Thursday, April 29, 2010

Picture Book Thursday: Sleepover at Gramma's House

Yes, I am waaaaay behind on Picture Book Thursday posts! I can't believe how behind I am on those. At least 12 books in the queue to be reviewed. Instead of thinking about how behind I am, I'm just going to get caught up, yes I am! Okay, now that's the right attitude! I'm going to schedule these for every 2-3 weeks and then hopefully, that will help me get caught up and I won't have to remember that it's time for another PBTh book. :-)

So here goes...Book #1: Sleepover at Gramma's House by Barbara Joose, illustrated by Jan Jutte. This book's illustrations remind me a bit (just a bit) of the Babar books. The book starts with a little girl so excited to visit her Gramma's house. She runs around her house packing her "nighty trunk" and saying good-bye to everything and everyone. And then she's off to have fun adventures with Gramma: painting, having fun snacks, telling each other stories and finally good night.

This is a very sweet book that would be wonderful to give to preschoolers before a trip to Grandma's house, especially if they are going for their first overnight! The beginning of the book seems to be ode to Goodnight Moon. After the first few pages the text gets a little long and more sing songy. The illustrations are fun throughout!

This might make a fun book to give to Grandma for Mother's Day from the grandchildren. She could keep it at her house to read to them when they come over. (Edited to add: Just checked the publication date...May 13th. So just misses Mother's Day this year. Maybe for next year though!)

About the author:
Barbara Joosse is the author of more than thirty books for children, which include Mama, Do You Love Me?, Please Is a Good Word to Say, Love is a Good Thing to Feel and ROAWR!, her first collaboration with Jan Jutte. Sleepover at Gramma's House joins her other major titles as a book that can be, as she says, shared by parents and grandparents and their child inside a hug. Barbara Joosse lives with her husband, sculptor C. T. Whitehouse, and their two dogs in a little stone house in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

About the Illustrator:
Jan Jutte is one of the Netherlands' most accomplished picture book artists. He has illustrated over one hundred titles and has won many of the country's highest awards, including the Golden Brush and the Golden Plaque. Jan and his wife, Nanouk, live in a very old town in the Netherlands called Zutphen with their son, Melle, and two dogs, Titus and Igor.

Source disclosure: This book was sent to me unsolicited from the Penguin Group.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Revenge of the Spellmans

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I decided to re-read the first three Izzy Spellman books by Lisa Lutz after reading the fourth, The Spellmans Strike Again. The first is The Spellman Files, then Curse of the Spellmans, then Revenge of the Spellmans. My teaser is from Revenge of the Spellmans, page 71:

"It's my life. You're just a member of the audience," I said, getting up to leave.

"Well, I want my money back!" Mom shouted after me as I headed for the front door. "Because this show sucks!"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Mine is from The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant:

'Herr Schiller? Are there really such things as ghosts?'
The old man did not even show surprise at the question. He heaved a sigh. 'Yes, Pia, there are. But never the ones you expect.' (p. 63)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mystery Monday - G. M. Malliet

Death at the Alma Mater (St. Just mystery #3) by G. M. Malliet: The delightful Malliet turns her rapier wit to the university murder mystery in the third St. Just and Sgt. Fear mystery. St. Michael's College, the red-headed stepchild of Cambridge, is desperate for money. The college master invites rich alumni for a fundraising weekend. Both Lexy Laurant and her ex-husband, Sir James, are on the guest list, promising fireworks, but when Lexy turns up dead, the weekend becomes a bit too exciting. Detective Inspector St. Just and Sgt. Fear come to St. Michael's to sort through the array of suspects, including Lexy's Latin lover, a spoiled student, a dot-com millionaire, the shrewd college Bursar, and so many more. St. Just's girlfriend, Portia, is on the scene, as she is a student. To be honest, I'm a bit annoyed by the St. Just - Portia relationship. I just don't care too terribly much about it. But the good far outweighs the bad in this series, which is both an homage to classic mysteries and a gentle parody. The suspects are many, the investigator entertaining (he delights in the drawing-room scene with all suspects assembled), and the plot convoluted enough to keep the reader guessing. A really fun read in a delightful series.

