Thursday, May 31, 2012

AND THE WINNER IS...

Apparently Rafflecopter got all excited and ended my contest last night (sorry to all you last minute entries...next time!) so here's the winner:


MEGHAN RICHARD!! 


YAY Meghan!!
I'll be contacting the winner to deliver her prize, a copy of Robert Liparulo's THE 13TH TRIBE with signed bookplate!


Thanks to everyone who entered and keep watching for upcoming giveaways!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Headmaster's Wager, by Vincent Lam


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Vincent Lam's novel, The Headmaster's Wager, is like a painting. The beginning starts off, not exactly slowly, but as a base coat, layering the story with details that will become more important as the narrative builds, until the end result is a piece of art that is complex and compelling, a masterpiece in every sense. 
          The novel follows the life of Percival Chen, Chinese headmaster of an English school in South Vietnam in the years before and after the Vietnam war. All around him is turmoil, conflicting forces of colonization, Communism, nationalism, invasion and resistance. Every move he makes is carefully watched by all around him, yet he convinces himself he can remain untouched by all of it by remaining apolitical, focused solely on business and on family, and sometimes by being wilfully ignorant. It is a wager he makes on a daily basis, that greasing all the right palms with lucky red envelopes of bribe money will save him and his family from the perils of being a foreigner in a rapidly changing Vietnam. He is a man who is not afraid of a wager, routinely gambling away his fortune at high stakes mah-jong tables. But when his son's antics attract the attention of the so-called "quiet police" Headmaster Chen finds himself caught in a series of circumstances that will lead him to a high stakes gamble that will alter the course of his life.
          This novel is genius. If you told me that it was the tenth novel of a highly respected, award winning novelist I would believe it. It reminds me of the work of Amy Tan, not just because it is written by a North American writer about Chinese history, but because the level of craftsmanship and storytelling is so high. And this guy is a doctor. A real, medical doctor. He's already very good at something amazing. He can write too? It's not like finding out that some mediocre actor also has a mediocre rock band. It's like finding out that Geena Davis is a member of Mensa and almost made the U.S. Olympic team for archery. What the what--?!?
          When I read Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures I was impressed (blown away actually)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Woefield Poultry Collective, by Susan Juby


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If I could see Susan Juby's bookshelves at home, I wouldn't be surprised to find copies of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, Sue Monk Kidd's Life of Bees, Shaffer and Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and maybe several volumes by Sophie Kinsella. It's not that her novel is derivative per se, it's just that it seems very influenced by some of the folksy, so-quirky-it's-adorable novels with hapless characters and back-to-nature themes that have been so popular in recent years. That's not to say that I don't like those novels. With the exception of Jonathan Franzen, I've read and enjoyed all of the authors I mentioned above (I hated Freedom. Hated it. HATED IT.). But one thing that separates Susan Juby from most of those authors is that she doesn't seem to like any of her characters very much. Prudence, the city dweller turned sustainable farmer, is so clueless she doesn't seem to have any other qualities; Earl, the farm hand and secret musician, is more of a caricature of a lazy grump than a real character; Seth, the twenty-year-old alcoholic blogger, is just a whiny brat; and Sara, the oddly religious chicken enthusiast kid, is judgmental and annoying. It's not just that I find the characters unlikable, it's that the author seems to be laughing at them. Haha what silly awful people I've created. What hilarious situations can I put them in? I don't think Susan Juby

Big Blue, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Kristin Blackwood)


Like her previous book, Out of the Blue, Vanita Oelschlager’s Big Blue is beautifully illustrated and poorly written. Considering both are published by VanitaBooks I’m guessing the author just started her own publishing house so she could write books about her favourite colour. It’s just a bonus that her name sounds so much like “vanity.” This book is particularly awful, using hysteria over childhood obesity and a weak story about an overweight bird to further extend fat shaming to preschoolers. The fat bird in question, Big Blue, is described as lazy for eating too much and napping instead of building nests with the other birds until he’s eventually too big to fly south or even fit into his nest. After being left behind one winter he learns his lesson and reforms his ways by never eating or sleeping again. Now he’s popular, skinny and happy! The end. Oh, also he has an addiction to methamphetamines. That last part isn’t in the book but it’s implied.

