Saturday, April 28, 2012

Boom! (Or 70,000 Light Years), by Mark Haddon

The library has this classified as an adult fiction book but it is clearly juvenile fiction--says so right on the back of the book. It's really cute though. I would definitely read it to kids.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Big Cat, Small Cat, by Ami Rubinger

The idea behind most of Ami Rubinger's picture books for young children is that kids will love filling in the blanks of the read-aloud rhymes. In Big Cat, Small Cat, I'm not sure all of these pictures are obvious enough for children to guess the rhymes, but it's cute.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Dream of an Elephant, by Ami Rubinger

In this beautiful picture book for preschoolers, each page shows an explosion of colour, one page for each colour of the rainbow, accompanied by a predictable rhyme that kids can fill in:

Friends all around--what a popular fellow! I dream of an elephant, whose color is--

I normally don't review picture books (though I've certainly read enough of them!) but I do love these Abbeville Press books. So pretty!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Red House, by Mark Haddon

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The premise is simple: two estranged adult siblings, Angela and Richard, bring their families on vacation together for a week in the English countryside. Angela is married with three children, while Richard has recently remarried and now has a teen stepdaughter. But, in true Mark Haddon style, the telling of the story of these eight people is anything but simple. The story is told from the perspective of each character nearly simultaneously, like a stream-of-consciousness novel in octet form. Think Dawn French's A Tiny Bit Marvellous meets Virginia Woolf's The Waves

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries, by James Runcie

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I'd like to believe that somewhere, somehow, James Runcie was sitting around thinking, "Well, I know she likes the Flavia de Luce books and all those old Agatha Christie novels and she used to watch The Father Dowling Mysteries on TV as a kid...what could I do to make the perfect book for Mary Lavers to read?" And that's the exact moment he created Sidney Chambers.

Sidney Chambers is an Anglican priest living in England in the 1950's who keeps finding himself tied up in the middle of criminal investigations (but in the coziest of ways), which he then discusses with his best friend, a police inspector, over beer and backgammon. Oooh! It's so cozy I almost can't stand it! But I love it SOOO much!

The Philosophical Practitioner, by Larry Abrams

Fun. Quirky. Hard-boiled. Douglas Adams meets Sam Spade.

These are some of the ways I imagine Larry Abrams would like you to describe The Philosophical Practitioner. Will you describe it that way? No. No, you will not.

The basic premise is satisfyingly quirky: A New York freelancer has an office with a sign proclaiming him to be a "philosophical practitioner." What is that, you may ask? Exactly. He's not a shrink, he's a philosopher. Who will solve your problems...philosophically

Win a copy of The 13th Tribe by Robert Liparulo!!


Enter to win an AUTOGRAPHED COPY of Robert Liparulo's The 13th Tribe!

We're giving away a copy of The 13th Tribe to one lucky reader! Enter below for a chance to win a brand new paperback edition of this exciting new novel, including an autographed bookplate from the author!

Best-selling novelist Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first two critically acclaimed thrillers—Comes a Horseman and Germ—were optioned by Hollywood producers. His new novel, The 13th Tribe (published by Thomas Nelson, April 2012) is an exciting tale of "immortal" proportions.

From the publisher's site:

Their story didn’t start this year . . . or even this millennium.It began when Moses was on Mt. Sinai. Tired of waiting on the One True God, the twelve tribes of Israel began worshipping a golden calf through pagan revelry. Many received immediate death for their idolatry, but 40 were handed a far worse punishment—endless life on earth with no chance to see the face of God.This group of immortals became the 13th Tribe, and they’ve been trying to earn their way into heaven ever since—by killing sinners. Though their logic is twisted, their brilliance is undeniable. Their wrath is unstoppable. And the technology they possess is beyond anything mere humans have ever seen.Jagger Baird knows nothing about the Tribe when he’s hired as head of security for an archaeological dig on Mt. Sinai. The former Army Ranger is still reeling from an accident that claimed the life of his best friend, his arm, and his faith in God.The Tribe is poised to execute their most ambitious attack ever and the lives of millions hang in the balance. When Jagger’s wife and son are caught in the crossfire, he’ll stop at nothing to save them. But how can one man stand against an entire tribe of immortals?
The contest runs from April 24, 2012 until May 31, 2012. Enter below for a chance to WIN!

