Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apples and Butterflies: A Poem for Prince Edward Island, by Shauntay Grant (illustrated by Tamara Thiebaux-Heikalo)

Apples and Butterflies:
A Poem for Prince Edward Island 

Author: Shauntay Grant
Illustrator: Tamara Thiebaux-Heikalo
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Publication Date: October 5, 2012
Buy Now on 

It's the cold days of fall in the Maritimes ("my dad has bagged up all the leaves / a shadow hides the place I call home") and a young girl is reminiscing about her family's vacation in Prince Edward Island, remembering all the sights, sounds and smells of the island in the late summer and early fall. From butterflies to apple picking, sandcastles to books by the campfire, she uses the memories of her family's trip to keep her warm as the weather grows colder. Told in Shauntay Grant's rich poetic style, Apples and Butterflies is a love letter to those every day moments of childhood that stay in our memories forever.

I want to go where there are no alarm clocks
and no chores
only time
lots and lots of time

I just want to breathe
breathe air that tastes like apples:

I was lucky enough to go to the Halifax book launch for this book, with live performances by Shauntay Grant and musical guests including Verena Rizg (who appeared--in illustrated form--in Shauntay's previous book, The City Speaks in Drums). Shauntay talked about how this book was inspired by real trips her family took to PEI, as well as by moments of "everyday magic" that her parents created for her throughout her childhood. 

The illustrations are rich and detailed but also whimsical and fantastical. The sun smiles down on the family walking along the beach, the colours of the sky swirl together like cinnamon rolls, and the little girl's magenta scarf twists and twirls for miles around her. Gorgeous!

Hit the jump for photos from the book launch in Halifax on October 25, 2012

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries, by Robert Goldsborough

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: 
A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries
Author: Robert Goldsborough 
Publisher: Mysterious Press/Open Road 
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
Before I read this book, I knew next to nothing about Nero Wolfe. Sure, I'd heard the name (who hasn't?) and I'd seen the ads on A&E for Nero Wolfe mysteries, but I had never read or watched anything about the famous detective. I was familiar with Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Sam Spade, but this legendary series was conspicuously missing from my reading repertoire. So I wondered if I was the right person to review the latest book by Robert Goldsborough--who I learned took over the series from Rex Stout with the approval of Stout's estate--a prequel in which he imagines the first meeting of Wolfe and his long-time detective companion, Archie Goodwin. Then I thought, why not me? After all, I can surely provide the perspective of someone completely new to the series, assess whether I think this works as a stand alone book for a reader who knows nothing about the characters and the setting. Besides, I've always wanted to read a Nero Wolfe story and this was my chance.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Comfort of Lies, by Randy Susan Meyers

The Comfort of Lies
Author: Randy Susan Meyers
Publisher: Atria Books/Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 12, 2013 

The Comfort of Lies is the story of three families connected—and nearly torn apart—by one lie: an illegitimate child given away for adoption. Juliette and Nathan may not have a perfect marriage but Juliette is shocked by Nathan’s admission of an affair with beautiful Tia. Just when she thinks she is ready to forgive him and move forward with their lives, she discovers that the affair resulted in a child. Tia was in love with Nathan but she didn’t feel prepared to raise their child without him so she gives up her daughter, Honor, for adoption. Caroline and Peter are a professional couple who have decided it is time for a baby; or at least Peter has decided that it is. Caroline is not so sure, but she learns to be a loving mother to their adopted daughter, Savannah (nee Honor). The novel follows the characters (mostly just the women) as they come to terms with the truth behind the lies and find ways to move on with honesty and love.

This is a novel that has few surprises. The characters are exactly as I’d imagined they’d be from beginning to end. The wife with the faithless husband is suspicious and filled with self-doubt, but nervously bolsters her confidence by working at being a good mother and a good businesswoman at her cosmetics company. The rejected mistress is filled with self-loathing and patterns of relationship sabotage, while she struggles with her secret longing for the daughter she’s given up. The professional adoptive mother is cool and devoted to her career, uncertain of her maternal capabilities and her physical attractiveness. The men are all flippant and filled with “there there dears” and collective disappointment. In the end (not to give too much away) everyone lives happily ever after (mostly) by deciding that honesty is better than deceipt. In other words, there is very little in this novel that can’t be guessed by the title and the description.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Diary of a One-Night Stand, by Alexandrea Weis

My reaction: Diary of a One-Night Stand is a competently-written escape fantasy perfect for reading on vacation or, better yet, during the drudgery of a morning train commute to the office. Don't expect it to change your life or anything but rest assured that you can sit back and enjoy it without counting how many times the main character says "Oh my" or "laters."First line: "Kara Barton carefully traced her red lipstick over her round, full lips as she thought of warriors from bygone civilizations applying their war paint with the same attention to detail."

