Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Books Don't Sleep

The Joy of Books Video posted on YouTube.
I always said we should shelve the books by colour

Friday, January 20, 2012

10. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

by Mary Downing Hahn
Leaving an orphanage reminiscent of the one in Jayne Eyre, 12 year old Florence has high hopes as she travels to live with a great uncle and aunt at his manor estate. Never having met him, she knows very little of Crutchfield Hall and the distant family she will be joining. Having always lived in the city she is nervous about life in the country and about meeting the family she never knew but still excited to have a chance at a happier life. Arriving alone, wet and cold, Florence is greeted horribly by her great aunt and soon realizes that despite the kindness of her great uncle and the richness of her new home, her life will not be joyous or easy. Her recently deceased cousin Sophie seems to be ever present. The uncle is kind and happy to welcome Florence, intent on making up for the years she spent at the orphanage. Worshiping Sophie's memory, her aunt constantly compares Florence to her, pointing out that Sophie was superior in every way. James is terrified of his late sister, the staff frightened, refuse to speak of her and her uncle refuses to believe that anything is amiss. Sophie herself soon welcomes Florence, at first appearing to be a friend then revealing herself to be the wicked, manipulating and cruel child she was in life. Florence quickly realises that Sophie has a menacing hold on those in the manor and intends to exact revenge for her early death. With no one willing to talk about what is happening some not willing to acknowledge the eerie happenings, Florence decides she must protect the family and fights to stop Sophie's horrific plan.
Younger readers may enjoy the frightening descriptions of Sophie's appearance and the gentle creep of terror that rises from each chapter. What happens is not revealed until the last moment keeping the thrall of suspense and ghostly horror ramped up until the very end.

Heavily reminiscent of Victorian horror stories, this novel provides all the shadows, ghostly influence and gothic undertones to interest a new generation to the genre. After reading it I felt the urge to watch Jayne Eyre, Rebbecca and Gaslight all over again.
Book # 10 of my 50 book challenge

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

9. Agnes and the Hitman

What a fun ride!!!! The dialogue flies as fast as the bullets in this offering from one of my go-to authors, Jennifer Crusie. In this novel she pairs up with Bob Mayer to deliver a fast paced, sharp tongued mystery-adventure-romance with great characters and a lot of bodies.

Agness Crandall has wagered everything she owns, literally, on being able to pull off the wedding for one of the Keys royalty. With her fiance-caterer, she will get to keep her newly purchased house if she can successfully plan and execute the perfect wedding for the former owner. Enter into her kitchen a gunman who ignores her tasty creations and heads straight for her dog Rhett. As she fights him off, a stranger - one incredibly hot and dangerous, and did I mention HOT stranger, climbs in through her window to save her. Soon Agnes is up to her blender in more dognappers, bodies, mobsters, cancellations, a nervous bride, a meddling grandmother and a couple of flamingos. Yes, flamingos. And why is her fiance/caterer avoiding her? Luckily she has Shane and his deadly aim to protect and comfort her. She also has her frying pan which may prove deadlier than the hitman.

I would love to see this as a movie: hitmen, wedding mayhem, fiances, frying pans and meat forks flying, cooking columns, retired mobsters, secret rooms, ex-fiances,hot baddies, crazy best friends, a heroine who isn't a size two and can cook the way I wish I could, humour - har, a wonderdog named Rhett and the Venus de Milo. What more could a gal need to pass a rainy night with?

It's action, drama, crime, romance, mystery, humor and full of characters that feel like the lovable, insane, trigger-happy family you always wanted. Thoroughly entertaining, Crusie and Mayer combine to give, my fav, author Evanovich some competition with attitude.

Book # 9 of my 50 book challenge

Monday, January 16, 2012

Do you get the Pink-uckies everytime a pink, sugary princess book comes up to the checkout desk?

