Tuesday, January 16, 2007


A Tortall Legend: Beka Cooper, by Tamora Pierce.

In 2001, when I was working at a library just outside the city for the summer, one of the library assistants there turned me on to Tamora Pierce. I absolutely devoured all of her Tortall books in about two weeks, and then reread them all. She was midway through the Protector of the Small series at the time, and I'm pretty sure Squire had just come out because I remember having to wait for it. (Which sucked, because the Protector of the Small series is the best one by a factor of about a million. Kel is totally her coolest character.) (I just looked it up on Amazon: May 22, 2001. Wow, I can hardly ever do that! I know when HP6 came out because it's my freaking wedding anniversary, but other than that I have no idea when I read things, usually.)

Anyway, I had spent much of my first few weeks at this job arguing that I didn't really like fantasy, much to the chagrin of this (awesome) library assistant who loved it. I liked Harry Potter, obviously (I started reading Harry Potter in 1999, shortly after book 3 came out. Mum had the first two and lent them to me, and I made her go to the store and buy me book three when I was about 60 pages from the end of book two. I was 18, so it's not like I couldn't have gone myself, but I didn't want to have to stop reading! It is a tribute to my mother's appreciation for book binging that she went out immediately and bought it. Mind you, she wanted to read it herself, but I still don't know how many mothers would go to the bookstore upon the demand of her 18 year old daughter.), but other than that I was sort of lukewarm on a lot of fantasy. I'd gone on a brief binge of the classics (Madeleine L'Engle and Susan Cooper, and I loved Over Sea Under Stone), but was still kind of pretending like I hated fantasy.

Vicki talked me into trying Tamora Pierce, and grudgingly, I picked up Alanna.

And oh my god, I freaking loved it. I read those books faster than I think I've ever read anything in my life. I kept a booklog that summer (just titles and the dates I finished them in my daytimer), and flipping through it, I read First Test, Page, and Squire in three days. I read more than 50 books in four months that summer. It was also the summer I started writing again, and the summer Jamie and I started dating, and the summer of the best job ever. Clearly, that was a good summer.

ANYway. Suffice it to say that since that very busy summer, I have been a big time fan of Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. Oddly, I've never even picked up any of her other books, because I've heard too many people say they aren't as good and I don't want to ruin the magic.

Terrier is a "Tortall Legend," which means it's a story set hundreds of years before Alanna's time. It's the story of Beka Cooper, a way-back ancestor of George Cooper, Alanna's husband. She is a "puppy," in training to be a "dog" - a member of the city watch. Unlike Pierce's other Tortall books, this is written in diary format from Beka's point of view.

I don't think the diary worked as well as it could have, and this is far from my favourite of the Tortall books. I enjoyed it, and I liked Beka, but I felt like she was trying to hard to make Beka a proto-Alanna rather than giving her a personality of her own. That's the problem with prequels, I find - when you're trying to postshadow foreshadowing, it's a little anvil-y. (I'm looking at you, George Lucas.) There were so many moments of "this is just like George if he'd been on the side of the law instead of the Rogue!" that it got a little annoying. Plus, I like all the nobility detail in the other books, and this lacked the inner workings of the palace that I like so much. Plus with it being a prequel you can't have the random throwaway appearances by other characters from other series, and I love that. Raoul is pretty minor in Alanna, but he is the greatest character ever in the Protector of the Small series, and I like that.

So. If you are a big Tortall fan, you'll like this book. But if you've never read any Tortall books, don't start with this one. Go pick up Alanna, or the Protector of the Small series. (Alanna is chronologically first but Kel is the coolest.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hate mail

Ha! I was just flipping back through past entries, and I discovered I don't have comment notification turned on for this blog. (Not that anybody posts many comments.) I deleted a few spam comments, and then discovered this post.I saw 6 comments and figured it was spam, and then discovered...it's actually a wild tirade against me for hating that book. (I stand by that, by the way. I hated that stupid book.) But I feel like I've arrived! People hate my opinions about a book! Woohoo!

(I have no idea how they found my review, but oh well.)

The Guy Not Taken: Stories

by Jennifer Weiner

This is one of those cases where somebody returned this and I checked it in, and otherwise wouldn’t have heard about it. I loved Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner’s first book, and have been neither thrilled nor horrified by her subsequent books. I feel approximately the same way about this collection of short stories. I hated the first few stories about a girl and her intolerable sister, and it made me wonder if Weiner has some truly horrendous sister, because a lot of her books seem to feature really hateable sisters. Some of the other ones were much better than the first few, but overall it was just mediocre. I will keep reading her books, but my expectations are not as high as they once were.

Knitting Under the Influence

by Claire LaZebnik

This book clearly did what it was supposed to do. I saw the title (in my regular trolls of the new books about knitting) and put it on hold without reading anything else about it, because I like reading about knitting. Fortunately, I got it from the library rather than buying it, because man, it was terrible. They’re obviously banking on the millions of knitters around the world doing exactly what I did: saying “oh, a book about knitting!” and reading it. The knitting is enough in the foreground that I wouldn’t think non-knitters would find it terribly interesting, but there is absolutely no detail given about any of the knitting itself.

