Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Summary

Another successful Dewey's Read-a-thon event is over! Kate read some of Cassandra Clare's City of Ashes late last night and early this morning, and I managed to finish Jan Costin Wagner's Ice Moon.

Here are Kate's final totals:
Hours of reading: 7
Total pages read: 565
Books finished: 1
Other books started: 1

My totals:
Hours of reading: 7
Total pages read: 593
Books finished: 2
Other books started: 0
Mini-challenges done: 1
Cheerleading hours: 3

Kate and I spent 17 hours participating (reading and cheerleading) in the read-a-thon, so as promised, we've donated $34 to Free the Children.

Now for the end-of-event meme:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    I started feeling very sleepy around Hour 16. Kate was eager to read more, though.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    I love mysteries, and Kate had a hard time putting City of Bones down.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    It would be great to encourage more people to do cheerleading, as there are so many participants and so few cheerleaders. Maybe if it were advertised that cheerleaders get special prizes too, more people would sign up.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    Everything went smoothly, as usual.
  5. How many books did you read?
    I finished two. Kate finished one and started a second.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    For me: Redshirts by John Scalzi and Ice Moon by Jan Costin Wagner. For Kate: City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    We liked them all!
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    We liked them all!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    Cheerleading doesn't have to happen just on the day of the event. You can visit the blogs and provide encouragement (including encouragement to participate in the next event) before and after the actual read-a-thon date.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    Kate and I will both participate again, and I hope to do even more cheerleading then.
Many thanks to the organizers for another excellent event!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

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

Kate finished City of Bones by Cassandra Clare and then had to turn to her homework. She was so engrossed in the book that there was no way I could get her to do her homework before she finished it. She is hoping to read a little bit of the next book, City of Ashes, before it's time to turn the lights out.

I'm partway through Ice Moon by Jan Costin Wagner and hope to finish it before I fall asleep. I'm not getting as much reading done as I did in the last read-a-thon, but that's partly because I'm spending more time visiting other participants' blogs, which is just as enjoyable as reading!

Paulina's progress:
Books finished: 1
Pages read: 455
Hours of reading: 5.5

Kate's progress:
Books finished: 1
Pages read: 485
Hours of reading: 6

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

We're entering Hour 8 of Dewey's Read-a-thon, and I've finished my first book, John Scalzi's Redshirts. This is an interesting take on the Star Trek concept, with some unexpected twists. I greatly enjoyed Scalzi's Old Man's War trilogy and found this did not quite live up to my expectations but it was definitely an entertaining read.

Kate is more than halfway through City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. She had violin and voice lessons this morning so couldn't manage too many hours of reading, but apart from an hour or two of homework, she has the rest of the day free. Yes, I'm being a mean Mom and making her do her homework, even though I've been neglecting housework shamefully myself.

I've also been spending some time visiting the blogs of other participants. It's great that there are so many readers from different parts of the world.

Paulina's progress:
Books finished: 1
Pages read: 317
Hours of reading: 3.5

Kate's progress:
Books finished: 0
Pages read: 260
Hours of reading: 3

Dewey's Read-a-thon: The Starting Line

Kate and I have our stack of books in front of us and we're ready to go! Here are our answers to the Hour 1 Introductory Questionnaire.

  1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
    We're in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, and it's a lovely sunny but chilly day here today!
  2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
    Kate has been dying to read Cassandra Clare's City of Bones for ages. I'm looking forward to Jan Costin Wagner's Ice Moon, but I might leave it for later in the day, when energy is getting lower.
  3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
    We have the traditional read-a-thon snack (Kate's favourite): salt-and-vinegar chips. I also have tortilla chips with a new burn-your-mouth-off green salsa I'd discovered, perfect for waking me up when I start getting drowsy late in the day.
  4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
    Kate reads the daily comics in the newspaper every morning and plays lots of different musical instruments. I'm a software developer, and if I'm not reading in my spare time, I'm probably knitting.
  5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
    Kate and I are read-a-thon veterans, but I'm not sure we'll do anything different today. We'll just read ... and read ... and read. Actually, I'll also be visiting other blogs and doing the cheerleading thing. That's one of my favourite parts of this event. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dewey's Read-a-thon

Kate and I will be participating once again in Dewey's Read-a-thon on Saturday, October 13. We'll attempt to read for as many hours as we can in the 24-hour period starting 8am EDT, and we'll donate a toonie to Free the Children for every hour that either of us reads.

In our last attempt, Kate managed only 5 hours as she was busy with rehearsals for part of the day, but she has managed to keep most of this Saturday free and has a stack of books waiting to be read, with Cassandra Clare's City of Bones at the very top of the pile.

I don't think I'll be able to match my 9 hours this time around, but I'll do my best. After a couple of hectic weeks, I'm looking forward to spending the day reading. I'm not sure what I'll be reading yet. It'll depend on my mood on Saturday morning, but I've got some candidates on the to-be-read list, including Redshirts by John Scalzi, Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock, Ice Moon by Jan Costin Wagner and The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla.