Check out these titles complied and commented on by Tom B. from the Building a Library blog. Thanks Tom! [material has been abridged by AB]

Six Princess Books for Parents Who Really, Really Hate Princess Books
by Tom B. on January 11, 2012

It’s not easy finding princess books where the princesses aren’t passive, aren’t beholden to a prince, and have lives and agendas of their own. And, on the flip side, I also don’t want ... really hacky, didactic propaganda pieces where the author is just out to scream, “AND THE PRINCESS COULD DO ANYTHING THE PRINCE COULD DO! AND PROBABLY BETTER!” Even if I agree with the message, if it’s not a well-told story, forget about it.

As a service to you parents out there who may have children suffering from princess mania or who just simply can’t face down another royal Disney bedtime, here are six really impressive princess books that your kids will enjoy and that won’t make you curl your fists in post-feminist rage.

1. The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

The Princess and the Pizza
This is an extremely fun title – particularly if your child is already familiar with the normal Disney princess canon. Princess Paulina is struggling with peasant life now that her father, the king, has given up his throne to become a wood-carver. So, when she hears that Prince Drupert is seeking a wife, she hurries over to “get back to princessing” and finds herself in a competition against other potential princesses to be his bride. The humor in Princess and the Pizza is really irreverent and clever – it reminds me a lot of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre – particularly as Princess Paulina realizes how ridiculous the competition is. She’s competing against nicely exaggerated versions of classic princesses like Snow White and Rapunzel and, after a cooking competition where Paulina accidentally invents pizza, the book ends with a great twist – Paulina sees the value in what she’s created, tells Drupert to shove it, and opens a successful pizza joint. This is a very silly take on the whole notion of princessing, but Paulina is such an expansive, resourceful character that your princess-jonesing kids will love her. (Age range: 3 and up. It’s more of a storybook than a picture book, so there’s a fair bit of text on its 32 pages.)

2. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith
The concept is elegantly absurd – there was a princess with a problem. She floats. She can’t stop herself from floating into the air at any time. And, around that premise, Heide and Smith craft a story that just feels fresh and unique – you’ve never read a princess book like this before. Hyacinth is annoyed that she can’t play outside with the other kids (particularly with Boy, the young man she has a crush on), but she also longs to take full advantage of her unique condition and soar among the clouds. After a close call where she almost floats away into the stratosphere, Hyacinth becomes much more comfortable with who she is and decides to stop fighting against her problem and learn to enjoy it. (Age range: 3 and up. There’s more text than some picture books, but it’s fairly large and fun to read.)

3. Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
Cornelia Funke is a prolific and popular German author– go out right now ... and get every picture book that Funke has ever done with Kerstin Meyer. They’re FANTASTIC. In their picture books like Pirate Girl or The Wildest Brother, the lead characters are always children who just really, really seem like children, which is, actually, a very hard think for an author to pull off. Funke’s characters are astoundingly well-developed and she creates these wonderful little fables in which all of the details and story moments are disarmingly human and believable (and fun to read). Princess Pigsty is all about a princess who is sick of being sheltered. Princess Isabella hates being waited on, hates sitting around and doing nothing, so she tosses out her crown and declares that she wants to get “dirty”. Her father, the king, punishes her by forcing her to work in the kitchen and the pigsty, but it backfires when Isabella realizes that she LOVES camping out in the pigsty, loves doing things for herself, loves the satisfaction of working, and loves being self-reliant.

That’s a very cool message for kids, but, actually, my favorite moments in Princess Pigsty are towards the end, when the king invites Isabella to come back to the castle – not because she’s proven him to be a fool, but mostly because he misses her. And, while Isabella opts to stay in the pigpen, she does come back to visit and even recovers her crown, which seems like a definite gesture to make peace with her dad. I don’t know why, but that ending just kills me. I love that the characters don’t act like operatic buffoons. Yes, he’s a king, but he’s also a dad and he loves his daughter and actually admits that he was wrong – and parents just don’t do that in picture books that often. And Isabella, in turn, adjusts her behavior because even she realizes that she’s been less diplomatic than she should. Those moments, the moments where fairy tale characters act like real living breathing people, are why...TWO of her books made this list. (Keep reading.) (Age range: 3 and up. Kindergarteners and first-graders will LOVE this one.)

