Sunday, October 31, 2010


by Eoin Colfer

After a very, very long break, I'm finally back to posting reviews.

Wow! All I can say is "wow" after reading Eoin Colfer's Airman. This book is amazing and is perfect for adventure, romance, action, and history lovers.

Airman is a book set on the Saltee Islands about a boy named Conor Broekhart who is destined is to fly. As a friend to King Nicholas's daughter, Isabella, Conor spends his childhood playing with Isabella and studying with his tutor, Victor Vigney, on fencing and building flying contraptions. When he discovers a plot to kill the king, the murderer, Marshall Bonvilain, blames Conor instead, and Conor gets put in the Saltee Island Prison. He ends up being cellmates with Linus Wynter, a blind composer and musician, and joins a tough gang called the Battering Rams. Will he ever escape? Is Conor going to die? Will he save Isabella and his parents from poisoning from Bonvilain? Those were the questions circling through my head while reading Airman.

The author describes the living conditions in the prison on Little Saltee Island so well, I felt I was actually a prisoner myself. Eoin Colfer hooks you into the book right away, and I couldn't put down the book for hours!

Reviewed by Kate

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: The End

Kate slept through the final 10 hours of the Read-a-Thon, but I managed a final hour this morning. Kate did get up in time for us to read one last book together before 8am EDT, a 4-page story written on Storybird by my nephew Oliver and his friends. What a great way to finish off the read-a-thon!

Our final statistics are below.

Paulina's stats:

Partially finished: The Murder Stone by Louise Penny and Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay (audiobook)
Finished: Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell, Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park (started prior to Read-a-Thon), and my nephew's book.
Total hours read: 7.5 hrs + 2 hr audiobook
Total pages read (not counting audiobooks): 474
Mini-challenges done: Hour 1 meme, Hour 2 Back-in-the-Day Children's Book Challenge, Hour 4 Indie Pride Challenge, Hour 11 Attempting Audiobooks Challenge, Hour 12 meme

Kate's stats:

Partially finished: The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Alexander the Great by Penny Worms
Finished: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur, Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park (started prior to Read-a-Thon), and her cousin's book.
Total hours read: 4.5 hrs + 1 hr audiobook
Total pages read (not counting audiobooks): 384

I read (or listened to audiobooks) a total of 9.5 hours this year, which was the exact same total as last year. However, I did (at least) an hour of cheerleading this time, so my overall participation increased. Kate didn't meet her goal of finishing her research reading, but I didn't really expect her to. (That's based on my own experience. How many times have I put aside the research/work reading for a good mystery?) Still, she managed 5.5 hours of reading (including audiobook time). Together, we read for 15 hours, so we'll be donating $30 to UNICEF.

Many thanks to the organizers of the event and mini-challenges, as well as to the cheerleaders and other readers who visiting my blog during the event! I'm looking forward to doing this again next year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Update #4

It's hour 16 now and it's bedtime for me. Kate went off to bed two hours ago. I finished Under This Unbroken Sky, and Kate finished her second book, The Secret of the Stuttering Parrot, another Three Investigators mystery. She ended the night by reading with her Dad a few pages from Saturday Evening Pearls (A Pearls Before Swine collection) by Stephan Pastis.

Kate and I had an hour left on an audiobook that we've been listening to together over the week, and we finished it off earlier in the afternoon. This was Storm Warning, the 9th book in the 39 Clues series, written by Linda Sue Park, and superbly narrated by David Pittu. We had commented on this in the Hour 11 Attempting Audiobook challenge.

Paulina's stats:

Currently reading: The Murder Stone by Louise Penny and Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay (audiobook)
Finished: Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell and Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park (started prior to Read-a-Thon)
Total hours read: 6.5 hrs + 2 hr audiobook
Total pages read (not counting audiobooks): 410
Mini-challenges done: Hour 1 meme, Hour 2 Back-in-the-Day Children's Book Challenge, Hour 4 Indie Pride Challenge, Hour 11 Attempting Audiobooks Challenge, Hour 12 meme

Kate's stats:

Finished: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur, Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park (started prior to Read-a-Thon)
Total hours read: 4.5 hrs + 1 hr audiobook
Total pages read (not counting audiobooks): 380

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Update #3

It's almost the end of hour 13, and I'll do the update by answering the questions for the hour 12 mid-event meme.

1. What are you reading right now?
I'm reading The Murder Stone by Louise Penny and Kate is reading The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (a Three Investigators mystery) by Robert Arthur.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I've almost finished my first but decided to take a break and move onto another one for a while. Kate has finished one. We both finished listening to an audiobook (39 Clues #9: Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park) that we had started before the read-a-thon.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I'd been looking forward to reading the Louise Penny book (the fourth in the Inspector Gamache series) for a while now, so I hope I can get through a good part of it before I fall asleep. Kate's bedtime is coming up soon, so she won't be able to look forward to reading any more in the second half, but maybe she will squeeze in a bit more in the morning if she gets up early enough.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
I did as much housework as I could the night before, and I warned the rest of my family that Kate and I will be ignoring them and all other responsibilities for the day!