Summary: Kara Barton is a wife, a mother, an accomplished professional. But now that she is rapidly approaching middle age she finds herself longing for a little excitement. She agrees to spend the night with Scott Ellsworth, a sexy colleague, intending it to really just be one night. But Scott wants more and before long Kara finds her whole life changing. But can she really trust Scott and this new relationship, exciting as it may be?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Don't Miss Shauntay Grant's Book Launch in Halifax, Nova Scotia!, this Thursday, October 25th!

Do you live near Halifax, Nova Scotia? Come to the book launch of Shauntay Grant's latest book for children, Apples and Butterflies! The event is Thursday, October 25 (that's tomorrow!) at 6:30pm at the Halifax North Memorial Library at 2285 Gottingen Street in Halifax. 

Shauntay will be reading from her new book with musical accompaniment, plus there will be refreshments and, of course, the opportunity buy her wonderful new book!
From the Facebook event for the book launch:
Join Shauntay for a performance with musical accompaniment, refreshments, and her wonderful book!
Apples and Butterflies is a gentle, lyrical poem about a family's autumn vacation and shows Prince Edward Island in a light we don't often see --the bright blue and orange light of fall. Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo's rich and wild illustrations build a narrative with the text, showing us the family beachcombing, flying kites, and picking apples. Shauntay Grant's award-winning poetry makes the reader long to go with her, and conveys the wide-open space of the island, where you can
breathe air that tastes like apples:redripeand ready for picking.
Shauntay Grant is an award-winning writer, spoken word performer, broadcast journalist, and musician. She is Halifax's third poet laureate (2009–2010) and the author of The City Speaks in Drums and Up Home, which won the 2008 Atlantic Book Award for Best Atlantic Published Book. Shauntay lives in Halifax.

Shauntay Grant is the author of two previous books for children, Up Home and The City Speaks in Drums, both of which are favourites of my daughter, Magda. We'll be posting reviews of all three books very soon!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coastal Access, by Walter Ramsay

One thing Coastal Access does not lack for is plot points. It has everything. Sex! Violence! Murder! Corruption! Ghosts of Seminole Indians! Long lost dead relatives! And, of course, multi-million dollar land deals (what mystery would be complete without them?). It's a fast-paced easy read, but I kept expecting our hero to reveal that it was Old Man Jenkins, the caretaker of the abandoned amusement park, with some phosphorescent paint and a monster mask the whole time.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Reviews on THE BOOKISH ELF!

Check out these new reviews for Polly Dunbar's fantastic children's book series, Tilly and Friends, on The Bookish Elf!

The Laws of Love: Creating the Relationship of Your Dreams, by Chris Prentiss

The Laws of Love is a relationship self-help book that has liberal amounts of "trendy fad gimmick" and fairly solid advice, so it's worth taking with a proverbial grain of salt. It's sort of a twelve-step program for healthy romantic relationships except instead of twelve steps there are fourteen "laws of love." The "trendy fad gimmick" is that these "laws" claim to be inspired by the fundamental laws of the universe. 