4. The Paper-Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

The Paper-Bag Princess
you can’t have a collection of subversive princess literature without including The Paper-Bag Princess, a very direct, very funny indictment of the “Happily Ever After” scam. Princess Elizabeth leads a charmed life until a dragon burns down her castle, incinerates her clothes, ruins everything she owns, and kidnaps her handsome prince-to-be Ronald. So, the almost-naked Elizabeth proves that she’s made of stronger stuff by putting on a paper bag as a dress and using her wits to outsmart the dragon and save her prince.

Most stories would end here, but the real kicker of The Paper-Bag Princess comes after Ronald is rescued and the snotty prince tells Elizabeth, “You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess.” (Oh snap.) What does Elizabeth do? She kicks the jerk to the curb, which is almost an even better lesson for young readers than having her slay a dragon. The story is all about this frilly princess having expectations of what the world is like and, when faced with reality, having to adjust and move forward. She won’t let a dragon get away with wrecking her castle and she won’t marry a creep who can’t even be grateful for being rescued, which, again, is a fantastic lesson for young girls. (Age range: 3 and up.)

5. The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier, illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer

The Secret Lives of Princesses
What a cool, unusual book. The Secret Lives of Princesses is possibly the most visually arresting princess book that I’ve ever seen. And the text is pretty fantastic as well. Lechermeier has created this extremely unique catalog of different kinds of princesses and none of them are the traditional damsel-in-distress sort.

There’s Princess Paige, the librarian; Princess Primandproper, with the permanently pinched face; and, beyond the wordplay (and the book is packed TIGHT with wordplay), you’ll find unusual princesses from all over the world. That fact alone makes this an essential princess read because finding a book that actually includes African princesses, Native American princesses, Indian princesses, Latina princesses, and Asian princesses, standing aside their Anglo-Saxon cousins, is next to impossible. (Age range: 7 and up – however, much, much younger children will have fun leafing through the pages and marveling at the paintings.)

6. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer

The Princess Knight

This is the second Funke/Meyer book on this list and it’s another great one, especially if you have a daughter who’s ever been forced to sit on the sidelines while the young boys around her go at it with toy swords and lightsabers. That’s the experience that Princess Violetta has suffered through in The Princess Knight – her mother died in childbirth, so her father, King Wilfred the Worthy, has raised Violetta in the same way that he raised his other three sons, encouraging them all to swordfight, wrestle, and behave like princes. Since Violetta was smaller, she spends most of her childhood being bowled over, until, after years of training and learning to be smarter, more aware, and more clever than her siblings, Violetta starts to prove herself as a skilled fighter. However, since she’s a princess and he has no idea what else to do with her, her father holds a jousting tournament to marry off Violetta – a fact that appalls Violetta to such a degree that she enters the contest in disguise to win her own hand in marriage.

This is an incredibly engaging female empowerment tale that, again, in Funke’s trademark style, is extremely human and relatable. Violetta’s father isn’t a bad man, but he’s grief-stricken and clueless about raising a girl, so, even when he makes a bad decision, it’s fairly obvious that he’s not some cartoonish oaf oppressing his daughter. He’s just a confused dad who made a mistake and... I love seeing more of us good-natured screw-ups turning up in fairy tales. (Age range: 3 and up. But, just be aware that the book does open with the death of Violetta’s mother – there’s a beautiful illustration of her father mourning his wife – so, if [the]child is particularly sensitive about death, you might want to either skip this, warn them, or tread lightly.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No more room on your shelf? How about your walls?

Spineless Classics offers favorite books...on your wall.