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Compared to last year, when I had to rush to Montreal on the morning of the read-a-thon for a family emergency, today's interruptions were very minor ones.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
The number of people participating is surprising and wonderful!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
It's terrific as it is.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
I signed up for an hour of cheerleading but might consider doing more next year. It's great fun to visit all the blogs. It's also been great having Kate read along with me this year, and next year, I'll try to get more family members involved. (No one else is as addicted to reading as the two of us, though.)

9. Are you getting tired yet?
Yes, but I will try to persevere for another couple of hours. A glass of wine is making the experience more enjoyable but is not doing much to increase my energy level.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well.
Don't worry about pages read or books completed and just enjoy the hours of reading!

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Update #2

We're just starting hour 8 now.

As well as reading on my couch, I went for an hour-long run in beautiful weather, while listening to Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay on my iPod.

For the Hour 2 Back-in-the-Day Children's Book Challenge, I wrote that the Anne of Green Gables series and the Little House series were my favourite childhood books. Kate's favourite is the Percy Jackson series.

For the Hour 4 Indie Pride Challenge, I posted a photo of Lesley Crewe's novel, Her Mother's Daughter, published by Nimbus Publishing, based in Atlantic Canada. I'm about half-way through this novel and hope to read more of it later today.

Paulina's stats:

Currently reading: Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell and Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay (audiobook)
Total hours read: 3hrs + 1 hr audiobook
Total pages read: 175
Mini-challenges done: Hour 1 meme, Hour 2 Back-in-the-Day Children's Book Challenge, Hour 4 Indie Pride Challenge.

Kate's stats:

Currently reading: The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur and The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Finished: The Secret of Terror Castle by Robert Arthur
Total hours read: 3
Total pages read: 260

Dewey's Read-a-Thon: Update #1

I'll start off with the Hour 1 meme from the Read-a-Thon blog:

Where are you reading from today?
Kate and I are doing most of our reading on our comfy couches in our living room, in Ontario, Canada!

3 facts about me …
I knit ... a lot. I've also posted some free designs on Ravelry here.
I used to play Scrabble competitively.
I make lists compulsively.

... and 3 facts about Kate ...
She plays violin, piano and guitar.
Her favourite food is Nutella.
Her favourite colour is purple.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Way too many. I have about 10 novels to choose from, though I expect to get through only a few of them. Kate has a stack of books for her research projects and another 5 or 6 fun books to choose from.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
Last year, I managed 9.5 hours. I'll be happy if I can exceed that number this year. I also hope to visit all the blogs on my cheerleading list. Kate's goal is to finish her reading for her research projects.

Advice for those new to read-a-thons.
Alternate between heavy and light reading. Listen to audiobooks when your eyes get tired or when doing housework (though it is better to avoid housework altogether if you can).

Current progress:
I've read for an hour-and-a-half and I'm almost 100 pages into Under This Unbroken Sky. Kate has read for an hour. She is reading (and making notes on) Alexander the Great by Penny Worms and she has started The Borrowers.

Dewey's Read-a-Thon

It's 8am EDT, and we're ready to start Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon! I'm planning to start with Shandi Mitchell's Under This Unbroken Sky and then move onto something lighter after an hour or two. Kate will be reading The Secret of Terror Castle (an old Three Investigators mystery) and books for her research project on Alexander the Great.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dewey's Read-a-Thon

It's time again for Dewey's Read-a-thon! On Saturday, October 9, Kate and I will attempt to read for as many hours as we can in the 24-hour period starting 8am EDT. We will donate a toonie to UNICEF for every hour that either of us reads.

My first attempt last year resulted in 9.5 hours of reading. Most of that was done on the train to Montreal and in the ICU visiting my Mom, who was seriously ill at the time. I am happy to report that she has now fully recovered and is in good health, so this time, I can read under more pleasant conditions.

I have a pile of mystery/thriller and YA books (always good for these intensive reading sessions) ready. Kate has had a very busy school year so far (that's why she's been rather quiet on this blog but she promises to write some reviews soon). She plans to kill two birds with one stone by reading books for an upcoming research project and for her classroom book-club.

If you have nothing to do on Saturday, or if whatever you need to do is less appealing than spending the entire day reading, then please join us! You can sign up as a reader and/or as a cheerleader. Cheerleading involves visiting other readers' blogs and leaving encouraging comments. It's a great way to discover new book blogs and get book recommendations.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

City Lights Bookstore

Todd and I were in San Francisco for a brief vacation, and I discovered the historic City Lights bookstore. City Lights is also a publisher and it was here that the Beat movement flourished. Among its publications are works by Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac.