Please consider joining 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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Natural Order by Brian Francis

I'm continuing to read from the 2012 Evergreen list and hope to finish at least another book from the list before the voting period ends on October 30.

Natural Order is the second novel by Brian Francis, whose first novel Fruit was a Canada Reads runner-up. In this novel, an elderly woman Joyce looks back on episodes from her life. She sees how her homophobia and that of others had devastated people she had loved. The narrator is unreliable and the story jumps among several time periods, but somehow it all works and makes for a very readable and moving story.

This novel provides a thoughtful examination of both the process of aging and the changing views of homosexuality over the past half-century in Canada. It features vividly drawn characters and a good amount of small-town-Ontario humour. When Fern says, in reply to Joyce's question about an upcoming potluck lunch, "I'm a woman of the United Church of Canada. I can make a salmon loaf standing on my head in thirty seconds," I could immediately picture a few women of my own acquaintance!

Natural Order is my favourite of the six Evergreen books I've read so far, and I look forward to reading more from this very skilled writer.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

North by 2000+ by H.A. Hargreaves

I've been participating in LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program for several years now. Most of the time, I choose books from authors or publishers whose names I recognize, but once in a while, I select a book that is totally new to me. Frequently, I've ended up disappointed but the odd time that I hit upon a real gem, it's a great feeling.

Recently, I won North by 2000+, a collection of science-fiction stories originally published over several decades by author H. A. Hargreaves. Given how much I enjoy both sci-fi and Canadian literature, I really ought to have heard of Hargreaves before now, but his output has been relatively small compared to other better-known sci-fi writers. An earlier version of this collection, entitled North by 2000, had been published in 1975, and this new anthology, containing 5 additional stories and an introduction and afterword by Robert Runte, was recently released by a small independent publisher, Five Rivers Publishing.

I enjoyed the stories very much, particularly "Dead to the World", "Cainn", "Tee Vee Man" and "More Things in Heaven and Earth". Alhough these stories were written many years ago  and there are some discrepancies between the future as Hargreaves had envisioned it and the reality as it is today, the stories do not feel dated. It is Hargreaves's exploration of human relationships, to one another and to the environment, in an imagined setting that makes the stories memorable. I also found Runte's commentary on "Canadian science-fiction" and how it differs from that of the British and American tradition thought-provoking.

Having experienced hits and misses with small publishers, I was genuinely surprised by the quality of the writing. I recently finished all the short stories and novelettes nominated for this year's Hugo awards, and certainly, Hargreaves's stories would not suffer in comparison. I'm glad that Five Rivers Publishing has chosen to reprint his work, as it deserves a wider audience.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here Lies Arthur

by Philip Reeve

Here Lies Arthur follows the life of a young girl named Gwyna after an attack on her village. When no one else survives, she is left all alone and escapes into the woods. There, she meets Myrddin, a bard rumoured to have magic, who saves her. Gwyna finds out the Myrddin is trying to unite Britain, which after being attacked by the Saxons, is now split up into many small kingdoms and villages. Only under the rule of Arthur, the leader of a fierce war-band, does Myrddin think this can be achieved. However, several obstacles stand in their way.

One of these, Gwyna finds out, is convincing some people that the gods are on Arthur's side. To do this, Myrddin has Gwyna rise out of the lake as a goddess of water and give Arthur a sword named Caliburn in front of the non-followers. After successfully tricking them, Myrddin disguises Gwyna as a boy and takes her to be his servant.

When I first picked up this book and saw who had written it I wasn't eager to start it. After being unimpressed by Reeve's Fever Crumb series (though my Mom and co-author of this blog liked it very much) and finding the Hunger City Chronicles only OK, I wasn't expecting much from this book. However, this book didn't win the 2008 Carnegie Medal in Literature for nothing.

This book ended up being quite a page-turner with an interesting mix of fast-paced moments and funny ones.  I found it shorter than most books of the same genre; however, after reading it, the length seemed just right. It is not a stay-up-all-night-reading-under-the-covers book, but one that I enjoyed reading for fun because the plot and the general idea was so clever and interesting.

I also found this book so appealing because it took the myths and put history behind them. This made me think about whether there actually was an Arthur and if there was one, how close the real one could have been to the Arthur portrayed in the legends and myths.

I would recommend it for teens who love historical fiction, but especially ones who know the King Arthur legend and would understand how cleverly the book is written. Because I know the legend myself, I'm not sure if people who do not know it would find Here Lies Arthur confusing or not.

Overall, I am very satisfied with the book and hope to keep a more open mind about Philip Reeve's books.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen

Susin Nielsen’s first book, Word Nerd, is one of my favourite young-adult novels of the past few years, and it had won a number of Canadian book awards. I looked forward to reading this second novel but I did wonder if it would live up to expectations, and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much as the first.