Just as there are Universal Laws of Physics (such as gravity and inertia), the author argues, so too are there Universal Laws of Metaphysics (such as be nice and people will like you, tell lies and people will distrust you). While the logic of this is seductive, it's also hopelessly flawed. Newton's Laws were never meant to be applied this way and I think the author knows it. Saying something is true because it resembles something else that is known to be true is not science. It's not even pseudoscience. It's simply an attempt to borrow scientific principals to make one's own claim seem weightier, like when shampoo commercials brag about pH balance. And when the author attempts to refute chaos theory as a way to allay people's relationship anxiety, well, I laughed out loud at his wilful ignorance.
Nonetheless, the book is not without merit. There are some solid points hidden among the nonsense  like the idea that the only thing each of us truly can control is ourselves--our own actions and reactions--and we should focus first on our own choices before lamenting that we can't get our partners to do what we want.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust, by Mary Fulbrook

A Small Town Near Auschwitz:
Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust
Author: Mary Fulbrook
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2012 

In A Small Town Near Auschwitz, historian Mary Fulbrook tells the story of Udo Klausa, a civilian administrator in the small town of Bedzin, and the so-called "ordinary Nazi" who helped implement the Nazis' inhumane policies towards the Jews. For Fulbrook the story of Udo Klausa hits very close to home, because Fulbrook's mother was both a refugee from Nazi Germany and a close friend of Klausa's wife. Fulbrook has known the Klausa family all her life and was able to use letters and journals from the Klausas themselves to piece together her story.

While I understand that her goal in writing this was to understand how someone who considered himself "a decent man" could be responsible for such atrocities, and while I also understand that this is a question many people feel compelled to ask since so many Nazis would have called themselves "decent family men and women" even while they slaughtered Jews, I personally found this book extremely difficult to read. It's hard not to hear the author's apologetics creeping into the language, no matter how much she tries to insist that she's not making excuses for the Nazis or for Klausa's role in the Holocaust. I felt like I, as a reader, was supposed to say, "Oh, see? He wasn't that bad. He felt bad about all the Jewish families he watched die. He's an okay guy, really. And his wife seems nice. She must have been brainwashed or something." The whole book made me feel...I don't know...icky.

The Cleaner: A Thriller, by Paul Cleave

The Cleaner

A Thriller
Author: Paul Cleave 
Publisher: Atria Books/Simon and Schuster 
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
I received an advanced copy of this book without knowing very much about it, except that it was about a serial killer in New Zealand. I almost don't want to give away any more than that because I found every plot twist to be thrilling and delightful. No, wait, delightful is not the right word. Horrifying, maybe? No, that's overstating it. It was an extremely satisfying but creepy read, especially right before Hallowe'en! Unfortunately, it's not scheduled for wide release until closer to Christmas, so you'll miss out on the thrill of reading it in October (the undisputed BEST time for horror stories of all kinds...wait, is that even true in New Zealand? Do they have Hallowe'en there? I don't even know...).

Okay, without giving away too much, the serial killer in question is Joe, who works at the police department in Christchurch. It's kind of like Dexter, but with a few key differences. For one, Dexter (from the popular Showtime TV series, or the books by Jeffrey Lindsay) is a crime scene tech geek who helps the police solve crimes in Miami while murdering people in his own time. Joe, on the other hand, is a janitor whom everyone assumes is mentally challenged, an image he cultivates so he can keep an eye on police files and get away with his own murderous habits. Dexter has a "code" to determine who he kills, claiming he only kills people who really deserve it (according to him) while Joe insists he kills only for fun. Oh, and the biggest difference of all: The Cleaner is fantastically well-written while the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay are...well, they are not (the TV show is good though).

Beneath the Abbey Wall (Joanne Ross #3), by A.D. Scott

Beneath the Abbey Wall
(Joanne Ross #3)
Author: A.D. Scott
Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: November 13, 2012 

The staff of The Highland Gazette is determined to break the story of a killer in their midst and solve the crime, not only because they are competitive journalists but because the victim is one of their own. When the efficient Mrs. Smart is found murdered, ambitious reporter Joanne Ross must try to keep the office running while trying to get the story. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the 1950's, Beneath the Abbey Wall is somewhere between cozy and quippy. I kept expecting Rosalind Russell to show up at any moment. (That's an apt reference, people. Look it up.) As a huge fan of the Highlands-set Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It was a little like the Hamish stories were being told from the perspective of the plucky reporter, Elspeth Grant. I must go back and read the other books in this series!

I particularly enjoyed the storyline about the mysterious stranger, Neil Stewart, a Nova Scotian with a Scottish-born mother who is described in the novel as dashing, worldly and possibly a little dangerous. I must say, as a life-long Nova Scotian myself, I can attest that there are PLENTY of Nova Scotians who would definitely love to be characterized this way, especially the part about being legitimately Scottish!