The bookstore is in a building as unique as its history. Located at the edge of San Francisco's Chinatown, the building is triangular in shape and features a large Zapatista mural on one side. Inside, it has what I'd expect from a good independent bookstore: thoughtful staff recommendations, an eclectic mix of books on a variety of subjects and a feeling of being totally surrounded by many, many books. While it is refreshing to walk through a spacious and orderly Chapters or Borders store, there's nothing like going into a place where books are jammed into every square inch possible, and there's something interesting and perhaps unexpected to catch your eye every time you turn around.

I was tempted to pick up some beat poetry but I ended up getting a mystery novel by Arnaldur Indridason, set in Iceland. The latter is more my style, but I left the building with a greater appreciation of what this bookseller/publisher had contributed to American literature.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Word on the Street

On Sunday, Kate and I attended Word on the Street in Kitchener. This festival occurs simultaneously in several other Canadian cities. The Kitchener festival is much smaller than some of the others, but there was a terrific line-up of authors, both for adult and children's literature.

I started the day volunteering at The Literacy Group's booth, where people who gave a donation of any amount could take away a bagful of books, chosen from the piles of used books we had scattered around the booth. There were some real gems there, including a dozen Dr. Who books that were snatched up fairly early in the day. We were located right across from the authors' tent, and I initially had some hope of hearing the readings from the booth, but we had so much traffic (a good thing, of course) that I didn't have a free moment the entire time.

Kate joined me in the afternoon and we went to hear Erin Bow (in the photo above) reading from her debut novel, Plain Kate. All the reviews of this book that I've seen so far have been very positive, and we were excited about getting a copy and having it signed by Erin. How cool would it have been to have a message addressed to Kate on a copy of Plain Kate, and from an author who had once studied particle physics! Alas, there were no more copies available for sale at the reading, so we'll have to pick up a copy from our local bookstore and track down Erin Bow another time.

I missed seeing Louise Penny because she was scheduled to read the same time as Erin Bow. I'm a big fan of her Inspector Armand Gamache series, and it seems that a great number of other people are fans too, as her tent was packed. I did catch the last five minutes of the Q&A session, and was amused to hear that she too was annoyed with the narrator's pronunciation of tuque as "toke" in the audiobook version of her books. I should add that this is the only complaint I had about the audiobooks. Ralph Cosham does a fine job otherwise.

There were several more authors I would have liked to see, including Claire Holden Rothman, author of The Heart Specialist, but we had to take off early because of another commitment for that afternoon. All in all, it was a good event and I look forward to going again next year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Unlike the books Kate and I have reviewed so far for this blog, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is neither recently published nor written by a Canadian, but I had to say something about it, as it was part of my TIFF 2010 experience. I'd been meaning to read one of Ishiguro's works for a long time. After all, he is a Booker prize winner and several of his works are on Peter Boxall's 1001 list. In July, finally, I picked up Never Let Me Go in an Ithaca, NY used-book store, and after finishing it, I couldn't help regretting that I'd waited so long to discover this author's works. Never Let Me Go is well-known and has been thoroughly reviewed, so I won't say too much about it here, except that it was haunting and subtle, and the story stayed with me for a long time afterward.

When I bought the book, I had no clue that a movie was forthcoming. My older daughter, Julia, who keeps a closer eye on Hollywood than I do, was the one who informed me of this fact, and she mentioned that Keira Knightley was starring in it. Well, when I saw it on the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) schedule, I just had to go see it. It was one of the premium showings, which meant that it cost twice as much as the regular showings, but the whole TIFF experience, including the after-film Q&A (featuring, among others, director Mark Romanek and Ishiguro himself!) made it very worthwhile.

Usually, seeing a movie based on a book I loved is a huge disappointment, so my expectations were low, but I went away reasonably satisfied. Knightley as Ruth was good, but Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, playing Kathy and Tommy, were fantastic. There were some minor disappointments: the pacing is different compared to the book, a few significant scenes were cut, and certain pieces of information were given to us upfront, rather than revealed slowly as in the novel. Still, the film is beautifully shot and really does capture the essence of the novel, which explores the innocence of childhood and the definition of humanity.

Here is a final book-related anecdote. In my last post, I talked about my new BookCrossing experiences. A few weeks before TIFF, I finished Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, and I decided that the showing of Never Let Me Go would be the perfect place to release it into the wild. I arrived at Ryerson Theatre half-an-hour before the start of the film, and the queue went most of the way around a city block. Figuring that someone in the queue would want to take the book home, I gave it to the person in front of me and asked her to either keep it or pass it along to the front. I have no idea where the book ended up but I hope it now has a new owner who enjoys it as much as I did.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How I (Re)Discovered BookCrossing

Three years ago, Julia picked up a book on someone's doorstep as she was trick-or-treating on Halloween night. She showed me the book, All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, and the sticker that someone had pasted on it. I had good intentions of checking out this site but never got around to it. The book ended up somewhere in the black hole that we call Julia's room.