Lame. The character are one-dimensional and irritating, the plot is flimsy and not very interesting, and there isn’t even enough knitting to keep me interested. Boo.

Did that stop me from putting Knitting Circle on hold? No it did not. That one’s even being made into a Julia Roberts movie! Not that that means it will be any good, but I can hope that there might be a modicum of plot. (Oh. I just looked at my list and realized that the Knitting Circle book is not the Julia Roberts one – that’s The Friday Night Knitting Club. Clearly this is a popular genre.)

A Season for Miracles: Twelve Stories of Christmas

Various Authors

This is a compilation of short stories in the Dear Canada series. Each of the 12 stories is a Christmas story about the characters from one of the previous Dear Canada books. I’ve read a few of them, and I think they’re actually pretty decent books. (They got some of the best authors in Canada to write them, and they’re remarkably unformulaic.)

This book, however, relied entirely on you having read the previous books and therefore had no characterization independent of what you were presumed to know based on the books. That bugged me, and I didn’t particularly enjoy the book. However, I think that’s a problem fairly specific to this type of book and not an indication of the series in general, unless they start churning out more short story compilations.


by Elizabeth Knox

This was a book for my YA book group, which I’ve been slacking off in reading for lately. I actually finished this after the meeting, which is a good indication that it was a good read.

It’s the story of a world in which a parallel world, which can only be accessed by certain people (the dreamhunters), has dreams that can be caught and passed on to others. It’s a neat concept and it’s actually executed pretty well, despite the slightly predictable set up of the two cousins who are about to make their attempt to become dreamhunters.

The central story is that of using dreams as punishment, which is an interesting and horrible idea that totally reminded me of the BFG, now that I think about it. (The details aren’t quite the same but the concept is remarkably similar given how totally different the books are.) I loved the idea of the dream theatres, where a dreamhunter is on stage and everyone is asleep, dreaming the same dream.

It’s a good book, and I’d read the sequels. If I remember, which is always questionable.

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

I read the first book in this series, Peter and the Starcatchers, rather warily. It was a YRCA book this year, so I had to read it, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. They are prequels to Peter Pan, and while they don’t quite live up to the original, they’re pretty compelling stories on their own.

While Peter and the Starcatchers was the story of how Peter became the Peter Pan we all know, this is a sequel to the prequel and doesn’t set up quite as much of the original. Although I suspect that Peter’s detached shadow is somehow a result of one of the Shadow Thieves. Lord Ombra, one of said shadow thieves, is an appropriately creepy bad guy, and although his constant groaning got a little tedious, overall it was a good story. It probably could have been a little shorter, though. Nobody seems to want to edit anything anymore. I like a good fat book as much as the next person – I’m a fast reader and I hate skimpy stories that leave me wanting more – but this was a bit excessive.

The Fourth Bear

by Jasper Fforde

This is the second book in the Jack Spratt Nursery Crimes Division series, following The Big Over Easy, which we read for book club last year. Fforde is also the author of the Thursday Next books, which I am very fond of.

This one was great. I have a deep and abiding love for puns, even when they make me fling myself off the chair groaning, and this book was absolutely ridiculously packed with them. I think my favourite was the ongoing discussion as to whether bears should be allowed to carry guns. That’s right…the right to arm bears. GROAN!

Anyway, it was a good read. Nothing terribly meaningful, not exactly deep, but amusing, clever, and engaging. I am quite fond of Jack Spratt and Mary Mary, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. (There’s another Thursday Next book coming out too.)

Poor Neglected Booklog

Hi, booklog. Sorry about the neglect. It's not like I haven't been reading - I have! I just haven't been keeping track. I know. I'm a bad person. I did so well for a whole year!

Don't worry. One of my resolutions this year is to go back to keeping you. I just bought five new books with a Christmas gift certificate, and I have a whole pile on hold at the library, too. Book updates will begin once more!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Big Over Easy

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

This was the book club pick for March in my regular original book club. (I’m now in three and it’s beginning to get a bit complicated to keep track. One is a subset of my original book club, called Electric Bookaloo, much to my amusement. The other is my YA book group. Just in case any of you are trying to write a biography about me based on my book log.)

Anyway. I’ve read and heartily enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s other books, the Thursday Next series, and this one was possibly even more entertaining. I wouldn’t classify them as the most intellectual books ever written, but they are highly readable, clever, and funny, and that’s a combination I am partial to in my reading.

This one is a story of Jack Spratt in the Nursery Crime Division, who investigates crimes that have some basis in Nursery Rhymes. In some ways it’s more accessible than Thursday Next, who works in literary crimes (I think), so those ones require a little more general knowledge about books. Nursery rhymes are much less complex, and so the little in-jokes and references that are woven through this were much less likely to escape me than the ones in Thursday Next. (I like to think I’m well read, but an online discussion about the series made me realize how much I’d missed.)

