Saturday, 30 April 2011

Spring Blog Carnival

Hello Everyone,

I am so excited to be doing my first giveaway and to be part of the Spring Blog Carnival!!

This blog hop is hosted by:  

I am giving away a book of your choice up to $20 CDN value from The Book Depository  - the prize is International, if The Book Depository ships to you for free (it ships to most places, please check if you are unsure).

To enter, you must follow my blog and fill out the entry form below.  One entry per person, please.   
UPDATE:  I have had a couple of people say the form does not work for them.  If that is the case, please leave your name and email contact information in the comments and I will be sure that you are entered.  Sorry about that.

That is it.  If you are interested, you can also follow me elsewhere, but it is not necessary to enter the contest.  I can be found on:

The winner will be picked on May 9th.  If you win, you will have 3 days to reply to my email acknowledging that you have won, otherwise I will pick another winner.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and good luck!!!!  There are over 200 other participants in the Spring Blog Carnival, so check out the list below for other great contests to enter.

The Iliad Read-along

I am going to join the Homer May 2011 Read-along of Homer's Iliad.  The event is sponsored by A Literary Odyssey.  I haven't read The Iliad for years, way back in university when I studied Classics.  I am really looking forward to this, and appreciate A Literary Odyssey for giving me the push to revisit something that I love so much.  So, tonight will head down to my storage closet and dig out my well used copy, probably crumbling, copy of The Iliad in preparation to start reading it tomorrow.  My version is the Lattimore translation, written in poetry and follows the Greek syntax fairly closely.  For anyone who would like to read along as well, there is also Fagels, which many people think is one of the best English translations around. The best thing to do is to read a page and see how it works for you.

The Iliad is an epic poem written in the eighth century BC.  It takes place in the tenth year of the Trojan War and covers only a couple of weeks, with Achilleus, the Greek's best warrior, being dishonoured by Agamemnon and withdrawing from the battle.  There are battles and fighting, interference by the gods,  prophesies, honour and intrigue - it is one of the best stories ever told.

UPDATE:  After searching through about 15 boxes of books, I cannot find my Lattimore translation, so will probably use Fagels.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Book Review: Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips

Book:  Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips, Coteau Books, 2010.
This is the story of four teens in high school dealing with issues of abuse, bullying, racism, violence, fitting in, and following your dreams.  Wendy Philips tells the story in free verse poetry, each character with their own voice, also with input from two of their teachers.

My Thoughts:
Wendy Phillips is one of the authors who is going to be presenting at the Shuswap Writers' Festival in May, which is why I decided to read this book.  I probably would not have read it otherwise, but I have to say that I am glad that I did.  I wasn't sure when I saw that it was written in poetry, but it was interesting and different kind of book to read.  Fishtailing also won the Governor General's Literary Award.

At first, I got a bit confused about the characters, but their voices came through fairly quickly (each page is a poem by one of each of the four characters).  The stories of these four teenagers "fishtail" together in English class, with notes from the English teacher and school councilor.  The issues that these teens are dealing with are very brutal and horrifying, and the poetry worked for this.  All of the details did not have to be spelled out, but the language of the poetry gave more than enough to understand the full situation.  The words are sparse, but packed and  I found it amazing how much we could learn about a situation in so few words - this is the power of the poetry.  I really felt for the characters, trying to make sense of the world as well as some issues much too big for them to handle.  Fishtailing is an intense, fast read that will linger with you.

Here is the book trailer from YouTube, it sets the tone for the book really well:

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Blog Hop (3) & Follow Friday (4)

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  It is sponsored by Crazy For Books, click on the link to get the full list of everyone participating and complete rules.

This weeks question is:
"Summer is coming quickly - what 2011 summer release are you are most looking forward to?"

My answer:  Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry.  I read and absolutely loved Rot & Ruin (you can read my review here), the first in this series, and can't wait to read what happens next.  It is due out in August.  Here is the summary from Good Reads:  

Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin. It's also six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives. Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny's zombie-hunter brother Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny's best friend Lou Chong are going with them.

Sounds easy. Sounds wonderful. Except that everything that can go wrong does. Before they can even leave there is a shocking zombie attack in town. But as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, insane murderers and the horrors of Gameland –where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all…could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

In the great Rot & Ruin everything wants to kill you. Everything…and not everyone in Benny's small band of travelers will make it out alive

 Follow Friday is sponsored by Parajunkee's View. Click on the link to get the full list of everyone participating and complete rules.