The best thing I can say about this book is that

Monday, May 28, 2012

Home, by Toni Morrison


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Like so many of Toni Morrison’s novels, Home is heartbreaking and haunting, a story of race and loss and the sometimes bittersweet meaning of home. Frank Money is an African American veteran of the Korean War, attempting to find his way home to Georgia in time to save his dying sister. He travels from town to town, chased by memories of the past and concerns for his safety in racist America.

I can’t think of another writer who can create characters so real and so compelling that I have tears in my eyes reading about them. Home is yet another masterpiece from one of America’s greatest storytellers.


Fish Tank: A Fable for Our Times, by Scott Bischke


FISH TANK:  A Fable for Our Times

The sea creatures in Professor Brown’s aquarium have a problem. The professor has gone on sabbatical for a year and left the care of their tank to someone who does not have much interest in the job. The hapless assistant attaches a fifty gallon drum of food to the tank and leaves, presumably never to return. Will the fish (and crabs, shrimp, seahorses, etc.) have enough food to last the whole year? Some of them say no, while others argue that there is nothing to worry about.

Fish Tank is a parable. It can be used to draw parallels to human concerns (such as climate change, which is the author’s intent) and human behaviour. It’s meant to appeal to all ages and has a reading guide for teachers available from the author.

I expected Fish Tank to be sanctimonious and tedious, too focused on the “message” to be a good story. But it’s a fantastic story! The real genius of the book is that, though the parallels are easy to draw, the author keeps the story really about the aquarium. (It’s like the scene in Finding Nemo when all the sea creatures are in the dentist’s office,

52 Weeks, 52 Love Poems: Poems with Prompts to Inspire You to Write Your Own Poems and Deepen Your Relationship, by Jeffrey Klausman


52 Weeks, 52 Love Poems
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It’s a lovely idea, really. Jeffrey Klausman fell in love at 49 and vowed to write a love poem every week of the first year of his marriage. Thus, 52 Weeks, 52 Love Poems. Most of the poems are quite nice, though I’m not sure the writing prompts he includes with each one are all that helpful. As a poet myself, I’m not often inspired by reading someone else’s poem and then trying to write one just like it. Occasionally, yes, but not usually. But that’s not to say other people won’t find his writing prompts inspiring. He makes it quite clear that the book is intended for people who never or else rarely write poetry but would like to start, not for “professional poets” like the ones you see at poetry readings. So I guess by that standard this book is technically not for me.

Maybe I will

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, by Sue Townsend


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Eva Beaver (nee Eva Brown-Bird) has just said goodbye to her twins as they start university. Her husband, astronomer Dr. Brian Beaver, is having an affair with a co-worker and would rather spend his time gazing at the stars than gazing at her. Eva decides she would like to go to bed. So she climbs into her bed, shoes and all, and stays there for a year.


I expected this book to be a slightly surreal fable, a humourous satire that could not be taken literally (for example, I didn't expect the question of food and bathrooms to be sufficiently answered). In a way it was, but it was also a book that could be taken literally, though it's an exaggeration of reality. Wouldn't we all like to go to bed for a year and have all our meals and responsibilities be taken care of by someone else for a change? I think any woman who has raised kids, cooked meals and "done Christmas" for many years would say yes, that would be nice. 


Hit the jump for pictures of the author in bed...presumably not for a year...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Only ONE WEEK left in the 13TH TRIBE GIVEAWAY! Contest ends May 31, 2012, so ENTER NOW!



CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE CONTEST PAGE!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Marshal of Medicine Lodge: A Merlin Fanshaw Western, by Stan Lynde


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The first time I read Stan Lynde was just a few months ago when I received a copy of The Bodacious Kid. In fact it was the first time I'd ever read a traditional western novel. I was hooked! The first book in the Merlin Fanshaw series was fun, engaging and cozy. So when I received a copy of Marshal of Medicine Lodge I was excited.