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker, by Janet Groth

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The Receptionist is the pithy tell-most memoir of Janet Groth, receptionist at The New Yorker from 1957-1978. The names of the famous and the fabulous have been preserved, while pseudonyms are used for the less famous and the cads. Or at least that seems to be her system. Either way, each anecdote is the sort of provocative repartee that would have you leaning in at a literati cocktail party, straining to catch every word while sneaking sideways glances around the room for glimpses of famous writers and artists from The New Yorker's illustrious past. Prepare to clutch your pearls and spill your martini as you delight in the upscale gossip that reads like it sprang from the pages of the famous magazine itself instead of from the reception desk on the eighteenth floor.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Whipping Club, by Deborah Henry

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A young Catholic teacher has an out-of-wedlock baby with a Jewish man in Ireland in the late 50's. Though the two are later married and have another child, she keeps the secret of their lost son, and the time she spent in an infamous Magdalene laundry, a secret for years. Eventually, though, she decides to seek out the son she has lost and confront the Irish Catholic orphanage system of the late 1960's, a task which proves daunting, to say the least. She must find a way to get her son back, with the help of her priest uncle, while convincing her journalist husband that their lost child will fit into their mixed-faith family, despite their difficulties with their bullied and unruly (and possibly racist?) preteen daughter. In short, the "subject index" for this book would be longer than the book itself.

Compelling as the story is, it sometimes wants for focus and clarity. It is simply "about" too many things. The language of the book is, at times, poignant and even poetic, but it suffers from far too much dialogue that dilutes the impact of the characters' experiences. Ultimately, though, the description of the abuses suffered in Irish orphanages in this century makes for a heartbreaking page-turner.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Detour, by Andromeda Romano-Lax

In 1938, on the brink of WWII, Hitler insisted on buying the Greco-Roman sculpture Discobolus ("The Discus Thrower") from Italy, despite the objections of many Italians. It was eventually returned to Italy in 1948. This one piece of information sparked the imagination and curiosity of Andromeda Romano-Lax and led to her splendid novel, The Detour. Why was Hitler so obsessed with buying/stealing art? Why this piece in particular? Why was it such a priority in 1938, on the eve of war? In pondering these questions, Romano-Lax created a fictionalized account of the acquisition of this statue, told through the character of a similarly art-obsessed, though apolitical, underling named Ernst Vogler. It is Vogler's job to bring The Discus Thrower from Rome to Germany, but things go immediately awry.
Hit the jump for more (plus photos of The Discus Thrower)...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Taker (The Taker Trilogy #1), by Alma Katsu

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Alma Katsu's debut novel, and the first in The Taker Trilogy, opens with a mysterious woman in an emergency room in northern Maine, handcuffed and accused of murder, while telling wild stories to the ER doctor about being an immortal who is over two hundred years old. The recipient of her tale, the doctor who eventually helps her escape from the police, is immediately transfixed and longs to hear the rest of her story, even if parts of it are disturbing, improbable, and interfere with everything he was supposed to be doing that night. I felt exactly the same way.

Parts of The Taker ARE disturbing. It is written with the language of longing, desire and sexual fantasy, but there are scenes that are so horrifyingly violent that I wanted to scream at the character of Lanny that she didn't need a doctor or an immortal boyfriend to save her, she needed a Fairy Feminist Godmother! I wanted to stop reading in places because I could not resolve in my head how the main character could endure so much sexual violence and still find sympathy with her attackers. It was less like Secretary and more like Saturday Night Fever (you know, where the girl gets gang raped and then forgives them all in the end for no apparent reason? Sorry if I ruined that movie for you.). At the same time, there is something addicting and seductive about The Taker. It is beautifully written and the compelling writing urges me along even past the most disturbing scenes. I just couldn't put it down.

Keep reading after the jump for more about The Taker and the second book in the series, The Reckoning....