Q. Keeping with the dystopian and apocalypse theme that seems to be running rampant on, I have one very hard question for you: If you were stocking your bomb shelter, what books would you HAVE to include if you only had space for ten?




Answer:  This is such a hard question!  And I am sure the answer would change all the time.  I am an ancient Greece and Roman junkie, so I would bring:

1) my copy of The Odyssey 

2) Oedipus Rex

3) The Antigone

4) Calvin and Hobbes book (because I'd need some laughs)

5) The Far Side (same reason)

6) Graceling by Kristin Cashore

7) Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

8) Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

9) The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

10) The Hitch Hicker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Book:  Wither(The Chemical Garden #1) by Lauren DeStefano, Simon & Shuster, 2011.

Wither takes place in a dystopian future where 70 years ago, science was able to cure all diseases and make genetically perfect children.  However, the after effects of this have been devastating, all the girls die at age 20 and the boys at age 25.  This leaves a world of first generations, who are getting elderly, and a population of young people and children.  There is no in between.  In the wake of this tragedy is devastation:  much of the world is in chaos, many children are orphans, there is huge poverty and chemicals have ruined much of the environment. Teenage girls become a commodity in this world, being stolen or sold into polygamous marriages against their wills.

Rhine, aged 16, has been kidnapped, stolen away from her twin brother Rowan, and sold with 2 other girls to be the wives of a wealthy man named Linden.  Her goal is to escape and get back to her brother, to regain her freedom, but Linden's controlling father makes this extremely dangerous, if not impossible.

My Thoughts:
It is difficult and a little intimidating to review a book that you've heard a lot about, especially a lot of good things.  I did enjoy reading this book, but not as much as many of the other reviewers.  The book was largely in Rhine's head, with her thinking of escape plans, figuring out the world she now found herself in, and coming to terms with her feelings.  Because she has to be so secretive, she does not talk to many people.  It was interesting to watch Rhine grow and gain understanding and even wavering, while remaining single minded in her bid for freedom.  Lauren DeStefano also wrote some beautiful, vivid descriptions of the world, some horrifying in their scope.

For me, however, Wither got a little repetitive. There were some thoughts and ideas that were stated over and over, for example, that Rhine's different eyes had saved her life.  There were similar things with her thoughts of her brother and her past life, as well as Rhine's feelings about her current life.  It made it feel as if the story were not progressing very fast at times.

I also wanted to know more about the world and how it had decayed to the state it was in- a lot was supplied was implied - and found I had a lot of questions .  How did the gatherers (those who stole the girls) become OK, was there no higher authority?  Why, if girls were so important for reproduction, hadn't they become a valuable commodity who were paid for handsomely and honoured rather than being cheap and disposable?  Wouldn't teenagers become valuable as caregivers for babies who had been orphaned?  How did the economy run at all?  

What was interesting in Wither is the number of questions it brings up and I can envision some great book club meetings or essays being written on these topics.  The big one is freedom vs slavery, especially a hard free live vs luxurious slavery:  Rhine's life before she was kidnapped was brutally hard and dangerous, with the threat of kidnapping, people breaking into her house, unemployment, poor quality food, desperate orphans stealing food, but she was free.  After she was kidnapped, Rhine had a life of luxury with servants, beautiful clothes, excellent food, and going to parties, but she was not free.  A vivid dichotomy was set up here.  Another question is should humans interfere anymore genetically or let the human race die out?  This gets into more questions about bio-engineering, in general.  There is also polygamous marriage and duty and even arranged marriage.  I'm sure there are other themes as well, but these are the obvious ones.

Overall, I did like Wither, but found it frustrating at the same time.  It will be interesting to see where Lauren DeStefano takes this story in the next book.

Here is the book trailer from You Tube:

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Book Review: Tales From The Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne

Tales From The Odyssey is a series of six children's books that retell Homer's Odyssey.  They are written by Mary Pope Osborne of The Magic Tree House fame and are written for a similar age group, I would say around grade 2 to 6.  The names of the characters may be a bit complicated, but there is a pronunciation guide in the back.  I have chosen to review the series as a whole because I tend to think of The Odyssey as a whole, that and we read them so fast that they seem like one story.