It's later in the series and young Merlin has become a law man. He's assigned a post at Medicine Lodge, a town embroiled in racial and territorial disputes. He no sooner gets there then he finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation.


It has all the elements of an entertaining read, but I did not find myself responding to it as much as I did The Bodacious Kid. Maybe it's partly because the physical aspects of the book are a little off--it's printed as a large, slender paperback on pure white stock with academic font so it resembles a university poetry textbook more than a drugstore novel that you would put in your purse and take on vacation--but I don't think that's the real issue. Unfortunately, I didn't find Marshal of Medicine Lodge as charming or as believable as the previous book I'd read in the series. The characters don't ring as true and I couldn't seem to get invested in them. 

A Newer Testament: Misanthropology Unleashed, by Reneau H. Reneau

A Newer Testament: Misanthropology Unleashed
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I love quirky books but this is just too much absurdity for me. I'm not even sure what I just read. The foreword describes it as a collection of "declamatory conversation." That doesn't help a great deal. It's sort of a collection of short plays, often with multiple fonts on each page, satirical news articles and nonsensical essays. It's a lot of work just for

Catastrophically Consequential, by Stephen C. Bird

Catastrophically Consequential
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This book is so scattered it's unreadable. A lot of it seems to be intended to be read aloud, with deliberate misspellings or phonetic interpretations of words and phrases, but most of it seems absurd for absurdity's sake. It reads like a drug-fuelled stream of consciousness piece by someone in love with an idea but morally opposed to editing. 

The Case of the Ruby Slippers: A First Kids Mystery #3, by Martha Freeman

The Case of the Ruby Slippers (First Kids 3)
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What a delightful book! It's exactly the kind of kids' mystery book that made me fall in love with mysteries when I was a child. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to read it!


The First Kids series follows Cammie and Tess, the young daughters of POTUS Marilee Parks. Along with their Aunt Jen, their cousin Nate, their grandmother and their dog, Hooligan, the girls find themselves solving one mystery after another, all while living in the White House and being followed around by the Secret Service. 


In The Case of the Ruby Slippers the girls have ordered the ruby red slippers from the movie The Wizard of Oz for their aunt's birthday. But when the shoes are missing--and then quickly found--the girls feel an investigation is in order.


This book makes me wish

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian


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Chris Bohjalian's novel The Sandcastle Girls is compelling right from the very first page. Spanning nearly a hundred years and thousands of miles, the story draws heavily on Bohjalian's own Armenian heritage. In one passage, the narrator is talking about his aunt's bellydancing with dismay, saying "the only time Armenian girls belly danced was when they were commandeered into a sheik's harem, and it was a choice of dying in the desert or accepting the tattoos and learning to shimmy. Trust me, you will never see an Armenian girl belly dancing on So You Think You Can Dance." Chris Bohjalian should probably not Google Kim Kardashian. He might cry.
Hit the jump for photographic evidence....

Covenant Child (Women of Faith Fiction), by Terri Blackstock


 
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While the Christian message of this book is quite heavy-handed (what did I expect with a title like Covenant Child?) the story has very classic elements. A set of twins who were destined to inherit a fortune are ripped away from their loving stepmother when their widowed father dies, leaving them to live like paupers with relatives who do not have their best interests at heart. It's a twist on classic fairy tales like Cinderella or Snow White. Of course, in this case the underlying theme is that the girls have a covenant with Christ, represented in the story as a secret bond with their stepmother who intervenes in their lives without them knowing. It reminded me quite a bit of Jaclyn Moriarty's I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes (though not nearly so quirky and with much less adultery and arson). This edition also includes an interview with the author at the end, which is quite enjoyable.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing, by Adam Marek


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This book of short stories is quirky and fun. A lot of other reviewers have compared it to Roald Dahl or Kafka, but a lot of the stories make me think of short stories I used to read in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Magazine as a child. There was one story I remember reading in which an Asian man bore an unlikely resemblance to Napoleon and found himself at risk of being killed and stuffed by an avid collector of Napoleon memorabilia. I can't remember who wrote it, but the creepy absurdity stuck with me for years. Anyway, that's what I was thinking of when I read these stories, particularly the first one, "The Forty-Litre Monkey," about a pet store owner who categorizes his animals by volume. 