The story centres around twelve-year-old Violet who is trying to cope with her parents' separation, especially the fact that her father is now living with his young and beautiful second wife in a luxurious home in Los Angeles. Dismayed with the string of losers that her mother had found through dating services and worried about her most recent romantic interest, Violet attempts to set her mother up with the ideal man, George Clooney.

Like Word Nerd, this novel features hilarious situations, heartwarming moments, and quirky memorable characters. A few of the characters from the first book reappear in this one in more minor roles, and I was more than pleased to encounter them again, as I particularly love Nielsen's portrayal of her characters. She has a way of making each person unique, no matter how "ordinary" he or she is.

Monday, July 30, 2012

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination is a collection of essays by Margaret Atwood based loosely on the theme of science-fiction. Because they cover a broad variety of subjects and are taken from her writings and lectures over the past several decades, they are rather disjointed, and occasionally, there is some repetition of ideas.

I enjoyed in particular Atwood’s reflections on her own novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the controversy it has spawned since its publication in 1985, as well as her thoughts on 1984, Brave New World and Never Let Me Go. I also liked her sentimental yet analytical look at comic books, which made up a large part of her childhood reading, as they did my own.

People I know seem to either love or hate Atwood’s work. I belong in the former category, and I frequently find her observations clever and thought-provoking. If you’re not an Atwood fan already, I’d suggest giving this collection a miss, as there may be too many personal reminiscences to be of interest. However, if you’ve enjoyed her novels and essays, then this book is worth a read.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Among Others by Jo Walton

For the first time ever, I joined WorldCon as a supporting member and consequently got access to their Voter Packet. An amazingly good deal for only $50, the packet includes downloads of almost all the nominated works. Included was Jo Walton’s Among Others, a nominee in the best-novel category. Walton is a Welsh-Canadian author who makes her home in Montreal.

I liked this book very much but thought that it was an unusual choice for a Hugo nomination. First, it is not in any way a science-fiction novel; rather it is about science fiction. Throughout the book, the main character Mor comments on the novels (mostly but not all from the sci-fi and fantasy genres) she has read and is reading. Indeed, the novel seems very much Walton’s fond and nostalgic inventory of all the novels she herself had read as a youth. This may all be too much for readers who are not fans of sci-fi, but given that I’d also spent many hours as a teenager devouring many of the same books, I found the commentary quite enjoyable.

It’s also questionable whether this could be called a fantasy novel. Certainly, Mor talks about fairies and magic, and she calls her mother a witch. However, it is not always clear what is real in the context of the novel and what is a product of Mor’s imagination. She even wonders herself if certain events that had happened were caused by magic or simply events that would have occurred in any case.

However you want to classify this book, it is a lovely coming-of-age story. Through her passion for sci-fi and fantasy, Mor, who had always felt like she did not fit into the world, finds like-minded people who care about what she has to say. She also starts to build a bond with her estranged father through their shared interest in books. In addition, this novel pays tribute to libraries and librarians, and as a lifelong user of libraries, how could I not love that?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Red Maple Mini Reviews - 4# No Safe Place

by Deborah Ellis

No Safe Place focuses on three teenagers, all from different but troubled pasts, and their journey to England where they hope to finally be safe and free. There is a mystery surrounding the main character, Abdul, who comes from Kurdistan and has a mission, with a purpose yet undisclosed, to reach Penny Lane. The two other characters also add much to the story with their unique personalities -- Rosalia, a gypsy from Czechoslovakia who is forced to go to Germany to become a prostitute, and Cheslav, a musician who ran away from socialist Russia.

In No Safe Place, Deborah Ellis writes in a straightforward way that not only adds tension and suspense, but also enhances the plot and character development.  I like the feeling of urgency in her writing when the tension is high. Overall, compared to her other books such as Looking for X and The Breadwinner Trilogy, this book is more action-packed. Ellis also brings to light social injustices in areas of the world that are not always frequently mentioned in the news, by telling us Cheslav's story. She also makes us take an inward look at possible injustices in our own countries, by telling us Rosalia's story. However, the main character's, Abdul's, story was set in the Middle East, similar to many of her other books. I hope, in future books, that Ellis might consider exploring the stories of teenagers in other parts of the world.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I Am Number Four

by Pittacus Lore (James Frey and Jobie Hughes)

This is a review for a book I read during the 48-Hour Book Challenge.

I Am Number Four is centered around John Smith, an alien from the planet Lorien. When the Mogadorians, another alien race, came and destroyed the Lorien race, only nine Lorien children managed to survive, along with nine guardian "CĂȘpan" to protect them. They were sent to Earth to one day come back and revive the deserted planet of Lorien. However, the Mogadorians continue trying to eliminate the Lorien race by killing the remaining eighteen Loriens on Earth. Luckily, when the Loriens left, a charm was placed upon the nine children which made it so that they could only be killed in order of their given numbers. In I Am Number Four, One, Two, and Three have all been killed. John Smith is Number Four and is being tracked by the Mogadorians.