I recently read the whole series of six with my middle son who is in grade 2 and he was completely hooked by them, and even my eleven year old found himself listening in as I read - after all, these are entertaining, exciting stories that have been around for thousands of years!  I picked the first book up because I am a HUGE classical mythology fan, to the point of studying it in university.  I am always on the lookout for good versions of classical stories to share with my kids and I am very impressed with Mary Pope Osborne's version of The Odyssey.  I would say it is quite obvious that she did her research as the story rings true to the original, but in a much shorter and more accessible kid's version.

Mary Pope Osborne focuses on the action of the original epic poem - for example, the Cyclops, Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens, and various other monsters.  There are battle scenes, blood and guts, fighting and shipwrecks.  The gods interfere, Odysseus pines for home, the sea rages, and the ten years of Odysseus's travels are told with a feel of the original.  She even mentions the "wine dark sea" several times, which is one of many epithets used throughout The Odyssey.  Epithets are such an important part of Homer's work that I love that Mary Pope Osborne included this one in her retelling.

While looking at reviews of this series, it is clear that the fourth book, The Gray-Eyed Goddess, is the least favorite.  This corresponds to The Telemachy in The Odyssey, the part where Telemachus sails around Greece looking for word about his father, and is probably universally considered to be the least favourite part of the epic.  That people found this book to be the most boring of Mary Pope Osborne's retelling again is evidence that she remained true to the original.

Each of the six books could stand alone as an exciting adventure story, but the books also build on one another and readers will want to know if Odysseus ever makes it home again to his wife and son.  Listed below are the six books, each with a brief summary courtesy of HarperCollins:

Book 1:  The One-Eyed Giant:  When Odysseus must leave his home to fight in the Trojan War, he never imagines that he'll be away from his family for so many years. Now, at long last, he is leading his men across the seas. But many dangers await them -- and none is more terrifying than Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant.

Book 2:  The Land of the Dead:  Odysseus and his men have defeated the one-eyed giant, but its curse plagues them at every turn. Cast out to the open seas by the wind god, Odysseus and his men face giant cannibals and outwit a beautiful witch, who reveals Odysseus's next challenge -- a journey to the mysterious and feared land of the dead.

Book 3:  Sirens and Sea Monsters:   Odysseus and his men have done what no other mortals have done: returned alive from the terrifying Land of the Dead. Armed with warnings and advice from the ghost of the prophet Tiresias, Odysseus is determined to finally sail home to Ithaca. But the enchantress Circe tells him the Greeks will face even more horrors on their journey, including an encounter with Scylla, the six-headed monster, and Charybdis, the deadly whirlpool. Who will survive these terrors -- and how?

Book 4:  The Gray-Eyed Goddess: Odysseus is trapped on the island of the sea goddess, Calypso. The beautiful goddess wants him to forget his wife and son and marry her, but he is determined to return home. Back in Ithaca, Odysseus' wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, desperately fend off suitors who want to marry Penelope in order to take control of Odysseus' island. It is only with the help of the gray-eyed goddess Athena that they can hope to ever become a family again.

Book 5:  Return to IthacaAfter years of captivity on Calypso's island, Odysseus finds himself on the shores of yet another strange land. Meanwhile, his wife, Penelope, fears for their son Telemachus. His enemies -- Penelope's unwanted suitors -- plan to ambush and kill him upon his return to find his father. But the family's years of suffering come to an end, as father and son are reunited in a series of startling, strange, and magical events. Odysseus is finally home. And now his revenge beings ...

Book 6:  The Final Battle:   After struggling against the gods and his fate for more than 20 years, Odysseus has returned to Ithaca at last. But things have changed: his island has been overrun by suitors who clamor for his wife's hand in marriage and plague his son Telemachus. With the help of the gray-eyed goddess Athena, Odysseus and Telemachus must set out to regain control of Ithaca.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Teaser Tuesday (2)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!   
My book this week is Wither by Lauren DeStefano.
"Linden ignores us in the daytime, but begins inviting all three of his wives to dinner each night.  He tells us about his father's research, how optimistic the scientists and doctors are about finding an antidote." 
(p. 103)

Monday, 25 April 2011

Book Review: Red Snow by Michael Slade

Book:  Red Snow by Michael Slade, Penguin Group, 2010.