When summer break began, Julia decided to do a major clean-up of her room, and this book ended up on top of one of the many piles scattered throughout the hallway. Kate spotted it and insisted we look it up on the BookCrossing site. Well, I did just that and ended up joining as a member. I even shamefacedly admitted in my journal entry that we'd kept the book buried away for all those years. In the week that followed, Kate and I both read the book, a classic children's story about a Jewish family growing up in New York. Then we released it by passing it onto my sister-in-law Jill. It's now in Singapore, after some brief stops in Western Canada.

Since then, I've had loads of fun releasing books "in the wild". I've never liked hoarding books and I've regularly culled my shelves and given books away to friends, family members and charity shops. However, it's much more exciting leaving them in coffee shops, food courts, highway rest stops and other places, where anyone might find them. I've had two catches so far out of a dozen books released. That's not too bad, considering that only 10% of released books get follow-up journal entries. However, I'm sure many of the released books get read and passed around, even if the readers don't record the experience on-line. That, of course, is the point: to share books we love and spread the joy of reading!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Interview with Nan Forler

Nan Forler has answered some questions about her book, Bird Child, and her life as an author.

Q: What inspired you to write this book? Did the story come from a personal experience?

A: I am often asked this question, but to be honest, Bird Child did not come from a particular incident. As a teacher, I see a great deal of bullying. I wanted to empower kids with the knowledge that we can each make a difference in the life of another. The idea of standing up for someone who needs you is a message that has always been close to my heart and this came across through my writing.

One day, I was driving home through the country, listening to Erik Satie, and the idea of flying beyond these difficulties came to me. I pulled over and jotted down my ideas and this was the beginning of Bird Child.

Q: Do you think you are more like Lainey or Eliza?

A: First of all, I must tell you that I love this question. No one has ever asked me this before!

I think growing up, I was probably more Lainey. I was quite shy and I am not sure I would have had the confidence to stand up and say stop. I remember both bullying others as a bystander within a group, and also being bullied. Bullying seemed to be an accepted part of growing up back then. I think we are finally seeing it for what it is: cruel anti-social behaviour that can destroy the life and self-esteem of another.

As an adult, I believe I have become an Eliza and I really focus on convincing others - my children, my students, or groups of students at a reading - to speak out when they see injustice. My husband and I have done some traveling in developing countries and this has made me painfully aware of the global injustices in the world. We really try to live our lives and raise our kids to be aware of injustices in our community and in our world and to do something about it. Craig and Marc Kielburger and Greg Mortensen have some great books for kids and adults on these topics. One of my favourites for parents is “The World Needs Your Kid” by Craig and Marc Kielburger.

Q: How did you come up with the message, "Look down and see what is. Now, look up and see what can be." Was this told to you by your own parents?

A: No, this message did not come to me from my parents, though my parents did instill in me a deep respect for all and a belief that everyone should be treated with equality and dignity. I think the message came from the idea of flight. I am big on description and after I described what Eliza was seeing from the air, both above her and below her, the line about looking upwards toward possibilities evolved.

Q: What do you suggest to people who are being bullied or watching someone get bullied?

A: I think the most important thing you can do is to not be silent. Talk with an adult about the bullying you are experiencing or the bullying you are witnessing. Speak with a parent or a teacher or anyone you trust. If that adult doesn’t seem to listen, or does nothing, tell another adult. Not only can an adult intervene to stop the situation, if necessary, but he or she can also give you the courage, support and guidance for you to stand up to the bully.

Speaking up and telling the bully to stop and challenging the bully to see the point of view of the person being bullied is also a brave and important step to stopping the bully. When we do nothing, we are giving the bully more and more power.

And finally, befriending the person who is being bullied, even standing close to that person, takes some power away from the bully and gives the person being bullied greater confidence and a needed sense of belonging.

I recently read an amazing quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that said, “It’s not the violence of the few that scares me. It’s the silence of the many.”

Q: Do you write full time? Or do you have another job?

A: In addition to being a writer, I am a mother and a teacher. I currently teach Kindergarten in Kitchener. Though it takes time away from my writing, teaching and being out in the world gives me much inspiration. I also get ideas from my own children and the things they say and do.

Q: What is the first thing that you think about when you sit down to write? How do you start a story?

A: I rarely start a story by sitting down and writing. I usually take little notes on the backs of napkins, scraps of paper, sticky notes. I notice something when I am out somewhere or think of an idea I want to explore. That idea keeps growing and changing in my mind and in notebooks long before I actually sit down to begin the story. With a picture book, I like to have the entire arc of the story in my mind before I begin. With a novel, I write little chapters and excerpts, not necessarily in order, until a story begins to form.

When I have the story ready in my mind, I like to read the very best books I can find, in the style I am trying to achieve. This seems to give me a rhythm for my writing and something great to strive for. Just as watching Sidney Crosby can improve your hockey game, reading great books can really improve your writing abilities!

Q: Are you working on any other books now?