Great book, quick read, entertaining characters. Good one all around.

My Sister's Keeper

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I waited for about six months for this book, so the anticipation was perhaps working against it when I finally got my hands on it. (Fortunately for those of you who read everything I recommend, it has since been chosen for the senior division of YRCA and will therefore be much easier to get ahold of. This is exactly what happened with me and the Time Traveler’s Wife last year – I wait ages, and then as soon as I get it we get dozens of paperbacks for YRCA. Oh well.) My obsession with this one was a little weird – somebody checked it out from me, I glanced at it, decided it looked interesting, and put it on hold. But since it was on my hold list for so long, I got kind of obsessive about seeing where I was in the list, how long I’d be waiting, et cetera. (I did the same thing with The Girls, but it wasn’t nearly so bad since it took about six weeks for that to come in.)

Uh, right. The book. Anyway, the concept of it was great – really interesting idea, and definitely timely. The basic gist of the idea is it’s the story of a girl whose parents conceive her (through IVF, so as to be able to selectively choose her DNA) to be a donor to her older sister, who has cancer. Initially, it is just the cord blood they want, but as both girls get older, they continue to use the younger sister as a convenient living donor for everything that the girl needs.

There were elements of it that were immensely predictable, but the story was good and quite engaging. I zipped through it one night when I was home alone (and just sat and read – unusual for me since I’m prone to excessive multi-tasking), and I would have given it an unequivocal recommendation if it weren’t for the ending. Now, I’m not against endings with a twist. Some of my favourite books have had major twists at the end, and if it works, I’m a big fan. (We Need to Talk About Kevin is the prime example of that – the ending just blew the socks off me.) But this is an ending that tries to be mind-blowing and just ended up being totally contrived. A twist has to be shocking but not over-the-top. This was over the top.

It really was too bad, because the story of this girl’s struggle to assert her own identity in a family where it is usually forgotten, but the ending soured me on the book overall. As I said, it’s been chosen for YRCA this year in the senior category, and I think it’ll go over really well with the older teenage crowd that it’s aimed at. (It’s an adult book, but the 15 and up crowd will go for it, I think. These illness/disability/death books are always a hit with the girls who like to weep over books. I know this because I was one of them as a teenager.)

Anyway, it’s a good book, and I’d recommend it because the concept of it was interesting and thought-provoking (it would make a great book club book, I think), but be warned that the end might not live up to the rest of the book. (I kind of felt that way about Prep too, actually, so maybe I’ve just become too picky about how books end.)


Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

I took this out of the library several months ago after hearing a number of recommendations for it, but never got around to reading it. Fortunately, I was lent a copy while in Vancouver, and I started reading it at the airport on my way home. I read it the whole flight (we didn’t have the fancy tvs on the back of our seats this time, alas!), and was finished about 15 hours after getting home. In other words, it was a quick read.

It was a good book with an agonizingly believable protagonist. It was hard not to start skimming at some points when the awkward high school moments got to be too much. The author made the decision to write it from the perspective of the post-high school character, and it was a relief in a lot of ways because there were moments where I really wasn’t sure she was going to live through high school.

Although the main character was extremely three-dimensional and believable, many of the secondary characters were left a little flat. Part of that, I’m sure, was intentional to show just how immersed in herself Lee, the main character, is, but it makes the story somewhat less enjoyable. Martha, Lee’s roommate and best friend, is central to most of the story, but while we are repeatedly told that they are best friends, we never really get much of a sense of why. Cross, the object of Lee’s affections for all four years, never gets much beyond the stereotype of the popular guy. It’s a shame, because the tastes we get of their personalities are intriguing, but we never seem to get the whole story. Without the secondary characters, the story lacks something, leaving what could be a great book merely a good book. It’s good, no question, but it comes close to great a few times and it’s always a shame when books miss the mark like that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most difficult reads I've ever experienced. Not in the sense that it was actually challenging to read, but it was sometimes physically painful to keep reading, knowing that there was no way for a happy ending.

This book, by Lionel Shriver, is the story of the mother of a school shooter. It is written as letters from Eva, the mother, to her estranged husband Franklin, as a retrospective on Kevin's life after the shooting. It is set up so you know exactly where things are going from the beginning, although it starts with a few painful details and becomes more fleshed out over the course of the story.

What makes this book so unbelieveable is how brutally believeable it is. It's hard to imagine how Lionel Shriver got so inside the head of this mother when you'd think it's the last thing you'd ever want to imagine.

I have now read this book twice, once over a year ago, once just a few weeks ago. The first time I read it, I literally read the last hundred pages through my fingers, barely able to force myself to keep reading while simultaneously unable to stop. The second time, I was expecting to find it a slightly less stressful read, given that I knew what happened. But it was almost worse a second time through - anticipating exactly what was going to happen, waiting for the painful other shoe to drop.