This book was highly entertaining and its plot was very captivating. One complaint I had was that the authors tried to squeeze too much action and description into one battle scene which ended up overwhelming and confusing me. I also thought that the characters' personalities seemed typical and unoriginal. However, this was overall a very good book and I would definitely recommend it to any young adult who likes romance, science-fiction, and action.

The second book in the series is The Power of Six and the third book The Rise of Nine will be coming out in August 2012.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Lake Como Girls by E. Y. Chypchar

I'm very excited to review this book, the first of a new young-adult mystery series, as it is written by a friend of mine. The series is about the adventures of 14-year-old Summer, her cousin Francesca, and her friend Arabella. In this story, Summer is spending July and August at Lake Como in Italy, where her mother is restoring a painting. There, the girls encounter a boy who is falsely accused of a crime, and they work together to prove his innocence. In the meantime, Summer has struggles of her own as she deals with bad news from her mother.

The series is reminiscent of the Nancy Drew series that I loved as a child. One difference is that the mystery element is only one aspect of the story. The trials of adolescence and the bonds among families and friends are also explored. The exotic setting is an additional attraction of this book, as are interesting details about scuba diving and Italian art. Another detail I particularly liked are the photographs placed at the beginning of each chapter, as they help the reader visualize each scene.

More information about the series and how to purchase the first book is available at the Lake Como Girls blog.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Final Summary

My update:
Total hours spent on the challenge: 10
Hours of reading: 7.5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Hours blogging/reviewing: 1
Books finished: 4
Books started: 1
Pages read: 855

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 9
Books finished: 2
Books started: 1
Pages read: 945

The challenge is over! Kate was not able to do any more reading but I did finish Lake Como Girls, which I will review in a separate post. Together, we participated for a total of 19 hours! As promised, I've donated $40 ($2 per hour, plus a bit to round up) to Reading Is Fundamental.

I did not manage to participate for as many hours as I had in past years, but I was really glad that Kate was able to find so many hours to read and that my sister-in-law Jill spontaneously joined us from Singapore to do some reading of her own with my two nephews. I envy and admire those participants who can read for 20+ hours and hope to achieve that myself one year.

I wish to express my thanks to MotherReader for once again organizing this fun and well-run event! I hope to spend the next couple of days catching up with other participants' blogs and reading their thoughts on the books that they had read over the weekend.

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #3

My update:
Hours of reading: 6.5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Books finished: 3
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 9
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

Kate has had to turn her attention to a homework project so her reading has slowed down, but she is past the halfway point on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I managed a little more reading this morning and finished Storm Thief by Chris Wooding. This young-adult sci-fi/fantasy novel had intriguing characters, a richly described world and thought-provoking ideas such as the probability storms. Yet, somehow this book did not quite live up to its potential for me. It felt as if the author was simply relating one event after another in quick succession. It was a shame, as the setting and the characters seemed to offer so much more. Perhaps Wooding will expand on these ideas in other books, though as far as I know, he has not written a sequel to Storm Thief.

Kate will be playing in another recital this afternoon, so we will have just a couple of hours of reading time left. I'll be reading from Lake Como Girls, the first book in a new YA mystery series by Yvonne Chypchar and also continuing to listen to Holes by Louis Sachar on audiobook.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #2

My update:
Hours of reading: 5
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1.5
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 8
Books finished: 2
Books in progress: 1

We've had a busy day, as Kate had several musical activities (a concert, a volunteer performance and a lesson) and I was, as usual, the chauffeur.  However, as it was my birthday today, my wonderful husband prepared an exceptional dinner while I got to relax on the couch and read.

Despite all the activities, Kate managed to finish The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore and has now started on the classic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I finished I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder and am halfway through Storm Thief by Chris Wooding.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is a novel written entirely in verse. For that reason, it is a very short book and quick to read, but the author packs a lot in her carefully chosen words. The verses convey the thoughts of a 15-year-old girl whose boyfriend has recently died, partly as a result of a foolish dare that she had proposed. The boyfriend's ghost then returns to haunt her, as she tries to cope with her grief and feelings of guilt. The novel is quite touching and is worth reading if only for its interesting format.

Friday, June 8, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Update #1

My update:
Hours of reading: 2
Hours of listening to an audiobook: 1
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate's update:
Hours of reading: 4
Books finished: 1
Books in progress: 1

Kate had said she would not have much time for the reading challenge this weekend, but I knew better. Once she started I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, she read mostly non-stop for 3.5 hours and has now started the sequel, The Power of Six. I forced her to take a break for supper, as the library would not have wanted its book back with spaghetti sauce splattered on the pages. As you can guess, she enjoyed the book very much and promises to write more about it herself later on.