A: I do have a couple of new books coming out. In Fall 2011, I have another picture book forthcoming with Tundra Books about an Old Order Mennonite girl. This is a subtle coming-of-age story told through a series of narrative poems. The poems go through each month of the year and describe little happenings in the life of Naomi, such as trying to ride her brother’s bike that she is forbidden to ride, attending her first quilting bee, and imagining a dress in a more “worldly” fabric. There is a recipe, using seasonal ingredients, to accompany each month.

I am especially excited about the illustrations for this story. Peter Etril Snyder is an amazing artist, specializing in artwork depicting Old Order Mennonites. He has come out of retirement for this commission. He is using my 9-year-old daughter as the model, as Old Order Mennonites cannot be photographed because of their faith. We take specific pictures and he sends us the sketches and paintings. It has been an exciting process.

I also have something coming out for the educational market this fall that will be in the form of a Big Book and CD for classroom use. Scholastic is actually setting my kid’s poem to music and I am looking forward to that!

After that, I will hand my editor some more of my work and see if something catches her eye. I have a number of picture book manuscripts completed and I have some partial novels on the go. As my children are getting older, I am spending the summer reading as many novels for young people as I can find, and I may see if this genre wears off on me a bit. A novel is a big commitment and I want to make sure I find a topic I can live with for an extended amount of time.

My mom and I would just like to say a big thanks to Nan Forler for answering all our questions!

Bird Child

My kids are in their preteen/teen years now, so I haven't kept up with newer picture books. However, I kept running into author Nan Forler, who lives in my community, and decided to pick up Bird Child, published by Tundra Books.

The story is about Eliza, a girl who can "fly". Ever since she was a baby, her loving mother has been encouraging her to see all the possibilities in her life. One day, she sees children bullying the new girl at school, Lainey. Summoning her courage, Eliza shows how she can indeed "see what can be" and make things better in the world.

The writing is lovely and lyrical, and the story conveys a great message for kids. With the stunningly beautiful illustrations from Francois Thisdale, this book would make an excellent gift for a special child.

Coming soon: Kate's interview with author Nan Forler!

Reviewed by Paulina

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two by Marthe Jocelyn

I had the good fortune to win recently two books by Canadian writer Marthe Jocelyn through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. Both novels are published by Tundra Books.

Folly was released just this spring, and it is a young-adult historical novel based in the late 1800's. The title refers to the folly of Mary, a young woman working as a servant in a London household. Through Mary's eyes and those of three other characters, we see how the consequences of her actions are played out.

This is a well-written, easy-to-read and engaging story that shows the brutal reality of life for the very poor in Victorian London. The paths of the characters intertwine and slowly work toward a satisfactory, if perhaps somewhat predictable, ending.

Would You?, published a year earlier, is also written for teens. It is set in contemporary times and it is an honest account of how a teenager deals with the days following an accident which sends her older sister into a coma. It is a short, intense novel, in which the ordeal is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Claire.

One aspect of the novel I particularly liked is how Jocelyn contrasts the unthinkable with the mundane. This is not so much a novel that one enjoys but rather experiences, and I found at times, it was hard to put down. Would You? is a fast, easy read in simple language suitable for a reluctant teen reader.

After reading both books, I am most impressed by Jocelyn's range. If there's one thing that Jocelyn does particularly well, it's that she gives characters believable voices, whatever the setting may be. On a personal note, I was pleasantly surprised to find out from the bio on Jocelyn's Web site that she spends her summers in Stratford, Ontario, a town I visit regularly to attend the Shakespeare festival. It's always nice to find talent just around the corner.

Reviewed by Paulina.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Horrible Histories: Amazing Aztecs

By Terry Deary Illustrated by Martin Brown

Horrible Histories: Amazing Aztecs or Horrible Histories: Angry Aztecs is another phenomenal book chock full of trivia facts and witty jokes in the Horrible Histories series. Just like other Horrible Histories books, there are tons of quizzes and lots of facts to stump your teacher. Some other books in the series I have read are: Horrible Histories: Awesome Egyptians, Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans, Horrible Histories: Measly Middle Ages, Horrible Histories: Frightful First World War, Horrible Histories Handbooks: Trenches, Horrible Histories Handbooks: Knights and one of my favourites: Horrible Histories: Rotten Rulers. I can't wait for the next one to come out!

I would recommend this book to both history lovers and non-history lovers, since it makes history sound exciting instead of boring. This book tells you facts that your teachers might not tell you (plus a lot of ways to kidnap teachers). Personally, I think this book is called Horrible Histories because it tells you all the gory details of history.

Reviewed by Kate

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Everything Asian

Sung J. Woo's first book, Everything Asian, is about a 12-year-old Korean boy, David (Dae Joon) Kim, who settles in New Jersey with his mother and older sister. They are reunited with David's father, who had left Korea five years earlier. Much of the story takes place in the mall where the family's shop is located. Here, David encounters and interacts with the other shopkeepers, some of whom are immigrants like himself. He has to learn how to survive in this new, strange land and at the same time, deal with his parents' struggle to live as a family again.