This book will haunt you and stay with you, but it is undeniably an outstanding book that will probably make you second-guess your decision to have children if you already have them or make you question if you ever want them if you don't. I am forcing my book club to read this in January (sorry, guys), but I am really looking forward to the discussion because I think this is a book that needs to be talked about.

Everyone Worth Knowing

This book is by Lauren Weisberger, the author of The Devil Wears Prada, which I hated. You might ask yourself why I read this if I hated her first book, but I'm sort of masochistic like that sometimes. So many people loved Devil that I figured I should give her another shot.

Yeah, I hated this one too.

Fortunately, it appears that I am not alone in this opinion. Googling it brought me a delightful review titled, rather excellently, "Everyone Worth Knowing not worth reading". The New York Times Book Review called it a "fatuous, clunky second novel."

It's always nice when you feel a little vindicated about a book you hated.

It's basically the same gist as Devil - girl gets new job where she's totally out of her league, girl is annoyingly good at it while simultaneously believing herself far better than the others she works with, girl pretends to be just a regular gal despite the fact that her supposedly dull and cheap wardrobe is more expensive than any wardrobe of anyone I know. It's virtually impossible to have any sympathy for Bette, and her treatment of her friends is enough to make me really dislike her. The romance novel obsession was supposed to make her cute and likeable, but all it succeeeded in doing was making her seem even more vacuous than she already was.

Don't bother.

The People of Sparks

This is the sequel to City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau, which was a YRCA book this year. I enjoyed the sequel, although not as much as I enjoyed the first book. It's the story of a colony of people from the City of Ember, an underground city, who escape from their dying city to emerge out into the light. It's an interesting concept, and one that works well for most of the story. There are elements of it that are less interesting, and overall the concept is not nearly as tight as it was in the first book. Still, it was a good read, and I'll read her next book. (Which, according to her website, will be related to the first two but not directly, which sounds like the concept that Lois Lowry used for her Giver follow-ups.) When I was a kid, I always enjoyed these post-apocalyptic stories, like Z is for Zachariah, one I was very fond of. These two books have one of the more interesting concepts of that world, and I found it to be a solidly created world, something that often falls apart in this kind of story.

So, overall, a good one.

The Girls

Right, hi. I have a booklog. Sorry about that, booklog.

I haven't been reading much in the way of new stuff lately. I reread HP4 after I saw the movie, and then wanted to reread 5, and I'll probably reread 6 after I'm done 5, because I'm anal like that. I'm rereading East right now, because my YA book group is reading it for the December meeting. I just finished rereading We Need to Talk About Kevin, because I am evil and I am making my regular book group read it in January. But that book needs its own entry.

But I have read a few things.

One of them was The Girls, by Lori Lansens. This is the fictional autobiography of conjoined twins. I picked it up when somebody checked it out at work, and I immediately put it on hold, because I am somewhat of a sucker for gimmicky books like that.

I really have no idea how fair or accurate this depiction of life as a conjoined twin. I'm going to blithely assume that she did her research, and even if it's innaccurate it seems like a convincing portrayal, which is really all I ask for in a book. It's a Canadian book, but didn't really feel like one, which is generally a compliment coming from me as I'm not known to be wild about a lot of Canadian fiction.

This book had an absolutely killer opening, and the entire story was compelling from start to finish. There was one plot point running through most of the book that I wasn't entirely wild about, but overall I found it really well-written, and made me both interested in and sympathetic to the totally unimaginable lifestyle of the sisters. It was a complicated concept that was immensely well executed, and this is a book that I'd recommend to many of my friends and may well buy for my stepmother-in-law for Christmas.

I shall leave you with the opening to the book, since it's pretty irresistable.

I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, but oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading

And I am blogging about this book by Sara Nelson, the story of her year reading as much as she could, as my 100th logged book this year. Yay me!

This book is not just a book log, though. It's the story of the romance of reading, the experience of reading. It's not the log of the books themselves, but of the experience. It is an immensely satisfying book not because I've read a ton of the books that she read, but because I could relate to how she felt while she was reading.

This is not a book you should read if you are not a gigantic book nerd. It is entirely about one woman's relationship with reading and books. I think part of why I liked it so much is that Sara's husband is not a huge book nerd. Although Jamie reads a lot more than her husband does, there were a lot of similiarities that made me feel kind of better about not marrying an equally book-obsessed guy. It's probaby just as well, since if he read as much as I do we'd probably never eat, but there are moments when I wish he'd get a little more enthusiastic about reading some of the stuff I read.

He would not like this book, though, I don't think. That's ok. Sometimes I like that books are all mine and no matter how much our lives intersect, I can still escape into my own world.

100 books in a year. Sure, half of them were probably YA books, but still. That's pretty darn good.