I did pretty well myself, having finished Puppet by Eva Wiseman. This is a young-adult historical novel about a teenage girl Julie living in Hungary in 1882. When a number of Jews in her village are falsely accused of murdering her friend Esther, she realizes that she cannot turn a blind eye to the injustices perpetrated by those around her. This was a well-paced, gripping read but one that was quite bleak and disturbing.

I also spent an hour listening to Holes by Louis Sachar on audiobook while doing the unavoidable household chores. All in all, it was a good evening of reading. I am also thrilled that my sister-in-law Jill and my nephews will be reading along with us!

48-Hour Book Challenge -- Starting Line

Kate and I have our books chosen and we are ready to go ahead with the 48-hour book challenge! It's not too late to join here. She is starting with I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and I'm starting with Puppet by Eva Wiseman.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge

Once again, Kate and I have decided to participate in MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge, which takes place this coming weekend June 8-10. 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.

Last year, Kate and I each read for 15 hours. There's no way we'll be able to repeat that this year, as we already have a number of commitments this weekend, but we'll try to put in at least a couple of hours each day. Because this particular challenge attracts a good number of book bloggers specializing in the young-adult genre, I'll use it as a opportunity to get through a number of YA books I've got in the queue.

This year, MotherReader has urged all participants to contribute to the literacy program Reading is Fundamental, so I will pledge $2 for each hour that Kate and I read. If you want a good excuse for ignoring all your weekend chores and you'd rather spend the time with a great book in your hands, then please join us!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is another new author that I’ve discovered through the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen list. I don’t read short-story collections nearly as often as I should, but I enjoyed greatly this one, which gives us glimpses into the lives of Mennonites living on Canada’s prairies. I was impressed by how much Hossack drew me into each story after only a few paragraphs.

These are not particularly happy stories. A number of the characters suffer from depression or anxiety, and several stories deal with the tension between the older generation attempting to maintain the traditional way of life and the younger members trying to find their place in a modern society. At the same time, the stories celebrate the simple joys in life, like the smell of freshly baked bread. Hossack describes lovingly the everyday foods of the Mennonites, and it came to me as no surprise that Hossack has worked many years as a newspaper food writer.

Even though the stories are set in the prairies, they seem closer to home as we live near a fairly large Mennonite community here in Ontario. Hossack’s stories give us insight into Mennonite customs and traditions but they also show that their conflicts and concerns are not all that different from those of other Canadians.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

In this young-adult novel by Canadian writer Eva Wiseman, the main character Isabel lives in Spain during the time of the Inquisition. Troubles start when it is revealed that Isabel’s parents have Jewish roots. To protect her from the dangers associated with her family’s past, her parents betroth her to a man from a respectable family, even though she finds him despicable and cruel. When her father is arrested, Isabel realizes she must act quickly to save his life.

Kate had also read this book, and we both enjoyed it. However, parts of the novel read very much like a history lesson, albeit a worthwhile one, and other parts seemed rushed. This novel is very short, which makes it an excellent read for middle-school or older reluctant readers, but I can’t help thinking that a fuller treatment of the characters and plot would have turned this from a good book into a great book.

Thanks to Tundra for this review copy, which I received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Festival of Trees

Last week, Kate and I attended the Festival of Trees at Harbourfront for the third year in a row. This event, run by the Ontario Library Association, is a huge celebration of reading. All the authors nominated for the Forest of Reading awards are invited to the award ceremonies and they also hold workshops and willingly sign books throughout the day.

Since Kate was reading from the Red Maple list this year, we attended on the first of the two days, when that awards ceremony was being held. As always, there was a real party atmosphere, with a live band playing and thousands of enthusiastic readers. At the ceremony itself, kids showed their appreciation in a very vocal way as each author was introduced by student volunteers. Here, authors are treated like rock stars, as they should be! The photo above shows the stage during the Red Maple awards with Kenneth Oppel, the winner with his book Half-Brother, addressing the audience.

Todd also had to go into Toronto that day so we decided to forego the usual bag lunch and join him at Watermark Irish Pub at nearby Queen's Quay Terminal. We made sure we got back in time to attend a joint talk given by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten to promote their new book The Taming, published by Random House. We both enjoyed the presentation, which was very well received by the audience, and decided to pick up a copy of the new book. Eric and Teresa were gracious enough to let me take their photograph after they signed Kate's book. Kate couldn't wait and started reading The Taming in the car as we drove home and finished it the next day. She plans to post a review (after all her end-of-year assignments are done) and liked the book so much that she proposed to our parent-child book club that it be one of our future selections.

Walking past the tents, we noticed a long line in front of Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome, which went on to win the White Pine non-fiction award. Kate told me that her teacher had read excerpts from the book to her class and so we at once knew the perfect book to bring back to her classroom. We picked up a copy at the book tent and asked Neil to sign it, which he did in a way that could only be described as "awesome"!