My review of Death and the Lit Chick (#2)
My review of Death of a Cozy Writer (#1)

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Flashback Friday - Louise Penny

I received The Brutal Telling, the fifth in Louise Penny's Inspectpr Gamache mystery series, through LibraryThing's Early Review program. I was so utterly charmed that I ordered the first four books in the series. This series is a new favorite of mine. Chief Inspector Gamache, of the Surete in Quebec, investigates murders primarily in the tiny village of Three Pines. Penny has a gift for characterization and a flair for mystery.

Still Life by Louise Penny (#1): The body of eccentric artist Jane Neal is found outside the village of Three Pines, and Chief Inspector Gamache is called in to investigate what appears to be a hunting accident. But the plot quickly thickens with suspects as Jane's dreadful niece, Yolande, turns up to claim her inheritance and villagers' secrets are brought into the light. Penny is a master of both mystery and the village novel. Her characters are rich and vibrant, their relationships complex and satisfying, the mystery plausible yet not obvious. Chief Inspector Gamache and his team are smart and determined. Penny's prose is beautiful and the reader is drawn into Three Pines and its wonderful inhabitants.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (#2): No one mourns when abrasive socialite (and self-made spiritual guide) CC dePoitiers is electrocuted during a curling match during the Christmas season. But Chief Inspector Gamache arrives to investigate. CC's lover, her abused daughter, and any number of villagers offended by her are all suspects. The mystery is involved, and while the method of murder seems overly complicated, Penny kept me guessing until the end.

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (#3): In this entry, the villagers of Three Pines hold a seance in the old Hadley house, and Madeleine Favreau collapses, apparently dead of fright. Naturally, there is more to the story, and Chief Inspector Gamache and his team arrive to investigate. A subplot involving Gamache's accusations about a superior has Gamache wondering if there is a mole on his team.

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny (#4): Gamache and his wife are on holiday at Manoir Bellechasse, a lovely, peaceful resort. Vacationing with them are the Finney family, including Three Pines residents Peter and Clara Morrow. When a statue of the Finney pater crushes one of his daughters, Gamache's carefree holiday is at an end. Leaving Three Pines for a book was probably a good idea, since the village is tiny and would soon run out of residents. And the Manoir, with its intriguing staff and contentious guests, was a delightful setting.

Source disclosure: I purchased these books.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

I love a good ghost story, and Wendy Webb's debut novel promises just that. Hallie James has lived in Washington with her father since her mother died during Hallie's childhood. As her father descends into Alzheimer's, Hallie receives a letter from Madlyn Crane, claiming she is Hallie's mother. The letter was sent by Madlyn's attorney on Grand Manitou Island in the Great Lakes after Madlyn died. Before he dies, Hallie's father confirms the story. Reeling from her father's death and the news about her mother, she goes to Grand Manitou to claim her inheritance. The island is an insular place, and its ban on cars adds to the creepy Gothic feel of the story, a step out of time. Hallie learns that her father faked their deaths after a young girl died in Hallie's home. Why? Could he have, as the islanders believe, caused the girl's death? And who is the ghost who sings childish songs that only Hallie hears?

This book actually didn't hook me immediately. The beginning, with Hallie in her run-of-the-mill Washington life, is not exactly atmospheric, and she seemed strangely detached from the life-changing news that her mother had been alive and her father had faked their deaths. She wasn't very fleshed out as a character. But once she reaches the island, the Gothic atmosphere creeps in. Her mother's elderly housekeeper begins to tell Hallie the story of her family's history, drawing her into the past in the midst of her adjustment to life on an island whose inhabitants had thought she'd died thirty years before. I actually had trouble falling asleep after reading a particularly eerie part of the book. There were two elements in particular that were supposed to surprise me at the end, so I was disappointed that I guessed them. One of them was obvious from the beginning. The book is saved by Webb's gift for atmospheric horror. I had genuine chills at parts of this book. The ghosts were creepy, if a bit on the cliche side. All in all, an uneven ghost story, but if you're looking for some delightfully Gothic chills, The Tale of Halcyon Crane will supply them.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Fool by Christopher Moore