I am going to attend the Shuswap Writers' Festival in Salmon Arm, BC at the end of May and am so excited that I thought I would try to read a book from each of the authors attending, or at least as many as I can before the festival starts.  That is why I chose to read Red Snow, quite honestly a book I probably would never have read otherwise.

Red Snow takes place in December before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, BC.   Psycho killer, Mephisto, has a score to settle with RCMP detachment Special X in general and Chief Superintendent Robert DeClercq in particular.  He also has a grudge against most of the world, thinking it overpopulated.  Mephisto sets out to cause havoc, fear, and mass murder before the Winter Olympics start, while security is not as tight as it will be for the events themselves. 

My Thoughts:
As a resident of BC, I found Michael Slade's views on the 2010 Winter Olympics interesting - he certainly does not shy away from presenting his views on the politics, spending, money grabbing and general craziness that surrounds the Olympic Games. 

Michael Slade does an incredible amount of research on many topics for this book and is obviously quite knowledgeable about any history he presents.  I found most of this history interesting and relevant, but sometimes it was not very relevant.

There were a huge amount of characters in this novel and I quite frequently found myself confused about who people were.  Sometimes it felt like each chapter was about a new character and their point of view.  Many of these characters were obviously from previous novels and Slade spent a lot of time filling in details of their past and back story.  This, combined with the long passages of history, in some ways, slowed down the novel.

In other ways, the novel moved very quickly.  When there was action, it was fast, detailed and vividly gory.  There was a high body count with sickeningly horrible scenes of death described in creative detail.

Overall, though this book was not for me, I could appreciate Slade's creativity, interesting plot twists, and ability to create a truly horrible psycho killer against the realistic backdrop of the 2010 Olympic Games and real events, politics and scenarios of the time.  In the end, though, the horrible deaths and "blood and guts" were just not for me.  If you like gory suspense thrillers with abrupt language and lots of machismo, then this book may be for you.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Book Review: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

BookBeyonders:  A World Without Heroes, Brandon Mull, Aladdin, 2011.

I had read and enjoyed the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, so was excited to see he has started on a new series.  This one is called Beyonders, and the first installment is A World Without Heroes.

The story starts with Jason, a normal thirteen year old boy doing normal thirteen year old boy things, practicing baseball, hanging out with his friends, studying, thinking about girls, having arguments with his parents... Then he falls into the hippo tank at the zoo and gets transported to another world called Lyrian.

Lyrian is a dangerous place ruled by the evil wizard Maldor.  All Jason wants is to go home and along the way he meets up with Rachel, a girl his age who was also mysteriously drawn into Lyrian.  The two beyonders, those who come from beyond, begin a perilous quest to find all of the syllables of a magic word which, when spoken, will kill Maldor.  All the heroes of Lyrian seem to have given up on this quest as Maldor has beaten them down, killed them or enticed them to the eternal feast.  Everyone else is too scared to try.  However, the pair feel that their best chance to get home is to find the word and save Lyrian.

My Thoughts:
I loved reading Beyonders, it is full of adventure, wonderful descriptions, and interesting creatures.  Brandon Mull has a real flair and imagination for describing Lyrian and those who live there.  His language is rich and vivid and even humorous at times.  There is one sentence in particular that hooked me early on:
He surveyed the vicinity - the mossy trees along the river, the shrubs below, the insects buzzing nearby - mildly astonished how acceptable the impossible had become once it had transpired. (p. 20)
 A World Without Heroes moves along pretty fast and was easy to read, though it starts off a little bit slowly.  Brandon Mull does a good job with his characters, developing them and having them grow.  They are likable and we wanted to see them succeed.  For example, even though Rachel comes off as abrasive at first, she changes and is very strong - I love to see strong female characters.

There are also some great plot twists.  I don't want to give anything away, but these are children in a strange land and they have to rely on other people, some are their friends and some are not.  The ending is great and unexpected.  This novel  is also fairly dark with lots of evil looming, graphically described fighting scenes and even some torture. 

The book kept me entertained and, at times, had me on the edge of my seat - I am so happy that two more installments are planned.  I am sure middle school grade kids and up (and even adults) who enjoy fantasy will love this book.

Here is the YouTube book trailer for this book, it sets the tone for the book really well.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Blog Hop (2) & Follow Friday (3)

The Blog Hop is sponsored by Crazy For Books.