The Thief, by Fuminori Nakamura

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A Tokyo pickpocket gets in over his head when he becomes mixed up in an armed robbery and murder plot, while at the same time finding himself the unlikely mentor to a young boy whose irresponsible mother has pushed him into shoplifting and pickpocketing as well. This book is a fast-paced, quick read in which the least despicable characters are our heroes, the pickpockets. It's a good book to read on your morning commute, particularly if you travel on a crowded subway train. You'll find yourself holding closer to your wallet and scanning your neighbours for signs of sneaky thievery.

A Portrait of Pacifists: Le Chambon, the Holocaust, and the Lives of Andre and Magda Trocme, by Richard P. Unsworth

A Portrait of Pacifists tells the amazing story of Andre and Magda Trocme, a French couple who helped hide and protect Jewish refugees in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. Though much has been written about the Trocmes, Richard P. Unsworth's book stands out as a comprehensive biography of the couple, filled with photographs and personal anecdotes from their early and later years. Though it is challenging sometimes to understand the position of the pacifist in the face of such seemingly obvious evil--such as the Nazi takeover of Europe and the genocide of the Jewish people--it is fascinating to read about how their brave activism saved lives. Their pacifism was far from passive. The Trocmes, and others like them, used their beliefs as a call to action, a starting point from which to organize an underground movement that saved thousands of Jewish lives and earned them the honour of Righteous Among the Nations from the State of Israel.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Reckoning, by Alma Katsu

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In this gorgeously written sequel to The Taker, Alma Katsu tells the story of Lanore, an immortal woman fleeing from the man she most fears: Adair, the powerful Adept who first gave her immortality, and the only one who can take it away. After two hundred years of captivity thanks to Lanore, Adair is free and seeking revenge. As Lanore runs from place to place, seeking the help of other immortals along the way, never knowing who to trust, her journey to escape her fate is like a journey through the seven layers of hell...if there was a demon at the bottom rushing up to meet you. Adair seeks Lanore relentlessly and the titular "reckoning" seems inevitable.

The Reckoning is the second book in The Taker Trilogy, but it stands very well on its own. I received an advanced copy from the publisher and decided it would be a good idea to read the first book in the series first so I would understand the characters. I borrowed it from the library but The Taker lay unopened on my nightstand while I devoured The Reckoning. I simply couldn't put it down, even long enough to read the prequel. I'm sure I would have had different opinions of the characters if I had read the books in sequence, but it was easy to follow the second book as a stand alone novel.

More after the jump...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

GUEST BLOG: The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl


We are once again joined by two-year-old guest blogger Magda, as she shares her thoughts on the latest chapter book on her list: The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl.

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We read this book aloud to Magda, finishing around April 5, 2012. I asked Magda questions about it on April 10, 2012.

What book is this?
Roald Dahl! The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me!
Was it a good book?
Yeah! Yes yes.
What did you like about it?
Just the giraffe.
What did the giraffe do?
Wash the windows.
By herself?
Course she did!
Did the giraffe have help?
No, she didn’t. Did she?
What about the—
How did the pelican help? Did he do something with his beak?
The burglar shot the pelican’s beak! Oh no! Maybe Roald Dahl had to fix the beak. Maybe he did.
What about the monkey? What did the monkey do?
Wash the windows!
How would YOU wash windows?
With a giraffe and a pelican and a giraffe and a monkey and Mommy and Daddy!

Read more after the jump (with ART!)...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

UPDATE: A conversation with Lisa Brackmann, author of Getaway

About a week ago I wrote a review for Lisa Brackmann's novel, Getaway, in which I expressed some confusion about the chronology and ages of the characters. You can read my original review here. 

I was delighted (and nervous) to discover that Ms. Brackmann had not only read my review but also took the time to email me about my questions (Eek! She read my review! I suddenly find myself wondering if I have spinach in my teeth. No, that's silly. She can't see me.)

Hit the jump to read what she wrote!