Mr. Luigi's Binoculars, by Antoine Bello (translated by Bérangère Callens)

Mr Luigi's Binoculars

(short story)
Author: Antoine Bello
Translator: Bérangère Callens
Publication Date: October 3, 2012
This is the third story I've read by Antoine Bello. The first was his fantastic novel, The Missing Piece, a murder mystery set in the world of competitive jigsaw puzzling (which is actually a real thing, though hopefully not exactly as presented in the novel!), and the second was Legends, a laugh-out-loud short story about a British civil servant who takes his job creating back stories for future spies VERY seriously. This short story, Mr. Luigi's Binoculars, takes us to the world of competitive card playing, as viewed by a young card player from Quitman, Missouri (real place--I checked--population about 45) who is part of the entourage of the game's star player. The story doesn't exactly specify which game it is until the end (that's the whole surprise and charm of the story) but we do know that everyone involved takes it VERY seriously. There's a bit of a trend in Bello's writing, I think. He takes the frivolous and makes it serious, and he takes the serious and makes it absurd. Love it!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, by Andrew Blum

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
Author: Andrew Blum
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 29, 2012
The internet really IS a series of tubes! Well, sort of. In this fascinating look at the history and--even more unusual--geography of the internet, Andrew Blum takes us behind the scenes and among the cables that make up the information superhighway. A fantastic read that I picked up months ago and forgot to write a review for until recent pictures of Google's data warehouse jarred my memory (hit the jump to see).

Morehead, by Jeffrey Hickey

Morehead by Jeffrey Hickey is a rare find. It's a novel, a pseudo-memoir, that has all the markings of a low budget, self-published work (because it is) but all the potential of a book put out by a major publishing house. The book may be slightly rough around the edges (physically, like with fonts and layout choices) but don't be fooled. Beneath the surface is a story that is eminently readable. It tells the story of Dave Morehead, a young man living in San Francisco in the 1970's and 80's, a "straight young man in a gay old city" as the author puts it. 

Morehead's story is told through journal entries and school assignments (here's where better formatting might have helped the story along) and is probably more than a little autobiographical from the author's own college years.

What makes Morehead truly special (besides the title, which made my partner Mike giggle like a twelve-year-old every time he heard it. "More head. Heh heh.") is the audiobook. The author was kind enough to send me the sound recording--that I believe he said he had made with his friends--and it was surprising fantastic.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard, by Ben Crystal

Shakespeare on Toast:

Getting a Taste for the Bard

Author: Ben Crystal
Publisher: Icon Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
FUN! That's the best way to describe the experience of reading Ben Crystal's Shakespeare on Toast. The author's goal was to make Shakespeare more accessible to readers of all ages who may be reluctant to take on the bard. I'm sure there are a million other books with that goal in mind and I'm certainly not able to provide a comparison of all the other books on the subject, nor can I say which ones I would or would not recommend. What I can say is that I would definitely recommend this one. The only thing that kept me from reading it all in one sitting is that I kept getting up to share what I'd learned with my partner (who is a secondary school English and history teacher and was eager to listen to all of my interruptions...thanks Mike!).

I'm actually planning to start a new project next year called "Shakespeare in a Year" in which I attempt to read all of Shakespeare's plays in a year (or at least before I'm forty, which is more than a year but less than five). I've been rather intimidated by the entire prospect and have been avoiding it at every turn. But this book actually helped. I think I can do it now!

Hit the jump to read some to the cool facts I learned!

What the Nanny Saw, by Fiona Neill (audiobook narrated by Alison Larkin)

What the Nanny Saw
Author: Fiona Neill
Publisher: Penguin
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Media
Publication Date: August 2, 2012
First let me say, I'm in love with the cover of this book. I used to have shoes very similar to those and I miss them so much! The cheeky red slippers, the proper but fabulous navy skirt, the slightly nervously turned in's all very evocative. I was picturing an equally cheeky and fabulous confessional-style novel about class structure within a domestic household, and maybe even a little mystery. It was...well...some of that, but maybe not as much as I'd hoped.