The book is basically a series of vignettes from David's childhood and reads more like a set of short stories featuring the same characters than a full-length novel. There are a few characters who are featured prominently in a chapter or two and then they disappear for the remainder of the book. As a result, I felt at the end that there were threads left hanging. I expect that the author could develop at least one of the subplots into a full novel of its own.

Unlike many novels about the Asian immigrant experience that I've read, this one isn't filled with sorrow and tragedy. Certainly, there are poignant moments and heavy topics (separation, betrayal, loss), but for the most part, this is a light-hearted, nostalgic look at how a child learns to adapt to living in his new country. Having spent much of my own childhood in my parents' Chinese restaurant (also in a suburban strip mall), this novel seemed comfortingly familiar.

When I first picked up this book, I had thought it was meant for younger readers, as the main character is a 12-year-old boy. However, there is some mature content, so I'd recommend this novel to older teen and adult readers.

Reviewed by Paulina

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mother-Daughter Book Club: Year One

Year One of our Mother-Daughter book club is over and we've had a fun time. Here are some things about our book club.

-Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
-I Want To Go Home! by Gordan Korman
-Alone On A Wide, Wide Sea by Michael Morpurgo
-The Emerald Wand of Oz by Sherwood Smith
-The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet
-The Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene

Number of Members:

Books Read: 6

Families: 6

Brownies Eaten By Kate: too many to count!

Books Enjoyed: 6

If you have read any of the books chosen above, feel free to add your thoughts!

The Spider Bites

The Spider Bites by Medora Sale is from a new series of books called Rapid Reads. Part of the Raven Books line from Orca, this series is intended for adult literacy students and reluctant teen readers. In The Spider Bites, ex-cop Rick Montoya returns to his former home, only to discover that it has burnt down and contains a corpse inside. As he works to unravel the mystery, he encounters friends and foes from his past.

This book is a great choice for the intended audience. The reading level is at a preteen's or teen's level, but the characters and content are more appealing to adults. Because the novel is so short, there is not much room for character development. However, I can see this evolving into a successful series in which a few main characters continue to grow. This novel follows the style of a traditional mystery, with a small cast of characters, a suspenseful plot and a satisfactory conclusion in which all is revealed.

On the publisher's Web site, it is suggested that Rapid Reads would also appeal to people simply looking for a fast read. I suspect that this particular novel would not be complex or detailed enough to satisfy those who normally enjoy regular-length mystery novels, but it is possible other books in the series will have wider appeal. Most reading series for adult learners offer condensed versions of well-known books or are written by authors who primarily write this kind of graded reader. The Rapid Reads series differs in that the books are written by well-established Canadian writers. Medora Sale, for example, has published crime fiction as Caroline Roe.

I would definitely recommend The Spider Bites to adult learners who would enjoy a contemporary mystery, and I look forward to seeing more titles in this new series.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

48-Hour Book Challenge: The Finish Line

My final numbers:
Hours spent on the challenge: 22 (17 reading, 3 audiobook, 2 blogging)
Books finished: 4
Pages read: 1226
Donation: $44 to the Literacy Group of Waterloo Region

Kate's final numbers:
Hours spent on the challenge: 11 (10 reading, 1 blogging)
Books finished: 2
Pages read: 748
Donation: $27.50 to the Central Asia Institute

Paulina's list of finished books:
- Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
- Say What? The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language by Gena K. Gorrell
- Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
- Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo

Kate's list of finished books:
- The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
- No Small Thing by Natale Ghent

The 48-hour-challenge is over, and it was even more fun this year, with Kate joining me. She quit a couple of hours ago to join her friends for band practice, but I read up to the very end, finishing Everything Asian (to be reviewed later) in the last minutes before my 5pm deadline. I'd originally planned to donate $1 for every hour that Kate or I have read but will increase this to $2 per hour. Kate offered 50 cents from her allowance money for each hour she has read.

Many thanks to MotherReader for hosting this terrific annual challenge!

48-Hour Reading Challenge: Update 5#

Hi! Kate here again. Unfortunately, we've run out of pie, but luckily, we have brownies.

Here's the latest update.

My update:
Hours of reading: 9.5
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 2

Paulina's (Mom's) update:
Hours of reading: 14.5
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 2.5
Books finished: 3
Books in progress: 2

Paulina's list of finished books:
- Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
- Say What? The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language by Gena K. Gorrell
- Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

Kate's list of finished books:
- The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
- No Small Thing by Natale Ghent

Mom has started another book called Everything Asian. She continues to listen to Wolf Hall on her iPod.

I have started on the sequel to No Small Thing by Natale Ghent, All the Way Home. We had our Mother-Daughter book club earlier this morning, so I wasn't able to read much. I'll give more details later. I'm also reading an Abby Hayes book in french for school.