Available as a poster, you can have the whole book laid out before you - right from the very first words to...The End.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


by Mark HaddonFifteen year-old Christopher Boone is found clutching the body of a neighbour’s dog who has been stabbed to death with a garden fork. The dead dog’s owner calls the police and Christopher is questioned and the situation escalates. Insisting that he found the dog already dead, Christopher decides to investigate the murder of his neighbour’s dog Wellington on his own. Logically working around his father’s protests, he begins interviewing a list of possible suspects. His investigation creates a division between him and his father who is now forbidding further investigation and discovers secrets that will change everything. Encourages by his teacher to write a book, he writes about what has happened to Wellington the dog and in the process reveals how he sees the world and in turn, how the world sees him.

Original and captivating from the first few pages, this novel was a surprise and delight. The unique narrative offers an invitation to see the inner world of Christopher. His own condition is never identified but the reader quickly realises that Christopher has a singular way of seeing the world and moderating his behaviour.
"My memory is like a film….And when people ask me to remember something I can simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder….If someone says to me, 'Christopher, tell me what your mother was like,' I can rewind to lots of different scenes and say what she was like in those scenes."Innocent and literal, he sees the world in linear terms. Truth and order are how he organizes his world and he does not understand when others speak in euphemisms or emotionally. He is a fan of Sherlock Holmes because he sees what is and what is not and does not concern himself with what might be or could be. This perspective is quickly addictive. Both humerous and heartbreaking at times, I couldn't put this book down.

Book # 8 of my 50 book challenge

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

7. The Trouble with Magic by Madelyne Alt

Pre & Post Holiday Procrastinations

Hi. I am a procrastinator. I admit it.
With working up to the 23rd, the Christmas break, family, decorations, exhaustion and a toppling pile of to-read books...I may have avoided writing a post or two...or more. And fine, the decorations didn't get up until the 24th either. And no, they won't likely be taken down before Jan 31st. After Christmas, my tree officially becomes a Holiday Tree - not out of any sense of political correctness but rather due to the fact that I just hauled all that crap up stairs and no I will not haul it all down again after only a few days. Amidst all the crumpled receipts, hot chocolate, turkey gorging and carols I did actually manage to read. I just didn't write about it. Yet.
So here is a quickie, just so I can check it off my ever growing, trip-me-it's-so-long to-do list. And the to-read list. And the list of lists.

The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt
The Christmas season seemed the perfect time to add a little magic to my reading experience. That meant selecting the first in a series I have had on my to-read shelf for over a year: Bewitching mysteries #1: The Trouble with Magic by Madelyn Alt. The book begins with my favorite kind of character, a quirky, feisty, independent and not to conventional woman who hates her job, hates her man (if she has one), has issues with her crazy family and is prone to finding trouble in the unlikeliest of places. Of course, the book will see some of these, if not all, get worse and then better before the back cover closes.
Maggie takes a small detour on her way to work, not because of construction but because she is delaying going in to work for her unforgiving boss at a dull and thankless job. The stars seem to align for a moment causing Maggie to literally fall into a world of magic - a quaint little shoppe called Enchantments. And yes, they added the extra 'pe' to the word shop. Before she knows it she has a new job and a new friendship with the magical owner. On her first day, her boss Felicity gets a mysterious call from her estranged sister and leaves her to run the store herself. Within 24 hours Maggie finds herself running the shoppe, investigating a murder, fleeing her apartment which may or may not be haunted, defending her witchy boss who is being questioned for murder, followed by a total hotty into the country, attracted to a cop who alternately makes passes at her and questions her about a murder and a sister playing high society gal. And she has a date, sort of. She thinks.
Well, this was a fun to read volume with a great quippy character. Very light with a fairly run-of-the-mill mystery, it was the characters of Maggie, the enchanting Felicity, dark, sexy and possibly dangerous Marcus, Policeman Tom who doesn't know whether to ask Maggie about the murder or ask her out for a date, and all the others that kept me turning the pages. I both loved and hated that while the mystery was solved the personal dramas of Maggie were left wide open. Looks like I will have to read the next in the series..looking forward to more of Maggie's witty interior dialogue.
Book # 7 of my 50 book challenge