The nanny in question is Ali, the nanny of wealthy London couple Nick and Bryony Skinner, who have recently been caught in a huge financial scandal. Ali reflects on her first encounters with the Skinners, trying to figure out if she can determine where it all went wrong. The character of Ali should be the most sympathetic character in the novel, she should be the entry point for the reader into the sordid world of the London elite and the moral guide to sorting out how we feel about this troubled family. She should be but she isn't. Ali isn't that great as a moral authority and she isn't that sympathetic. If anything she's often petulant and grating. I guess I was expecting a Bridget Jones type character--a flawed flibbertygibbert who gets herself into impossible situations but, my, don't we love her for it. Instead, no one in the novel comes across as wholly likeable.

The Stockholm Octavo, by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Ocatavo
Author: Karen Engelmann 
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Collins 
Publication Date: October 23, 2012 

The Stockholm Octavo is unlike any book I've read, at least in recent memory. The publisher promoted it as "for fans of Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" and that's one of my favourite books, so I was excited to read it. I'm not sure if it reminded me so much of Suskind's novel, but it's definitely intriguing. Set in Sweden at the end of the 18th century, around the time of the French Revolution, The Stockholm Octavo follows the intrigues and politics behind the scenes of powerful players in the political realm. Actually, it deals with political players in the realm of play. Most of the action takes place in the back rooms of gambling houses, with characters manipulating each other over cards.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, The Learned Pig, by Russell Potter

I'm almost annoyed with myself for not liking this book more. I'd been looking forward to it for so long and I had high expectations It's meant to be the "memoir" of a nineteenth century pig who rose above his station by learning to read and write, thus becoming a star of both the side show and the academic stage. The cover is an etching of a pig wearing a paisley vest. It should be, as The Bloggess might say, FULL OF WHIMSY! Yet I was disappointed.

I think the real problem, for me, is that I felt the author was constantly wrestling with style versus substance and too often sided with the former. He decided to write the whole book in "nineteenth century style" right down to the typeface and superfluous capitalization. I suppose it's meant to add to the authenticity of the premise but I found it so distracting that it took away from the story more than it added to it. Plus without all the gimmicks--it's a meta-memoir, it's "written" by a pig, it's supposed to be based on recovered documents from the early 1800's, it uses nineteenth century grammar and style, the typeface is meant to be old-fashioned--underneath it all there isn't much there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday: More Magical Tales from the author of GOD, NO!, by Penn Jillette

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday
More Magical Tales from the author of GOD, NO!

Author: Penn Jillette

Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Publication Date: November 13, 2012
Let's just get this out of the way first. If you love Penn Jillette, you'll probably love this book. If you hate Penn Jillette, you'll probably hate this book. Now for everybody else...

Every Day is An Atheist Holiday is a series of anecdotes and reminiscences loosely arranged around the theme of holidays (Halloween, Canadian Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.). Some chapters deal directly with the religiosity of the holiday or the secularism of the author, but others are just brief memoirs or musings that relate indirectly to the holiday in question. Of course a lot of chapters aren't about holidays at all, like the chapter devoted almost entirely to Jillette's stints on The Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing With the Stars.

The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light

The Holy or the Broken: 

Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah"
Author: Alan Light
Publisher: Atria Books/Simon&Schuster
Publication Date: December 4, 2012
Fans of Leonard Cohen may find their curiosity about the minutiae of a single song's back story to be outmatched by their annoyance at Alan Light's constant reference to this "Jeff Buckley song" by a previously "respected but otherwise unknown songwriter." What the what? Okay, so I'm Canadian and maybe it's fair to say that Leonard Cohen has always been more famous in Canada than other places (although I'm not sure, because in Canada he's HELLA FAMOUS and has been for SIXTY YEARS so I'm not sure if I can accurately assess his out-of-the-country fame). But I think it's pretty fair to say that Leonard Cohen was NOT "otherwise unknown" until Jeff Buckley came along in 1994 and did a cover of one of his songs. Does Alan Light not remember "Suzanne" or "Chelsea Hotel" or "Bird on a Wire" or...okay, the list goes on and on and on. I find it impossible to imagine that there is anyone who has watched a lot of movies or television and hasn't heard a Leonard Cohen song played somewhere. 