No Small Thing is a moving book about Nat, Cid and Queenie- three siblings. Their father had left them and their mother four years ago, and their mother was struggling to pay for hydro, electricity, food, etc. One day, they find an ad in the newspaper offering them a free horse, and they jump to the chance. Luckily, their mom lets them keep it, but, a few months later, the barn catches on fire.

I thought the year the book was set in, 1977, was an unusual choice for a kid's book. Parents of kids reading this book would have likely been kids then, and my dad already tells me enough "Back in the old days...." stories.

However, the book turned out to be better than I expected. It was not one of those My Little Pony books for younger kids. It even had a bit of romance. It also surprised me that the kids stole a lot, but I guess when your mom can't even pay hydro, you might feel tempted. This book overall was great. I recommend this book for ages 10+.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #4

My update:
Hours of reading: 11.5
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 2.5
Books finished: 3
Books in progress: 2

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 9
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Paulina's list of finished books:
- Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
- Say What? The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language by Gena K. Gorrell
- Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

Kate's list of finished books:
- The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Eyes are starting to get a bit sore now, but I'm still persevering. Kate went to bed an hour ago, but managed another hour-and-a-half of reading. She is near the end of Natale Ghent's No Small Thing now. Needing some instant gratification after Come, Thou Tortoise, I've turned to young-adult books and include below a couple of short reviews.

Fantasy set in the world of Faeries is not really my thing, but I decided to try Lesley Livingston's Wondrous Strange for several reasons. She is a Canadian author that had been recommended to me, the Shakespeare element seemed appealing and the book cover really is gorgeous. (Shallow, I know, but it does have an effect.) The novel is about how 17-year-old Kelley Winslow, understudy for the part of Titania in Midsummer Night's Dream, gets caught in the intrigues and battles of the Otherworld. The story, which is sprinkled with characters, lines from and references to Shakespeare's works, has some predictable moments and limited character development, but it will probably appeal to fantasy fans.

Say What? The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language by Gena K. Gorrell is a non-fiction book that traces the history of English. It presents fun and fascinating facts about the origins of the language and shows many examples of how it has borrowed and adapted from other languages. In addition to describing the history, the book also describes a number of common errors in usage that people make today, and it includes several entertaining quizzes testing your understanding of a word's origins. I would recommend this book for ages 12 and up.

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update 3#

Hi! Kate here. I've been so absorbed in my book that I haven't been able to make a post until now.

My update:
Hours of reading: 7.5
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Paulina's (Mom's) update:
Hours of reading: 8
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 2
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 2

Paulina's list of finished books:
- Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Kate's list of finished books:
- The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Paulina is half-way through Wondrous Strange but also started reading another book, Say What? by Gena K. Gorrell, a non-fiction book about the history of the English language.

I've finally finished The Red Pyramid after 7 hours! Right now, I'm in the midst of reading No Small Thing by Natale Ghent. My mom and I have been celebrating with apple crumble pie. Can't wait until next pie break!

The Red Pyramid is the first book in the series The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan- author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Personally, I liked the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series more, because I love Greek mythology. But for those who are interested in Egypt mythology, this is the book for you.

The Red Pyramid is about two children, Carter and Sadie, who are on a mission to save the world and get back their father from the Egyptian God of Evil- Set. Carter, the oldest, has been traveling the world with his father- an egyptologist, while Sadie has been living with her grandparents in England. Their mother died when they were young and their father lost the court battle to keep Sadie, so the Carter and Sadie were separated. When their father brings then to the British Museum, he releases 5 major Egyptian gods and gets captured by Set. Carter and Sadie have to now release their father and prevent Set from taking over the world.

I found Rick Riordan didn't explain Egypt's mythology as well as in The Lightening Thief; therefore the book was a bit difficult to keep up with. I do believe that Rick Riordan did keep up the same suspense as his previous books. He also did a good job on the British words (for example, crisps instead of chips and lorry instead of truck). Overall, this is a wonderful book.

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #2

My update:
Hours of reading: 7
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 2
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 6
Books finished: 0
Books in progress: 1

I've finished my first book, Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise. I had to take care of a few chores this morning, including the Saturday morning run to our local bagel bakery. I did mange to get in another 3.5 hours so far today, and I continued listening to Wolf Hall on audiobook while going for a run.

Kate took a break to practice with her string trio, but got another 3 hours of reading done. She is nearing the end of The Red Pyramid.

Here is a brief review of Come, Thou Tortoise.
This is an offbeat, witty novel about a young woman who is dealing with the loss of her father. Through her recollections, we learn about her relationships with her father, uncle, ex-boyfriend and pet tortoise (who herself provides part of the narrative). This was a fun read but seemed to drag in places, and I occasionally lamented the total absence of question marks (reminiscent of Booker winner, The True History of the Kelly Gang, which had no commas). This novel, set partly in St. John's, Newfoundland, has done well in Canada and is on the Ontario Library Association's 2010 Evergreen list.