We also managed to find Kelley Armstrong and asked her to sign our copy of The Gathering, which was the winner of the White Pine fiction award. Regular readers of this blog will know that we are both fans of her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising series. Kate would have loved to attend her workshop but unfortunately, it was scheduled at the same time as the Red Maple awards.

All in all, it was a terrific day, and the weather could not have been any better. We congratulate the Ontario Library Assocation for hosting another exciting and well-organized Festival of Trees event!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shelter by Frances Greenslade

Shelter is the fourth book I've read from the Ontario Library Association’s 2012 Evergreen list.  The novel is narrated by teenager Maggie, who lives in a remote part of British Columbia with her mother and older sister Jenny. Soon after the death of Maggie’s father, her mother leaves the sisters in the care of a foster family to pursue work. When communication from her mother ceases and her sister is faced with a personal crisis, Maggie embarks on a search for her mother and in the process, learns much about her family and herself.

Initially, I had some doubts about this book, which seemed to me the stereotypical Canadian novel, with its treatment of the wilderness, survival and isolation. However, I soon became immersed in this very readable story told simply and beautifully. Shelter is a very strong first novel from Frances Greenslade, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

I've always loved reading from the Evergreen list, as it has encouraged me to discover new Canadian writers that I might not hear about otherwise, and this year's list is again successful in that respect. However, it looks like we will hear more of Frances Greenslade in the near future, as Shelter has been gaining recognition in other parts of the world (e.g. being included on Waterstone's Best Debut Novels of 2012).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

Liesel Meminger never expected her brother to die and that Nazis would discover her parents were communists, but her life really turns around after she steals her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook. Sent to a foster home to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, she quickly builds a new life on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, finding a new friend in a certain Rudy Steiner. As she is being taught to read by her Papa, she begins to discover the power of words.
After several adventures and a couple more book thefts, Liesel begins to settle in. But just as her life seems to become normal, the Hubermanns decide to hide a Jew, Max Vandenburg, in their basement. Liesel quickly befriends Max and discovers he shares the same passion for words. Through their friendship, Liesel learns not only that words can not only be used for good, but also for bad. However, after an anti-racism action from Hans, Max has to leave Molching for his own safety. Nevertheless, the tough times aren't over for Liesel and her family. As bombs begin to drop on Molching, people start to fear for their lives and safety.

This thrilling yet charming award-winning book is sure to capture you from the start to the startling conclusion. With memorable characters and a captivating plot that will enthrall children as well as adults, this book is a definite must-read. Right from the start, with the unique introduction of Death as the narrator, Zusak demonstrates his beautiful and poetic writing style. Examining important themes such as racism, sacrifice, loyalty, and perseverance in a remarkable way that only Zusak can achieve, this book is a good example of how life isn't always fair. In summary, The Book Thief will leave readers of any age thinking about and seeing the Holocaust in a new light as well as learning the power of words.

*We chose this book for our mother-daughter book club

Monday, April 30, 2012

Bedtime Story by Robert Wiersema

Robert Wiersema is a Canadian author who is new to me, and I discovered this book through the Ontario Library Association's Evergreen list.

The novel is about a writer, Christopher Knox, whose son David falls into a catatonic state while reading an old fantasy book written by one of Chris’s favourite authors. David is trapped within the story, where he must embark on an arduous quest to retrieve a magical object. At the same time, Chris struggles in the real world to rescue his son’s soul and come to terms with his failing marriage.

There is a lot that I liked about this unexpected mix of urban fantasy, high fantasy, supernatural and literary novel: the complexity of the plot lines, the well-rounded characters and most of all, the suspense. I really had a hard time putting the book down. A number of my friends are also reading through the Evergreen list, and so far, all have enjoyed this novel.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Summary

The read-a-thon is over! After finishing A Noble Radiance last night, I was starting to falter and knew I needed a really compelling read to keep me going. So I picked up Kenneth Oppel's Skybreaker, the sequel to Airborn, and it was the perfect choice. I read for another 1.5 hours last night and half-an-hour this morning before the 8am deadline. Kate slept through the last 10 hours of the read-a-thon but is back at reading, with The Calling in her hands, even though the event is over.

Here are Kate's final totals:
Hours of reading: 5
Total pages read: 378
Books finished: 1
Other books started: 1

My totals:
Hours of reading: 9
Total pages read: 693
Books finished: 2
Other books started: 1
Mini-challenges done: 4
Cheerleading hours: 2

Kate and I spent 16 hours participating (reading and cheerleading) in the read-a-thon, so as promised, we've donated $32 to Free the Children.