And Alan Light also paints him as some reluctant unknown, suddenly thrust into the public eye by the "surprise hit" that is "Hallelujah," again crediting this almost entirely to Jeff Buckley. I know it's a lot of people's favourite version, and I know that version was responsible for some of the renewed interest in the song, but COME ON, Alan Light! Saying Leonard Cohen "rarely grants interviews" and stays out of the public eye?! Are you kidding me? As a young man, Cohen famously recorded hundreds of hours of film of himself because he knew he would be famous and the footage would be of interest to people in the future. Does one really need to be Canadian or to have lived in Montreal to know all of these things? Surely someone doing a BOOK about the man might check his facts!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Legends, by Antoine Bello (translated by Berangere Callens)

Legends (short story)
Author: Antoine Bello
Translator: Bérangère Callens
Publication Date: September 2012
I had to wait a whole day after reading this short story before I attempted to write a review because I couldn't stop giggling. The whole story is told through diary entries by Nigel, a British civil servant who has been tasked with maintaining false identities for use by British spies. The idea is that these false identities--or legends--used by spies are often real identities of real people who have died but whose death was covered up by the government so their identities could be put to further use. For instance, if a spy were to assume a false cover, he may need a birth certificate, a passport and a driver's license, but he'd also need a plausible life history including an apartment, a job, a history of bank transactions, etc. If no one is using these false identities at the moment, someone still has to keep them active so their existence and history can be verified. These "legends" still need to have someone pay rent, deposit and withdraw money from their bank accounts, turn lights on in their apartments, etc., so that if these IDs are used in the future it would be easy to verify that, yes, that is a real person. 

Enter Nigel. His job is to do some maintenance work on three legends: Alec, Sarah and Harold.  It should be easy. Just make sure their empty apartments look lived in, make a few phone calls from each of their apartments, deposit and withdraw money from their accounts. This was written in 1999 so he doesn't even need to worry about maintaining fake Facebook or Twitter accounts for them. He's given a budget of £500 per month. 

Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible: The Fascinating History of Everything in Your Closet, by Tim Gunn and Ada Calhoun

Recently The Bloggess Jenny Lawson asked on her blog, "Which of your heroes would you like to meet in real life, without worrying they would disappoint you?" For me, I think it would be Tim Gunn. I bet he would be the same in person as he is on TV--upbeat, approachable, knowledgeable and honest. That's certainly how he is in his books. His latest, Tim Gunn's Fashion Bible, is a fascinating history of everything from handbags to hosiery and everything in between. So delightful!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Book of Jonas, by Stephen Dau (audiobook narrated by Simon Vance)

The Book of Jonas

Author: Stephen Dau

Audiobook Narrator: Simon Vance
Publisher: Penguin (Blue Rider Press)
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Media
Publication Date: March 2012
The Book of Jonas is the sort of book that makes me wish review sites used two different rating systems, like figure skating: one for technical merit and one for artistic impression. There are just some books that I try and try and try to like but I just can't. I know that it's not because the author is a bad writer, or because the story isn't intrinsically interesting or even well crafted. It's sometimes just a matter of personal taste. Sometimes it's that I dislike the genre. Other times it's that I could not find myself making enough of an emotional connection to the characters to care about what happens to them. This was one of those times.

I started off listening to the audiobook, read by Simon Vance. I love Simon Vance's work and will listen to just about anything he reads. He's got a delightful--and VERY British--voice and I've been a huge fan ever since I heard his audio narration of The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale. This time, though, I couldn't seem to get into the story, no matter how many times I tried listening to it. So I figured I'd better read the print edition first and come back to the audiobook (I received the audiobook free from Tantor Media, so I was still planning to review it, even if I read the print edition first). I got the book out from the library and dove in. It didn't help.

It isn't that the story is dull. A young man named Younis (later Jonas) moves to the United States after his Middle Eastern village is destroyed by an American military strike yet he miraculously survives. Once in the U.S. he struggles to come to terms with his past and eventually encounters the mother of the soldier he claims saved his life. But the truth is more complicated than he first admitted. Sounds good, right?