Swarm: Book # 2 in The Paranormal Poke Chronicles, by Dalya Moon

It's cute (LOVE the cover art) and it's quirky and sort of funny, but it's definitely meant for a young adult audience and just doesn't translate well to adults (which is fine--it doesn't have to, it's a YA novel). This time Zan is trying to solve a murder mystery using the power of his secret-finding navel, which fails to explain the mysterious bees and other oddities he's been seeing. If only the bees could poke him in his belly button...

Poke: Book #1 in The Paranormal Poke Chronicles, by Dalya Moon

The Paranormal Poke Chronicles. Yep, I just read that. The first story, Poke, follows a teenaged boy, Zan, whose "secret power" is that he can read any girl's secrets if she "pokes him" by sticking her finger in his belly button. Apparently it's going to be a whole series. No word yet if Zan ever gets to poke the girls back. Heh heh.

The novel is about 50,000 words, which made me wonder if it was a NaNoWriMo book, but turns out it was actually written (or at least started) as one of those three-day writing frenzy contests. So well done, Dayla Moon, for rising to the challenge AND for following up by turning the original script into a short novel.

As for the book itself? Eh...well, it's YA for sure. The book description recommends it for older teens and adults but after reading it I'd say it'd be better suited for younger teens...and not adults.

Women Scorned, by Angela Alsaleem

Ugh. Horror fiction does not have to be poorly written, it just often is. Women Scorned isn't terrible writing, but it's not great either. The scenes of violence and revenge are so graphic that it's fetishistic (and that's not even including the characters who have pain fetishes) and the story relies WAY too much on the whole supernatural-cult-with-robes-and-high-priestesses-and-sacrifices-and-spirits shtick. I guess that's a personal preference on my part, but whenever I see an author explain the supernatural element of a story with hooded robes and sacrifices, I automatically get my back up and expect the writing to be ten times better, just to compensate for the lame story line. It just seems dated to me, and kind of lazy. It reminds me of the running joke on South Park where, whenever the writers can't think of an ending, they just blame it on "crab people." To me, "supernatural cult" is horror fiction's "crab people." This kind of nonsense might have worked better as one of those hidden object computer games (which I admit I do like) than as a novel.

Simply Grilling: 105 Recipes for Quick and Casual Grilling, by Jennifer Chandler

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Everybody has a barbecue memory. For many of us, it’s the smell of the smoke as our dads grilled hamburgers in the backyard in the summer. Or maybe it’s sitting on the deck with friends on long weekends, cold beer in one hand, plateful of barbecued chicken in the other. Or maybe it’s our kids’ summer birthday parties, hotdogs on the grill and red fruit juice in plastic cups.
            For Tennessee-born Jennifer Chandler, grilling meant hours of smoking chicken and ribs for backyard barbecues or standing in front of “monstrous grills” in barbecue contests. Like many of us, Jennifer Chandler thought of the barbecue as the source of casual comfort food and family memories, albeit an intimidating one.
            I can relate. For me—and many women—the barbecue is where men go to cook meat. Where do I even start? What if I want to make an elegant meal using exotic ingredients (Artichoke! Apricot! Snapper!)  to impress my foodie friends? My friends are mostly gay, childless hipsters who always bring the trendiest, most exciting food to potlucks, organically grown and locally sourced of course. My sweet potato salad and peanut ginger soup may seem exotic to my in-laws, but it’ll take more than that to impress these gourmands. Surely the barbecue is no place for it?

Hit the jump for more...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dangerous Barter (a novella), by Amanda Lawrence Auverigne

Dangerous Barter is the story of a soon-to-be divorced couple negotiating the signing of their divorce papers. They are in their thirties, have been married for long enough to have monogrammed iron gates on their Gothic-style mansion, bought with the success of the husband's literary career. It's a murderous exchange between characters whose ending can be guessed after only a few paragraphs.

I don't know a lot about Amanda Lawrence Auverigne. I know that she has written many novels and short fiction and that she had a Members Giveaway on for her novella Dangerous Barter (which I won). But if I had to guess what Amanda Lawrence Auverigne was like based solely on this story, I would guess that she has never been divorced, is young enough to still think that 30 is ancient, and is very optimistic about how wealthy a successful writer can become. It's not a terrible story, but neither is it terribly original nor authentic.