The Tightwad Gazette

This is not a book that there is a lot to say about - it's a collection of newsletters that was written for six years, full of tips about how to live frugally. And while I did snag a couple of good tips, it's (a) set up mostly for families in a lot of places, (b) extremely outdated - especially the lengthy article about why personal computers aren't really very economical and quite often a word processor will do fine, and (c) way more hardcore than I can be bothered to be. Still, interesting to read simply to see how much money I could save if I weren't so damn lazy.

Saving Francesca

by Marlena Marchetta. This is a book that a lot of people have recommended to me over the years, both online and in real life. I read another book by this author, Looking for Alibrandi, and I was severely underwhelmed by it. Still, people assured me that this one was better, and they were quite right.

Set in Australia, this is the story of a girl who has recently begun attending what was previously an all-boys school. As if that isn't trouble enough, her mother has sunk into what appears to be an endless depression.

What I liked most about this book was the development of Francesca's relationships with the other girls at her school. I have always loved and probably always will love books about a group of girlfriends. I like movies about it, too. Those have always been my favourites - my favourite book of all time is Look Through My Window by Jean Little, about the development of a friendship between two girls. Part of it is that it's one of the things in books I find most consistent with my real life. I have had many best friends in my life, and I love reading about that relationship because it's one that I think is often hard to capture. People know the shortcuts for romantic love but I think the bonds of friendship between two girls are harder to describe and put into words. So that was really why I loved this book so much.

It also reminded me of another of my all time favourites, Feeling Sorry for Celia, which is also...about two girls becoming best friends. (And oh, it's glorious. The relationship between the two girls in that book is fantastic.)

The portrayal of Francesca's mother's depression is also quite well done, and I like that it wasn't neatly wrapped up at the end as stories about depression often are. I wasn't so impressed with the "depression doesn't need to be treated!" angle that the book occasionally took, but I think they ended up with a mostly satisfying portrayal.

So. Good book. Much better than Looking for Alibrandi, in my eyes. A good YA book for a fairly wide audience, I think. (Plus, there are Buffy discussions! That always improves a book.)

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

A book by Shyam Selvadurai, for my YA Book Group.

This book is the story of a Sri Lankan boy whose Canadian cousin comes to visit him, throwing his life into somewhat of a tailspin. It was chosen in conjunction with Maya Running, and there are distinct and obvious comparisons.

This book, however, was much better. First of all, it didn't suffer from the unclear genre situation - it set itself up to be one kind of book and stayed that type of book throughout. Secondly, the characters were given much more depth. The Canadian cousin could have been fleshed out a little more, but Amrith, the main character, is pretty 3-dimensional and quite sympathetic.

The story is relatively simple - over the course of a visit from a cousin he'd never met, Amrith comes to some conclusions about himself and discovers that he's gay. Of course, being that this is set in Sri Lanka, it's a significantly more complicated situation than that.

That's the basic crux of the story - there are other details but they are mostly incidental to the main concept. There some interesting side notes about family, friends, the nature of love, etc, but overall it's a simple story that's told quite well. (I shouldn't say simple because that makes it sound like it's this easy thing that's dealt with, and it isn't. But it's told in an uncomplicated fashion.)

Good book, and could lead to good discussions. It was also a very interesting look at Sri Lankan culture, which is not one I'm very familiar with.

Maya Running

This is a book by Anjali Banerjee that I read for my YA book group meeting this month. It's a quick read (as many YA books tend to be), and it's pretty good. It's about an Indian girl who lives in Manitoba and feels somewhat like an outcast as a result of her ethnicity, and it's a cute story. Her cousin Pinky comes to visit from India and, naturally, all hell breaks loose.

It's not a bad story but I found it a little one dimensional. I never got much of a sense of her daily life, or the traditions of the culture that she was upset by, apart from the now-standard embarrassing ethnic food in the lunch room scene.

The mid-way point of the novel features Maya, the main character, being granted wishes by Ganesh, the Elephant Hindu God. While I don't have a problem with that sort of concept, it felt a little bit out of nowhere to me. Sure, that's how it felt to Maya too, but it seemed like a perfectly normal book was trucking along nicely and then all of a sudden we were into magic realism.

The first half of the book was fleshed out quite nicely, with a lot of detail, and then things sort of went downhill about half way through. Not much happened in the first half, but then too much happened in the second half, and as a result it was a very unbalanced book - felt almost like two halves of two different books. I didn't dislike it, but I liked Swimming in the Monsoon Sea much better, and the concepts were quite similar.

So: not bad, not great. But an immensely quick read.

Rituals of the Season

This is another Margaret Maron book featuring Deborah Knott, and I picked it up because it struck me as being closure of sorts for the character. I say that with no clue if she plans to write more Knott mysteries, but there was a certain element of wrapping things up to it. (Except I just looked it up and she's totally writing more. Oh well.)