Speaking From Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel, by Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among the Bones: 
A Flavia de Luce Novel

Author: Alan Bradley
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
This is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series and I'm going to run out of superlatives to describe how good they are! Precocious nearly-twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce (which apparently is pronounced FLAY-vee-ah  de-LOOSE, and not something that almost rhymes with "Mafia Bazooka" as I had always thought) is an expert on chemistry--particularly poisons--and she is quickly becoming an expert on murder. With four murders in her tiny English village of Bishop's Lacey in the past year alone, and Flavia at the heart of solving all of them, it's become positively epidemic. And now, as Easter approaches, Flavia finds herself in the middle of yet another investigation when she discovers the body of the church organist, Mr. Collicut.

Spending time in Bishop's Lacey with the likes of Flavia is as charming and transporting as spending time at Hogwarts or in Narnia. Alan Bradley has created a series for adults (or young adults who don't mind a little murder in their fiction) that is sure to be recommended to generations of readers for decades to come. I know I, for one, can not recommend them highly enough!

Duck & Goose, Goose Needs a Hug, by Tad Hills

Goose is feeling sad and he needs a hug. His friends are all too willing to help cheer him up: with happy songs, splashing in puddles, even standing on their heads. The only thing they forget to do is actually listen to Goose. All he really needs is a hug!

This is a very cute and simple book that will appeal to very young children. And we all need a hug sometimes!

My three-year-old daughter Magda liked this book very much, especially when they "splashed in puddles and standed on their heads" but I think it would be even better for children a little younger.

Hit the jump for more pictures from the book!

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira (illustrations by Poly Bernatene)

There is a little pink pig sitting on a log, saying "Ribbit" of all things. What does he want? all the frogs are wondering. As the various forest animals debate the meaning of this strange event, the little pig waits there patiently, saying "Ribbit." Finally they must call in the wise old beetle to make sense of it all.

The book is--and I know I say this far too much--utterly charming. I especially love the expressions on the frogs' faces as they get more and more upset and confused by the ribbitting pig. So cute!

My daughter Magda loved this book ("It's pretty wonderful") although she said she did not like it when all the animals were crying over the pig ("that wasn't very nice").

Hit the jump for more pictures from the book!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat: The Art of Dr. Seuss, by Caroline M. Smith

A few years ago (okay, probably closer to a decade now) there was an installation of the artwork of Dr. Seuss at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, near where I live. It was close to Christmas time and--if I'm remembering it correctly--it was around the same time that Ron Howard's movie version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas was in theatres. The entire bottom floor of the museum was transformed into a sort of Whoville, with murals large and small on the walls and various whimsical statues throughout. I was enchanted. That was the moment I became a fan of Dr. Seuss as an adult. I had certainly been a fan as a child, and I still enjoyed the Boris Karloff Grinch every year on TV, but seeing those illustrations and sculptures made me a true fan. I loved the black-and-white or limited colour sketches that were the earliest incarnations of characters that I knew and loved. I loved seeing the process of early sketches being turned into fully formed books. I loved the unabashed whimsy that was Dr. Seuss' trademark.

This was exactly the feeling I got when I opened Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat. The illustrations are gorgeous and inspiring and imagination-bending. The colours are fantastic and magical (I viewed it on my desktop computer instead of my e-reader for full effect). The artwork, much of which I don't think I've ever seen before, made me feel I was getting to know Dr. Seuss on a level I never before understood. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, by A.J. Jacobs

This was one of those books that I couldn't wait to get and once I got it I couldn't wait to read it. I had a lot of books ahead of it on my TBR pile, including ones that I could only borrow for a few days but, guess what? This one won. I was up late for several nights reading nothing else. Totally worth it! I'm a huge fan of all of A.J. Jacobs' other books but I think this is the one in which I learned the most things that I'll actually be applying to my own life. Never before has a treadmill desk seemed so plausible! I should eat less breakfast cereal! Ice water has negative calories! Of all the books I've been reading the last few weeks, this is the one I'm telling my friends about. Actually, if you scroll down you can see a conversation (okay, a bunch of random Facebook messages) with my friend Chris about it.