Now for the end-of-event meme:
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
    The final hour. Normally, I'm an early riser but I had a hard time getting up this morning to do that last bit of reading I had planned.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
    Young adult books are always good for read-a-thons. The Hunger Games would keep you reading, if you've not read them already.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    I've really enjoyed being a cheerleader, but it would be nice to encourage every reader to do a bit of cheerleading. I suspect most readers find it too daunting to commit to a set number of hours, so how about just suggesting that every reader pick 2 or 3 blogs to follow for the day? To keep the "team" feel, you can ask all readers in the Team Polonius list to choose their blogs from Team Falstaff, for example.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
    I enjoyed several of the mini-challenges, and many of the ones I didn't end up doing seemed fun and I liked seeing the participants' responses. The best challenges were the ones that were a little bit challenging but didn't take a lot of time to do (so that they didn't take away from reading/cheerleading time).
  5. How many books did you read?
    For me: two finished and another started. For Kate: one finished and another started.
  6. What were the names of the books you read?
    For me: The Calling by Kelley Armstrong and A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon. Also started Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel.
    For Kate: Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve. Also started The Calling by Kelley Armstrong.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?
    Can't decide -- we liked them all!
  8. Which did you enjoy least?
    Can't decide -- we liked them all!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
    I temporarily subscribed to all the blogs I was covering so I could immediately see the updated ones in Google Reader.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
    Yes, Kate and I will definitely participate again, and I will do some cheerleading again next time.
Thanks to the organizers for another extremely well-run event!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

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

We're in Hour 15 now. Kate has gone off to bed and I'm also starting to fade but will try to hold out for a little bit longer. I've just finished A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon (277 pages) and my total number of hours read is 7. Leon is a new author to me and I enjoyed this mystery novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. I found the plot on the weak side but I did like the characters and setting. I loved touring Venice with my family a few years ago and it was great to revisit it in this novel.

Kate started The Calling by Kelley Armstrong and managed an hour before bedtime, bringing her total to 5 hours for the day.

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

We're now in Hour 12. Kate had an intense afternoon of reading and put in 3 hours, to bring her total reading time to 4 hours. She finished Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve (263 pages), the third book in the Fever Crumb series. She says she did not enjoy it as much as the first two books, but it was a good read all the same, and she plans to review the series on this blog at a future time.

I put in another 2.5 hours to bring my total to 5.5, and I'm two-thirds of the way through A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon. If I weren't having so much fun visiting other participants' blogs, I'd probably get more reading done!

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

We're entering Hour 7 now. I've read for a total of 3 hours and I've just finished my first book, The Calling by Kelley Armstrong (326 pages). This book is the second of her Darkness Rising series, and it felt very much like a second book of a trilogy: a lot of character development, some revelations but still lots of threads hanging. There was plenty of fast-paced action, though, so it was a perfect read-a-thon selection.

Kate had to attend a two-hour rehearsal with her strings school this morning, which was why I got first dibs at this book. While waiting for me to finish, she started on Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve. After an hour of reading, she decided she'd better put some time into her homework but promises to read more later in the afternoon.

I've also spent a little bit of time visiting other blogs. It's great to see how everyone else is progressing.

Dewey's Read-a-thon: Introductory Post

Kate and I have our pile of books ready! While I highly doubt we'll get through all (or even most) of this pile, it's good to have a few to choose from. We've both been wanting to read The Calling, the second book in Kelley Armstrong's Darkness Rising series, but there is a huge waiting list at our local library. However, yesterday morning, I saw in the on-line catalogue that a single "no holds allowed" copy was just returned and I grabbed it!

My other candidates include:
  • A Noble Radiance by Donna Leon
  • River of the Dead by Barbara Nadel
  • Silence by Jan Costin Wagner
  • Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  • English Country House Murders by Thomas Godfrey
  • The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Kate's other candidates include:
  • Scrivener's Moon by Philip Reeve
  • Dust City by Robert Paul Weston
  • Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

Here are our answers to the Introductory Questionnaire from the Hour 1 post:
  1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
    We're at home today in Southwestern Ontario, Canada!
  2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
    Kate and I will be fighting over our single copy of The Calling by Kelley Armstrong.
  3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
    Salt-and-vinegar chips, if Kate leaves some for me.
  4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
    In my spare time, if I'm not reading, I'm probably knitting, and sometimes I'll do both at the same time. Kate, if she's not reading, is usually making music in one way or another. 
  5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
    For once, I don't have other commitments scheduled for the day and can devote the entire day to reading. Kate, sadly, will have to do some homework, which she had managed to avoid successfully in previous read-a-thons. (Note: Her Mom is not the one insisting she do her homework today!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dewey's Read-a-thon

Kate and I will be participating in Dewey's Read-a-thon again on Saturday, April 21. We'll attempt to read for as many hours as we can in the 24-hour period starting 8am EDT, and we'll donate a toonie to Free the Children for every hour that either of us reads.

In our most recent attempt, Kate read for an incredible 9 hours while I managed only 7.5. This time around, Kate is deep into concert season so she'll be spending much of Saturday at rehearsals and catching up with homework. However, she did commit to at least two hours of reading, as long as I provide a good supply of salt-and-vinegar chips. I'm hoping to exceed last year's total.