The background to the mystery is the upcoming wedding of Deborah and Dwight, and the mystery itself features the mysterious death of a district attorney. I have to confess, I don't read mysteries because I like figuring out whodunnit and all that. I read them because they're quick, interesting, and I like the characters. I read too quickly to ever really spend time trying to solve the mystery myself - I figure it's faster just to zip through the book and let the author tell me. I know that's kind of against the point of the whole genre, but hey, I don't read them very often.

This was an enjoyable entry into the series, though, and Deborah Knott continues to be a character I'm fond of. I'm particularly partial to her 11 brothers, and I like the stories that weave them into things. If you aren't familiar with Margaret Maron and you like mysteries with spunky women characters, I highly recommend Deborah Knott's mysteries. She is a great character who manages to not be one-dimensional, which is always nice in these situations.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Ok, I haven't stopped reading (because, you know, I never stop reading), but NaNo has meant that I haven't been keeping up here because everything I write goes into my novel. But I'm falling farther and farther behind so here's a bit of a catch up.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-12, by Lemony Snicket

Well, I did something I swore I should really quit doing, and that's read a series before it gets finished. Although I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first couple of Snicket books, I decided I'd read the whole lot of them since they are very quick reads. (I don't know - my logic is weird sometimes.) I think it was book five where I got more interested - the Quagmire triplets were better than the other secondary characters up to that point and I enjoyed the fact that the story became a little more overarching at that point.

I do not, however, think that this series need 13 books, and it sort of annoys me that I can tell he's only writing that many because it's a publishing gold mine. Still, the books are entertaining, and I can definitely understand why kids like them so much. I like how the author has become more than just the narrator (I should say "author", since he is fictitious), and I like that it has become significantly more grey rather than the black and white good vs. evil of the earlier books in the series. I will jump on 13 when it comes out simply because I want to know how it turns out, but I won't be rushing out to buy the series. (At least not for myself - I bought the first one for my nephew.)

They are definitely good if you're not in the mood for heavy reading - I got through all 12 in less than a week and that was with hold lists being a factor. Nice quick read, and entertaining. Maybe not as in-depth as some children's lit, but hey, sometimes you need some light reading.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines, by Phillip Reeve

I read this one for my YA Book Group (they do two books a month), and would never have picked it up otherwise. I’m glad I did, though – this book was innovative and interesting, but not one I’d usually be attracted to. It’s the story of a boy named Tom who lives in London, but a London of the Future that is constantly on the move. The cities of the future are mobile (called Traction Cities), with huge wheels taking them around the world in search of other cities and towns to devour, in order to power their city.

Tom, an apprentice Historian, is jolted into reality when his hero, Valentine, throws Tom out of the city after he discovers a deadly secret about Valentine. Left for dead, Tom must struggle to survive with only Hester Shaw, a disfigured orphan out for revenge, for a companion. Although the two get off to a rocky start, the development of their relationship is one of the major strengths of this book.

With an ending that takes some surprising and admirable risks, this is a book that could have been cutesy but ends up quite poignant. The commentary on nuclear is an obvious undercurrent, but it is never overdone. It is high praise to say that despite the hefty pile of books waiting for me at home, I immediately put the sequel to this on hold. (Also, proof that this book log is useful – I didn’t know there was a sequel until I looked up this one to double check the author’s name. Woo! I love it when that happens.)

High Country Fall

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron.

I occasionally read books by Margaret Maron despite the fact that I am usually not much for mysteries. I like them well enough, but they’re not my first choice and with so many books to read all the time they tend to fall to the bottom of the pile. Margaret Maron is a favourite of my mum’s, though, and so I used to periodically steal hers when I was still living at home.

I haven’t read any in a while (due to the no longer living at home), but one came through the library the other day and I picked it up, in need of a fairly mindless read. I am particularly fond of her Deborah Knott mysteries – I like reading mysteries with familiar characters, as I find it makes them easier to get into. This one was pretty standard – but then, that’s what I was looking for.

It’s good, I think, to occasionally read outside my box. Usually I stick to a pretty predictable collection of genres, although my horizons have expanded considerably in the last few years. Working at the library is great for that – I don’t feel I have to make such a decisive commitment to a book, since I never buy books any more. (Hardly ever, anyway.) These books are not exactly high literature, but they’re an amusing enough read and one that at least gives me some sense of other genres, which is useful when I’m asked for recommendations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


So far, not including the books I have undoubtedly forgotten to write about here, I have read 82 books this year. 42 of them still need writing about. Eeesh. Maybe I can treat it as NaNo warmup.

I think I've got almost enough on hold right now to bring me to 100, so that shouldn't be hard at all. Whee!


Rodzina, by Karen Cushman.

This is the story of a twelve-year-old orphan who gets put on a train to go West at the beginning of the twentieth century. (Or, uh, thereabouts.) She is Polish, and she is one of the oldest children on the train. This is the story of the people who try to adopt her, and how Rodzina manages to survive the brutal conditions of the train trip.