The Last Plague: Spanish Influenza and the Politics of Public Health in Canada, by Mark Osborne Humphries


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When I first picked up this book I thought, "The Last Plague"? What about SARS? That shows two things. One, I'm an idiot. And two, my generation has had it very easy. When SARS hit Canada in 2003 everybody panicked, but the truth is we had, what? Fifty deaths? Five thousand in quarantine? The Spanish Flu in 1918 killed 50,000 people. Fifty thousand. In Canada alone. I can't even comprehend what it would be like to lose 50,000 Canadians in a single year. It's more than the population of my home town, or probably my home county. This book was very enlightening but it also made me very thankful to have been born in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Women, Popular Culture, and the Eighteenth Century, by Tiffany Potter (ed.)


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It's an interesting read. The various essays look at how "popular culture" is often associated with both "low culture" and "women's culture," and compares historical examples to modern ones. It also makes the connection with modern fascination with the eighteenth century with a feminizing of current popular culture (one example is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). My main criticism is that the Tiffany Potter doesn't seem to actually know when the eighteenth century was. She makes numerous references to Jane Austen who, as we all know, published in the early nineteenth century, mostly during the British Regency period. In fact, many of the examples given in the book are post-1800. So...uh...maybe a title change?

Red Cell, by Mark Henshaw


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Reading Mark Henshaw's debut novel Red Cell was a little like watching the movie The Hunt for Red October when I was a kid. I didn't always understand what was going on, but I found all the drama and gravitas very compelling. Everyone was shouting and acting important and outwitting the enemy. And Alec Baldwin was very hunky. Okay, that last one only applies to The Hunt for Red October...
Red Cell is a CIA thriller that's been rightly compared to Tom Clancy (did he write The Hunt for Red October? Oh hey!). It's not a genre I typically read so I'm afraid I'm not much help in comparing it to other books like it. If I had to guess, I'd say this one probably holds up fairly well and Mark Henshaw will likely enjoy a strong fan following in the future.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Natural Woman: A Memoir, by Carole King


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Carole King is a little before my time, but I've always liked her music. Her autobiography is well-written and enjoyable, but I wish I had gotten the audiobook instead. Apparently it's read by the author and is like a performance, with musical interludes and everything.

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art, by Christopher Moore


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Meh. I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get into it. I know it's meant to be a quirky, absurd novel based loosely (so very loosely) on the lives of Vincent Van Gogh and other artists, but it's just too much. Sometimes absurd and quirky is just plain made up nonsense. I like some of Christopher Moore's books, and I love Lamb, but sometimes I think he severely overestimates his own cuteness as a writer.


Hit the jump to see the uncensored cover!

Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program - Primary Level 2 (1-2), by Joyce VanTassel-Baska and Tamra Stambaugh

Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program - Primary Level 2 (1-2)
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What a wonderful book! I'm a preschool teacher and my partner is a junior high English teacher, so we are both interested in reading comprehension resources but we don't usually read ones specifically aimed at elementary school teachers. Nonetheless, we both found this book very easy to use and very scale-able. The ideas for questions and activities for each of the recommended poems, stories and novels could be adapted for younger children just learning to read or for older children who are having difficulty with reading. They're also open-ended enough to provide good ideas for lesson plans for books and programs not included in the guide.

Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan


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Rosie Sultan's debut novel is a fictional imagining of Helen Keller's doomed love affair with Peter Fagan. The love affair itself was real, but Helen Keller never discussed her relationship with Fagan, other than to express regret that she never married, so there was a lot left to the imagination. Still, it's a daunting task to try to write a novel about someone so famous, not to mention someone who died less than 50 years ago. Many of us feel like we know Helen Keller, yet there is so much that we don't know. Rosie Sultan is not only attempting to honour Helen Keller the woman in this novel, she's also up against our collective impression of Helen Keller. On both counts, she does her subject matter proud. 

Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal, by Russell Brand


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My favourite thing about this book and its predecessor is the title. As far as celebrity memoirs go, it's pretty forgettable, even for fans of Russell Brand. Um, nice cover art, though. I grasping at straws here.

My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, by Russell Brand


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I think Russell Brand is a pretty smart and funny guy. I love him on late night talk show appearances. He talks a mile a minute but it's usually quite clever and charming. I also know that he's a drug and sex addict who has gone through recovery. This book is...well....it's not as funny as I expected, but it's not a tragic addiction story either. It's somewhere in between. Maybe that sounds like a good thing. It wasn't really. It sounds like this book was written with a dictaphone. Maybe Russell Brand rambled on a mile a minute and someone just transcribed everything verbatim. It isn't funny and it isn't even that compelling. Maybe the audio book would be better?


Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds, by Susan Gregory Thomas


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Like NurtureShock, this book says plainly what Early Childhood Educators have been trying to say for years. Young children learn by playing with simple, open-ended toys that encourage imagination and problem-solving. They learn language by listening to people talk and by being read to. They learn by being exposed to real life experiences with real life materials. They don't need magic videos, computer programs, "science-y" sounding products that promise to make your child a genius based on research that is either made up, misinterpreted or inconclusive. They don't need Disney characters in order to be engaged with the world. In other words, they don't need half the crap we parents are being sold on every day.

I guess I never realized just how different the marketing to parents is from my experience as an ECE. At daycare we had blocks and dress up clothes and books and clay. But I'd always have some parents asking why we weren't doing flash cards and work sheets with the two-year-olds or why our story time didn't look more like an elementary school classroom.

Now that I'm a parent myself, I get it. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to make me feel guilty that my child isn't a member of the Disney Club or that she'll never be a "baby genius" because I didn't buy the right videos. I've had neighbours stop me at the store to tell me about computer programs that will teach my baby to read. I know that most of these "wonder products" are complete crap. But I also know that the marketing of this crap to parents is fierce.

What do you think? Are you drowning in "must have" products for your baby?

SAVEUR Easy Italian: 30 Classic Recipes, by The Editors of SAVEUR magazine


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Every time I watch a Golden Girls marathon I start to think that I could be a great Italian chef. I'm not Italian and I'm not a chef, but my spaghetti's okay and Sophia is my favourite character on that show. If she can do it... Then Saveur Easy Italian puts me in my place. Their idea of easy is things like "Swordfish Puttanesca" which, to me, sounds very intimidating.


It's a gorgeous cookbook but I think having Saveur Magazine teach you how to make "easy" recipes is a little like having Neil deGrasse Tyson teach you long division. Sure he's charming and entertaining and colourful, but you just know he's going to sneak some astrophysics in there.

Healthy in a Hurry: Easy, Good-For-You Recipes For Every Meal of the Day, by Karen Ansel


This book read my mind. With a  young child at home, I'm forever thinking about ways to prepare healthy meals that she'll be happy to eat without just having the same things over and over. I always try to make healthy food, but sometimes I'm pretty low on inspiration. This book makes healthy eating accessible (I might even consider buying quinoa, whatever that is). It even has some helpful menu plans. Plus, it's divided into sections called "Breakfast," "Lunch," and "Dinner" so it's easy to find ideas in a hurry (oh hey, just like the title!).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year, by Kate McMillian


I am so in love with this book that I want to lick the pages. Not only are there 365 different soup recipes (SOUP! I FREAKIN' LOVE SOUP!), but it actually has a calendar with menu plans.


Hit the jump for a book trailer that actually doesn't suck...and will make you hungry....

Cooking from the Farmers' Market: Shop, Cook, and Eat, by Jodi Liano, Tasha DeSerio, and Jennifer Maiser


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This is exactly the book I've been looking for! For all the books I've been reading lately that talk about the ethics and politics of food production, what I really want is a book that just shows me the benefits of eating seasonally with recipes and gorgeous food photography. And we're definitely having those tempura green beans this week (wait, I mean if they're in season).