Ah, Christopher Moore. I can always count on you for both erudite wit and bawdy humor. Turning one of Shakespeare's tragedies into a comedy chock-full of shagging, groan-worthy puns, potty humor, and, of course, mocking the French, takes a special kind of writer. Fool is Moore's retelling of King Lear from the point-of-view of Pocket, the King's fool. And now, it's a comedy. A very bawdy one (not unlike the Bard's own humor, really - all Moore missed here was a spot of gender confusion). I'm familiar with Moore's work, so I was expecting smart and funny, but I wasn't expecting such a sweet, tender story in parts. His endearing Pocket is lewd, randy, and respects no one, but as he is caught up in the political machinations of the plot, his gentle, sympathetic side is drawn out further. He's a surprisingly likable hero. Regan and Goneril are delightfully wicked villains, Lear is infuriating as in the original, and Pocket's dimwitted and perpetually aroused apprentice, Drool, is oddly sweet. For those (like me) who have not read King Lear in some time, Pocket explains the main plot points clearly and with great humor.

As with all Moore books, this one goes well over the top with some of the bodily fluid-dependent humor. I always find myself wishing he hadn't gone quite so far, or that he would leave that joke well enough alone after the fourth time, but that's not hard to overlook. I found this to be a really enjoyable read, and despite knowing the plot in advance, I was swept up in the action, and completely enamored with Pocket.

If you take your Shakespeare very seriously or find raunchy humor offensive, steer clear. Otherwise, I thought this a cracking good read with surprising depth.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

The Lawyer's Secret by M. E. Braddon

The Lawyer's Secret by M. E. Braddon was originally published in 1862, and was recently reprinted by Hesperus Press with a foreword by Matthew Sweet and the addition of the shorter work "The Mystery at Fernwood." Braddon was a master of "sensation fiction," "a species of writing...'aimed at electrifying the nerves of the reader.'" The genre flourished in the 1860s as part of a larger cultural trend. Braddon's focus was on domestic strife with a mysterious edge; rather than in exotic mansions or haunted houses, her heroines find terror in seemingly ordinary lives. In The Lawyer's Secret, Ellinor inherits her uncle's estate on the condition that she marry his protege. It's fairly obvious that the lawyer is hiding something (not least from the title) and to a modern reader, the secret is easy to guess. Because the genre is driven by plot rather than character development, the lack of surprise squelches the "electrified nerves" experienced by Victorian readers. As mysteries, these stories really do not stand the test of time to be engaging to the modern reader, in the way that, say, Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte continue to inspire readers. However, the Hesperus Press reissue puts these works into their historical context with a foreword, biographical note, and footnotes, making it a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in Victorian fiction.

Source disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is Alan Bradley's second Flavia deLuce mystery. The precocious eleven-year-old practicing chemistry out of sight of her father and horrid sisters in 1950s rural England was introduced in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, one of my favorite reads from 2009. The second book does not disappoint. A traveling puppet show is the definition of excitement in Bishops Lacey, but when he dies during the show, that's the definition of excitement for Flavia deLuce. She digs into the mystery, using her knowledge of the village and chemistry knowledge to eliminate suspects and determine how the puppeteer's death could be connected to the hanging of a young boy five years before. Meanwhile, she cleverly concocts poisons to gain revenge on her older sisters, diagnoses pregnancy with a handkerchief, and stumbles upon a hemp field. We see more of the Bishops Lacey residents in this installment, and the rural village setting continues to delight. Flavia's odd Aunt Felicity is in for a visit, which adds an interesting dimension. Flavia is simply fun to read. My husband heard me cracking up while I was reading this book and asked what was so funny. "Flavia's trying to poison her sisters again!" I told him. I think he's reevaluating my sense of humor. Flavia is smart, witty, and resourceful, and her investigation is brilliant.

This is a fantastic entry in one of my absolute favorite mystery series. Fans of cozies or historical mysteries will love Flavia.

Source disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.