It's based on the actual orphan trains that went out west, and it's kind of a depressing story in a lot of ways. Rodzina's life is hard and sad, and she's often totally in despair. But she is a very likeable character who perserveres despite the challenges, and she's the type of main character I really like in a book. Spunky, tough, but thoughtful and considerate. (Even when it is kind of deep down.)

This book was an easy read in a lot of ways, but I know a lot of people were very troubled by some of the content. I think kids will brush right over it, but I spoke to one person who was actually quite disturbed by one section of the book, and I can definitely understand that. It has almost a Series of Unfortunate Events feel to it, with the repeated doom and gloom, but it's a much more compelling story (helps that it's based on reality) and a somewhat more optimistic story.

Karen Cushman is a frequent visitor to the YRCA list, and this is a well deserved nomination. I enjoyed this book and it was also one I would have enjoyed when I was in the intended demographic. (Which is often not the case - my tastes have changed quite a lot in the last 12 years or so.)

A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews.

This is a book that I read for the new book club I’ve managed to talk my way into. It’s a Young Adult Book Club (meaning they read YA books but are adults), and they always have excellent taste in books so I’ve been looking forward to reading them. This is actually an adult book, but it was nominated for an award (by…somebody, I dunno) as best adult book for young adults. It’s one that’s been consistently popular in the library for the past year or so, and I’ve been meaning to read it so it was nice to have the impetus.

I enjoyed the book quite a lot, more than I expected to. (My sister thought it sucked, but she and I often have diverse opinions in books. We passionately love a lot of the same books, but there are a lot of books one of us likes but the other hates.) It’s the story of a girl in a very small town in Manitoba, and the entire town is Mennonite. This girl (a teenager) is desperate to fit in, but simultaneously doesn’t want to be like everybody else in the town. Her mother and sister have both left, and she’s left alone with her dad, awkwardly trying to raise her when he doesn’t understand her.

It reminded me a lot of Margaret Laurence, who I also really like (and who my sister, not surprisingly, really hates), particularly the protagonist, who I thought really resembled the main character in A Bird in the House. (I haven’t read it since high school, so goodness knows what her name was.) I thought the story was interesting and well written, the concept worked really well, the characters were believable even if they were absent characters, and the plot moved at a great pace. Thumbs up to this one, although I can understand why some people don’t like it.

The Tale of Despereaux

Tale of Despereaux, by Kate diCamillo.

Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.

That’s a great subtitle right there. Although talking animals often bug the crap out of me (See Into the Wild, Mayor of Central Park), this one was cute, funny, touching, but never cutesy. It is a fine line between cute and cutesy, but Kate diCamillo is one who often manages to skirt it quite successfully. Despereaux was a totally adorable and likeable character, and the format of the story was very accessible. (It has a very active narrator as a character in the story, which I often enjoy, even though it’s sometimes overdone, LEMONY SNICKET.) It was exciting without being overly dramatic, and the princess was quite cute as well. Clearly this is not a book that I’m going to wax poetic about for hours, but it was cute and well done and enjoyable. I’m just concerned that it’s not going to do well in YRCA because it’s not out in paperback, so lots of kids won’t have read it.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter. First of the Warriors series.

Well, this book gets the dubious honour of being the YRCA book that I hated the most. (Although Mayor of Central Park is not winning any medals in my book either.) It’s about these warrior cats who live in four clans in a forest, and this “kittypet” (ie housecat) that goes to join one of the clans. It is full of cats “purring” and “mewing” and “hissing” everything they say, and if you’re going to have talking cats, then just have them TALK, for god’s sake. Throw in a “He said” once in a while and I will be much less tempted to throw the book across the room. But as it was, you were constantly, relentlessly reminded that these were CATS! But they were acting like PEOPLE! Isn’t that WACKY?

Bleah. But, again, they seem to be insanely popular with the crowd they’re intended for, so maybe I’m just old and grouchy. Although I’m fairly sure the 12-year-old me would have hated this book too. And I like cats! Stupid warrior cats.


Eragon, by Christopher Paolini

This book was written by a fifteen-year-old. And while I’m extremely impressed that a fifteen-year-old could write a book this complicated, it kind of feels like a…book that a fifteen-year-old wrote. Don’t get me wrong, there are elements of it that are interesting and actually quite compelling, but it kind of reads like a guy who thought, hmm, I like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Dragons, so I’m going to write a book about that! Nothing wrong with that – and it’s certainly immensely popular with kids – but it’s not really my kind of book. It was definitely the YRCA book that weighed most on me, despite the intimidating size of some of the other ones, and it was one of the last ones I read. It took me nearly a week to read, which is very unusual for me, but eventually I finished it. I’m not terribly motivated to read the sequels, but I can definitely understand why kids like it so much. I can rattle off the book talk quite well now, and it’s a great book to excite kids with, between the fairly decent plot and the fact that a kid their age wrote it, but it’s not one that I’m going to be rushing to the sequels for. (For which I will be rushing for the sequels? I don’t know.)