Hit the jump for more pictures from the book and my whole "conversation" with friend and fellow blogger Chris!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On the Island, by Tracey Garvis Graves

Tracey Garvis Graves debut novel, On the Island, tells the story of a young teacher trapped on a desert island with her even younger student after the plane that was taking them to an island in the Maldives for the summer crashes in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So many aspects of the premise stretch the limits of credulity--the beautiful young teacher with the perfect body is offered a summer tutoring job in which she will fly to an island paradise with her sixteen-year-old student T.J., a boy who has just survived cancer and whose parents flew halfway around the world without him, allowing him to travel with a woman he has met once. And yet, Ms. Garvis Graves' writing is so detailed and thorough I found it hard to hold on to my doubts. Her description of the pilot's heart attack, the plane crash, Anna and T.J.'s attempts at survival, even the weather, are all so believable that it's almost hard to imagine that the author herself hasn't been through each of these impossible situations herself.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

It was never a question of whether or not I would read J.K. Rowling's first novel since the Harry Potter series, and her first book for adults. Obviously I would read it. I've been a huge fan of Rowling's writing and storytelling for well over a decade, reading and re-reading the Harry Potter books more often than I have any other book (let alone series of books). She's been a big part of my reading life for years. Obviously I would read anything she writes. As some reviewers have said, she's "review-proof." I, like so many others, would read her work no matter what. The question is, could I write an honest review?


The Casual Vacancy is not a book you can (or should) compare to Rowling's other work. It has nothing to do with Harry Potter, in subject matter or in tone. If anything, it's sort of a glimpse into the inner life of the Dursleys, but even that's a stretch. It's a book about class struggles and politics in rural England centred around the election of a new member of the Parish Council. I expected it to be funny, even in a dry British kind of way (I'm assuming I don't need to explain what I mean by that). About half-way through I thought maybe it was meant to be more sad or at least poignant and revealing of the human condition. The thing is...

Okay, I have to pause here to distance myself from what I'm about to say. I'm having a hard time admitting that I didn't love the book written by the author whose other books I obsessively loved. And it's not even that I didn't love it as much as Harry Potter, or that it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, or that it was different from what I expected. It wasn't just a question of too-high expectations. And it's not like I hated this book. It's just...

It was okay.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dial C for Chihuahua: A Barking Detective Mystery, by Waverly Curtis (Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert)

I admit it. I'm a sucker for cozy mysteries. I love amateur sleuth stories, the kind that often have recipes in the back. I can't get enough of them. In fact the name of my blog, Cozy Little Book Journal, is a reference to my love of cozies. And one of the most popular sub-subgenres of cozy mysteries--though not necessarily my favourite--is the pet detective mystery. To be fair, the pet is not always the detective, it's usually just the pet OF the detective, though in many it's the cat or dog who takes centre stage. That is certainly the case in the new series by Waverly Curtis starring Pepe the dog. 

Pepe is a fiesty chihuahua, a former "purse dog" of a trendy celebutante who tossed him aside for the next new fad. Now he lives with Geri Sullivan, his "partner in crime detection" and the only one who seems to realize that Pepe can talk. Together they find themselves solving a murder and possibly manoeuvring through the world of reality television (Dancing With Dogs, anyone?).

Dial C for Chihuahua has a lot going for it. It's cute, it's fresh (I mean look at the cover--it's freaking adorable) and it's the first in a new seriews by the collaborators behind the pen name "Waverly Curtis," Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert. (I'm always intrigued by writing collaborations. How did that work?)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Share the Bounty Finding God's Grace through the Spirit of Hospitality, by Benita Long (with Susan Wilson, Ann Mitchell, Sammy Anderson and Steve Wingfield)

When I first opened Share the Bounty I gasped. It's beautiful. It's as much a coffee table book as it is a cookbook, with beautifully photographed recipes interspersed with images of wholesome farm life and drool-worthy home decor ideas that could have come from any number of design magazines or Pinterest boards. It's a book I could pore over for days on end, that I could (and will) leave out for my guests to look at, perhaps at a dinner party inspired by the book.

These are the sorts of cookbooks I truly love. With every recipe imaginable readily available with the click of a mouse, I don't have as much use for the strictly utilitarian cookbooks as I once did. In college I made full use of my dog-eared and heavily annotated how-to guides to help me make the perfect vegetarian chili or four-ingredient apple tarts. But today, with internet access everywhere I go and many years of "learning the basics" behind me, what I really want is inspiration. I want a cookbook that makes me gasp.