Friday, June 4, 2010

48-Hour Book Challenge: Update #1

My update:
Hours of reading: 3.5
Hours of listening to audiobooks: 1
Books finished: 0
Books in progress: 2

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 3
Books finished: 0
Books in progress: 1

It's been a good evening. Kate got through half of The Red Pyramid. I am more than halfway through Come, Thou Tortoise, and I also took a break from it to read a bit from Lesley Livingston's Wondrous Strange. I listened to Wolf Hall on audiobook while doing the evening chores.

48-Hour Book Challenge: The Starting Line

It's 5pm EDT, and our 48-hour book challenge is underway! Kate is starting with Rick Riordan's The Red Pyramid, and I have Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise in my hands. We intend to ignore homework, housework, computer and telephone for the next few hours.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Kate and I will be participating in MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge on June 4-6. The goal is to read as much as possible over a 48-hour period. Related activities include writing reviews on one's blog and visiting other participants' blogs to read their reviews.

I had so much fun doing this last year that I'll be joining again. Last time, I read for 16 hours and finished 4 books, and I hope to increase those numbers this year. Kate will be an "unofficial" participant, so her hours won't count for prizes, etc., but she still hopes to finish a good number of books!

For every hour I read/review/blog, I'm going to donate a dollar to The Literacy Group of Waterloo Region, an organization that provides adult literacy training. For every hour Kate reads, I will donate a dollar to her pick, The Central Asia Institute, which she describes in her review of Three Cups of Tea: The Young Reader's Edition.

Please consider joining us for this fun event or donating to these two very worthwhile charities!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Three Cups of Tea: The Young Reader's Edition

by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Adapted by Sarah Thomson. Foreword by Jane Goodall. Includes interview with Amira Mortenson
Three Cups of Tea: Young Reader's Edition was our selection for our Parent-Child Book Club. The man who this book is about, Greg Mortenson, won the Sitara-e-Pakistan award from Pakistan and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Three Cups of Tea has won several awards. You can visit his websites: Three Cups of Tea, The Central Asia Institute, and Pennies for Peace.

Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools and give education to poor children, especially girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Greg was climbing K2 to put his sister's amber necklace at the top of the mountain. Christa, his sister, had died of seizure on her twenty-third birthday in 1992. In attempt to climb the mountain, he got lost and drifted into a small village, Korphe. He met the people of Korphe and he promised to build a school. Fortunately, a mountain climber and scientist, Jean Hoerni, gave him a check for twelve thousand dollars, enough to build his school. When he went to Korphe again, he had to first build a bridge, but luckily, on December 10th 1996, the Korphe School was finished. After that, he kept on building more schools. Now, Greg Mortenson is the director of the Central Asia Institute and is still building more schools.

This book was a fantastic read and I am sure that everyone will enjoy this book- adults or kids. But, I felt that at the start, the speed of events went very slowly, as it was written with phrases that explained very little action that happened. About halfway through the book, the speed changed. Another point is that most of the characters introduced into the book were very hard to keep up with. Some of them were mentioned at the start and then not mentioned until the very end. However, Greg Mortenson is a fabulous character and I know that everyone will enjoy reading about his adventure.

Reviewed by Kate

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Word Nerd

Being a huge Scrabble fan, I have to use, for my first blog review, one of my favourite young-adult books of this past year. Word Nerd by Susin Nielson is published by Tundra Books and, just a couple of weeks ago, it won the Ontario Library Association's 2010 Red Maple award.

Word Nerd is a wonderful book about 7th-grader Ambrose who, friendless and bullied, lives a lonely life with his over-protective mother until he meets an ex-convict neighbour and discovers the world of competitive Scrabble.

Nielsen describes the same competitive Scrabble subculture that Stefan Fatsis portrays so brilliantly in Word Freak (mentioned in Nielsen's acknowledgments) but from a teenager's perspective. Having been a tournament Scrabble player myself, I can confirm that Nielsen gets it right. She succeeds in describing the eclectic mix of personalities that get drawn in by this game and conveying the reasons why it's so easy to become obsessed by it. However, the book is about so much more than Scrabble. It's about gaining your independence, casting aside your prejudices and finding the place where you really belong.

There are a few mild and humorous references to Ambrose's emerging sexuality, so even though some booksellers include this book in the 9-12 age category, parents of younger children may want to wait a bit before introducing this book. It is certainly an appropriate and easy read for middle-school children.

Reviewed by Paulina

Welcome to Our Blog!

Welcome to our new blog! We're looking forward to sharing our book reviews with you. We read all kinds of books and our reviews will probably cover a variety of genres and authors, but in particular, we hope to introduce you to some of our favourite Canadian and young-adult books. We are big fans of the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading programs. In the past few months, Kate has read all the Silver Birch fiction and non-fiction nominees for 2010, and currently, Paulina is working through the adult Evergreen list. We hope to write reviews for some of these and other books we come across.