Generally, though, this is not my style of fantasy. Big epic stories, incredibly (and overly, in my eyes) complicated worlds, dozens of characters with Obvious Fantasy Names, and a little too derivative of a lot of other things. (Eragon, you are no Aragorn, try though you might.)

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge.

This is a book of poetry, which is something I would generally avoid if it weren’t on the YRCA list. I’ve never been much of a fan of poetry, but this one surprised me. It’s the story of a kid with mono who’s therefore off the baseball team, and to pass the time he turns to poetry. The poems are in the form of him figuring out poetry as he writes it, and it’s kind of a neat setup that I enjoyed (again) more than I expected to. (Clearly I should be expanding my horizons on what I expect to like.)

There’s not much to the book – it’s one of the shortest on the YRCA list this year and definitely the shortest intermediate book – but in between the lines of the poetry lessons are some pretty well done elements about the death of his mother, the struggle to find things in common with his father, and the general trials of growing up. It’s an attempt to get boys interested in poetry, and although boys are interested in the cover (it has a baseball on it), they seem kind of disgusted when they discover it’s “just” poetry. Hopefully it’ll snag a couple of them before they figure out what it is.

The Conch Bearer

The Conch Bearer, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

First of all, how much do I rule? I typed that author’s name correctly on the first try without looking it up! Clearly I’m starting to memorize my spiels for YRCA book talks. This is an intermediate title for YRCA this year, and it’s one that I enjoyed far more than I anticipated I would. It’s set in India, and as a result has a mouthful of names that are a total bitch to discuss in book talk presentations. (Still better than going to a Polish immersion school with a book about a Polish girl and getting mocked for your lousy pronunciation, though.)

It’s about a magical conch shell (I know, it’s better than it sounds, I swear) and a boy named Anand. Part of what made it really appealing was the ending – it was very unexpected for the style of the book and even though I knew what would happen (the perils of not finishing all the YRCA books before you go to the workshop), it was still surprising and a good twist on what otherwise would have been a slightly formulaic story. (Of course, it also sets things up much better for the sequel.)

Some of the characters, especially the evil ones, are a little one-dimensional, and the wise wizard is a little too Gandalf for my liking, but the setting makes it different enough from all the other similar books that I’ve read, and I enjoyed the concept a great deal. (It also felt, at times, a little bit like an episode of the Amazing Race but with a magic conch shell. Which might be what TAR needs this season – it’s been a little slow.)

A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Reptile Room and The Wide Window, by Lemony Snicket.

There’s only so much you can say about A Series of Unfortunate Events. They are short – far shorter than I realised – and easy to read books that are obviously immensely popular. I like them well enough, and I can definitely see the appeal to kids, but I have to confess I’m mostly working my way through the series so I can see if the poor bastards get a happy ending. I’m also mildly curious about how long it’ll take before I get totally tired of the structure – I can see myself losing patience with the mysterious ways in which Count Olaf keeps showing up, and I’m only on the fourth book. I also have limited patience for the oft-overly-cutesy approach of the narrator (ie Lemony Snicket, who is a character in his own right.)Still, they only take about half an hour to read, and it will be useful to have read them (I think I might do a program on it for work), so I’ll keep slogging through. Even though they are really freaking depressing.

Plus, the dedications make me giggle.

No Fixed Address

It's a miracle! Actual book reviews! With content!

No Fixed Address, by Anita van Herk

This is this month’s book for my regular book club. It was chosen by my former roommate, and it’s a book she’s been bugging me to read for quite a while. Again, it took book club to get me to read it (I have so much to read these days that I often need some kind of external motivation to get me reading something)

It’s a Canadian author, one that has a very distinctly Canadian style. (I’d be hard pressed to define exactly what Canadian style writing is, but this is definitely it. Perhaps I should have taken a Can Lit course in University, but I dodged that with a couple of other CanCon courses.)

It’s the story of a traveling underwear salesperson and her unusual life on the road. Set in Alberta, it’s one of those books that works particularly well for locals. It’s always more effective in a book about the road when you know exactly which roads they’re talking about and what they look like. While I found the main character kind of off-putting and was not at all able to get into her head, I thought her story was interesting and unusual enough that I enjoyed the book almost despite the unlikable main character.

I found the bookending structure of the book to be kind of unnecessary and actually rather annoying, and I found the ending to be pretty unsatisfying. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book and I’m curious to see what other people thought of it on Sunday.

Not even a list, but a promise

Ok, I'm about to go to bed, but I've been looking over my log and discovered I've read approximately 72 books so far this year, not including the ones I haven't blogged about yet. (Of which there are a good 6 or 7, I think.) Thus, I am hereby declaring that my goal for the rest of the year is to make it to 100 books read this year. Because that would be kind of awesome.

(My next goal? To actually write about most of them. But, baby steps!)

I swear, I'll try to update soon.