book is perfect for the ages 3-5 years (Even though the publisher says 4-8 years, it's not too wordy for a toddler who enjoys being read to.). And perfect for MY Lily who is in a bit of a defiant stage herself! :-) And her favorite thing in the world is her Bear snuggle blanket.

Another favorite in our house is We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, which Allison actually gifted to us last year! (Thanks Allison!) Both my girls just love this book! A family decides to go looking for a bear on a beautiful day. They come across many obstacles such as a grassy field, a river, mud, and wind. Each page contains the same pattern and has great words for describing the sounds like "squelch squerch" for going through the mud or "whoo hooooo" for the wind. In the end the family decides maybe a bear hunt isn't the best idea. :-) The book is supposed to be for 4-9 year olds, but my then 2 year old loved the board book version too.


Bear Feels Scared is the latest in a series by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, and is perfectly timed for Autumn/Halloween. Matt, Lilah, and I all adore Bear Snores On, the first in the series, in which a hibernating Bear sleeps on as his friends have a party in his lair, so we picked up Bear Feels Scared from the B&N Halloween section. It's adorable, as expected from this author/illustrator team. Wilson's rhyme scheme and rhythm are gentle and lilting, easy and fun to read aloud, with the first line "In the deep, dark woods by the Strawberry Vale, a big bear lumbers down a small, crooked trail." Bear gets lost in the autumn woods and is frightened by sounds and the dark, but his friends find him and take him back home. I don't think it's overly frightening, just enough to be a relief when Bear's friends arrive. Lilah loves this one, and listens to the entire book (which she doesn't do for all text-heavy books). It's billed as for ages 4-8, but Lilah, at 21 months, has been a fan of the Bear books since I can remember. They're a delight for parents to read out loud, and a hit with kids. Chapman's illustrations are just beautiful, with Bear and other animals rendered in a fairly realistic style, but with abundant facial expressions, and the autumnal backgrounds in this one, with winds blowing and leaves swirling, are gorgeous. Readers of the other Bear books will notice marked similarities among the books as far as rhythm and rhyme scheme, but this doesn't bother me; instead, the familiarity is pleasant, like returning to visit old friends Bear, Badger, Hare, and others.

Lilah likes to read thematically--she'll grab a stuffed duck and hand us all her books featuring ducks. Another favorite are "Brown bear books!" We read several books in a row, all featuring brown bears, so naturally, my "bonus" bear book for the day is Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle. It's a classic for a reason. We have it in tough board-book format, and Lilah loves pointing at the animals and telling us what they are (and their colors). When she was younger, she would point and have us tell her the animal names and colors. Carle's modern-art illustrations are gorgeous, rich, and colorful, a sure hit with little ones, and the repetitive nature of the text is perfect for children learning to read.

Back to High School

I have been interested in checking out graphic novels lately. I see them reviewed here and there in the blogosphere (almost always highly rated) and the idea of a graphic novel that is not based on a superhero intrigues me. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci has popped up on several blogs I read so I thought I would start there.

The book starts out with high-schooler Jane being a victim in a random bombing in Metro City, similar to the 9/11 attack. She becomes attached to another victim, John Doe, who is in a coma, visiting him on a regular basis. Her parents now scared that Metro City is unsafe, move Jane to a suburban neighborhood far away. She tries to fly under the radar in her new school just waiting to graduate so she can get back to the big city. Refusing to assimilate into the popular group, she chooses to sit at a lunch table filled with more Janes (Jayne, Jane, and Polly Jane). Inspired by John Doe's sketchbook entitled "Art Saves", Main Jane (as she becomes known) decides to do an art installation in a construction site. She enlists the help of the other Janes who each bring their own attributes to the installation. They form P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods). With each covert installation, the town gets more worked up seeing the art as vandalism and even equating it to terrorist attacks. Curfews and rules try to curb P.L.A.I.N., but the girls somehow get around them all, until the end. I really enjoyed this and I think its an interesting commentary on art installations. At my small college, each spring we would find various art installations pop up around campus, they always provoked spirited discussions about what art really is. In the Plain Janes, I think P.L.A.I.N. becomes a way to help Main Jane heal emotionally from her experience in Metro City. The sequel, Janes in Love just came out September 23rd. Publisher Minx Books, a division of DC Comics, has several other titles similar to this one. These might be good choices for reluctant female middle school age readers (the publisher suggests grades 7-10). Unfortunately, in looking around at Minx Books on the internet, I came across this article detailing the failure of Minx. It's really too bad they couldn't give it a go awhile longer. I think it is a really neat idea to create graphic novels geared toward girls.

Other reviews of The Plain Janes can be found here: Girl Detective, The Hidden Side of a Leaf, So Many Books, So Little Time, and Presenting Lenore.

Although, I was attempting to link two books with the theme of high school, this next book is drastically different from Plain Janes. I recently finished The Power of Three by Laura Lippman, an adult crime novel. Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan series, which I haven't read, but would like to get to some day. The Power of Three is one of her stand alone books. We open with one girl hiding a gun in her backpack. Then, there is a school shooting. One girl is dead, one is injured in her foot, and the third (presumably the shooter) a botched suicide attempt. The whole book centers around trying to figure out what exactly happened in the bathroom to make three best friends become victims/enemies. There are flashbacks throughout the book to see the girls' friendship throughout the past ten years. Lippman does a wonderful job with character development. I feel like we really get a sense of who each of these girls are, what makes them different from each other and the rest of the high school crowd. Lippman guides us along in the investigation of the shooting letting us in on secrets here and there. I spent much of the book thinking I could figure it all out and I somewhat did, but I think I did at the pace that Lippman wanted her readers to figure it out. It was nicely predictable. And there was a tiny bit of a twist at the end as to who the "fourth girl" really was when the shooting took place. Any fans of Harlan Coben would most likely really enjoy this one. I found Lippman to sort of be a female version of Coben. I still have What the Dead Know sitting on my shelf and I'm looking forward to getting to that one as well.