I've learned from experience that short fast-paced reads work well for read-a-thons, so I have a pile of mystery and YA novels, many of them from my BookCrossing shelf, ready to go. Kate has a couple of Philip Reeve books set aside for the big day.

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.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire

Romeo Dallaire is very well-known in Canada. This retired Lieutenant-General was part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda in the 90’s and is now an author, senator and humanitarian. In this book, he writes about his experiences with child soldiers and his continuing mission to eradicate this abhorrent practice.

There were a few aspects of the book that I did not like. Dallaire included a couple of fictional excerpts based on the experiences of a child soldier and a peacekeeper. These seemed out of place and I am surmising that Dallaire inserted them to help us better visualize the situation and share the feelings of the people involved.  However, I have no doubts that any of the real-life stories he could tell us would be even more poignant and disturbing.

The chapters seem to oscillate between presentations of the cold hard facts and emotional appeals. The final chapter is a lengthy and impassioned plea to young people. Dallaire asks them not to give up hope but to consider what each of them can do to change the world for the better. Reading it made me realize that the entire book sounds much like a mix of conference presentations and inspirational speeches.  I could imagine Dallaire making a huge impact speaking live, but something seems lost when his thoughts are put into writing. Also, there seemed to be an excessive amount of time spent on telling us what most of us already know or suspect, such as: humanitarian NGOs and the military have different points-of-view and have difficulty working together.

Despite these criticisms, I would still recommend this book, if only so that people spend some time contemplating this difficult and important issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in the media. It is particularly interesting to read about this problem from the point-of-view of a high-ranking military official. Usually, books about such issues are written by members of humanitarian organizations. It is not uncommon for civilians to think of military people as cold, aloof, and desensitized to the atrocities of war, but Dallaire does not fit this stereotype and shows, on the contrary, how devastating encounters with child soldiers are for adult peacekeepers. Indeed, it would be a very good thing if military leaders around the world looked at these issues as thoughtfully and comprehensively as he does.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012 Evergreen List

While Kate is working through the Red Maple book list (she has finished 8 but is rather slow in getting the reviews posted), I am once again tackling the Evergreen list. The Evergreen prize is also given by the Ontario Library Association and the nominees are announced in February. This year, the list is as follows:

The only book from this list that I've read so far is The Accident and you can find my previously posted review here.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

This novel was the winner of Canada Reads 2012, and the subtitle, “Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter”, sums up the book well. This is the incredible and extremely readable tale of the author’s growth from childhood to adulthood within the Chilean underground resistance movement against dictator Augusto Pinochet. Most of the book is set in the 1980s, and covers the author’s movements in Canada, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.

What makes this book stand out is the perspective. We see everything through the eyes of a girl who is immersed in danger, intrigue, lies and violence but who is also struggling with the everyday concerns of a typical teenager. The contrast of life-threatening situations with ludicrously trivial concerns makes for some very funny reading at times.

If you’re looking to learn more about the political history of South America during those turbulent years, you will be disappointed. I had difficulty at times with the lack of context, but I don’t think it was the author’s intention to give an overview of those times. This memoir is primarily the story of a personal journey and the author’s own interpretation of the chaotic events unfolding around her. It’s a fascinating story and well worth reading.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Red Maple Mini Reviews - 3# Fanatics (and Stones)

by William Bell
Fanatics is on this year's Red Maple list, but as it is a sequel to Stones, I decided to read and review both books together.

Garnet Havelock has never been good at school, and now, in his final year of high school, he's just waiting to get out and go into the carpentry business. However, during a class debate about love at first sight, he meets Raphaella and falls in love. Together, they discover the existence of a ghost named Hannah, stoned to death 150 years ago because of the colour of her skin and doomed to haunt a trailer park until she has brought her murderers to justice.

In the next book, Fanatics, Garnet, while trying to find a place to set up his shop, meets Ms. Stoppini and strikes a deal to rent the coach house on the estate of the late Professor Corbizzi. In exchange, he must repair the damage to the professor's library and study. However, while cleaning up the library, he finds a secret manuscript titled 'Fanatics' that results in the unveiling of an old problem surrounding theocracy. At the same time, Garnet accidentally witnesses what he thinks is a gang of terrorists.

One thing that was very interesting was how these two problems intertwined and ended up being the same message about how killing people in the name of a religion is wrong. It applied the same problem to modern and past events and presented the solution in a persuasive way that anyone could understand.

Something else that I found with both books was that they covered a lot of topics. You don't find many books that have romance, action, terrorists, social justice, history, and paranormal activities. The characters were also well-rounded. Bell vividly portrayed their unique personalities and throughout the stories, there was much character development. Overall, I thought this was a fantastic book and am hoping that a third will come out next year. However, I would recommend reading Stones before reading Fanatics.

Reviewed by Kate