This weeks question is: 
"If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?"

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Book Review: My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming

Today I am very excited to announce that my blog is being written by Maggie Thistleton, a guest blogger.  She has written a book review of the memoir My Lobotomy by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming.
My thoughts
I once saw My Lobotomy, by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, while browsing a used book store.  It was in the staff picks section, so I assumed it must be worth the read.  But after just finishing college, I really didn’t feel like sticking my nose in a heavy book for quite some time, even though I’ve spent most of my life in books.

Fast forward about a year and a half later - I randomly received My Lobotomy as a birthday gift.  It was time to pick up my first book to be read for pleasure since I moved away for college.

Howard’s story
Whether one can really call this a pleasurable read is debatable. My Lobotomy is Howard Dully’s personal memoir of his life before and after receiving a lobotomy at age 12. The story is interesting, inspiring, and very well told. Throughout the book, I often had the feeling that Howard was sitting next to me, giving his incredible life story to me, and no one else.
Howard’s story begins with a history of his life. It seems he had a pretty normal childhood. One of several children, Howard lost his mother when he was young, and his father re-married a tomboy woman named Lou who had a few children of her own.  From the beginning, it’s obvious Lou has something against Howard. It isn’t because he’s not biologically hers; she acts motherly towards Howard’s natural siblings. She makes Howard out to be the ultimate problem child, while he remembers being a fairly normal kid.

Lou had been convinced that there was something wrong with Howard. She took him to various doctors and psychologists, who informed her that he was just a normal, rambunctious young boy. After exhausting all options, Lou brought Howard to see Dr. Walter Freeman. After several interviews with everyone but Howard, Dr. Freeman decided that the boy was schizophrenic. He finally briefly met with Howard, then convinced Howard’s parents that he needed a lobotomy.
In 1960, at 12 years old, Howard became one of the youngest patients to receive a transorbital lobotomy.  Dr. Freeman had performed these on a number of patients - some were successful, but most weren’t. After a short recovery, Howard left the hospital and bounced between family members.  Lou felt he was unfit to have around their other children; she seemed almost scared of him.

Howard’s teen years were spent being shuffled between his own home and those of various family members, until eventually he became a ward of the state and lived in mental asylums. He had almost no side effects from the lobotomy and seemed quite normal, so he quickly became one of the popular kids in each asylum he visited. In his late teens, he lived in halfway houses and got in trouble for writing bad checks to fund his carefree and drug-addicted lifestyle. He spent some years homeless and lived in various apartments with other addicts.

In the end
Howard eventually started to tame his ways after having a child. He married Barbara, and they helped each other clean up their lives. As an adult, he began to question his past and why he was given a lobotomy. Dr. Freeman and Lou had died, and his father wasn’t the type to open up about the past. A documentary crew heard about his search and offered to help, in exchange for a documentary. As a patient of Dr. Freeman’s, Howard was given full access to Dr. Freeman’s lobotomy records. As most people either died or became brain dead after the procedure, Howard was the first person to request to see his file.
His file was full of photos, some of his actual procedure, as well as transcripts from every interview Dr. Freeman conducted with his family. Hearing the way Lou talked about Howard as a child makes the reader feel very sympathetic towards Howard, and also incredibly angry at Lou. Howard takes the reader along his personal struggle, and the reader shares how he received his closure after his bold, popular interview crashed the NPR servers.
Given the nature of the subject and the hard, compromising life Howard has lived, you can’t help but have a sense of peace at the end of his story.  It’s a story of survival, and Howard Dully definitely came out ahead.

As a writer

My Lobotomy is a very easy book to read. It reads more like a conversation between Howard and the reader than an actual book. Howard uses his own language, no fancy terms or heavy medical terminology, so you always understand what he is telling you. He has a good, clear writing style that is appropriate for someone writing their first memoir, so don’t be expecting to read an in depth literary novel. Overall, this is a great and easy read for anyone, but because of drug use and promiscuous behaviors, I’d recommend high school age and up.

New to the world of SEO, I traded in museum studies and caring for snakes for blog writing and organic marketing. I like to mix the marketing with fashion.
twitter: gret_herself

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Book Review: The Midnight Curse by L.M. Falcone

BookThe Midnight Curse, L.M. Falcone, KCP Fiction, 2010.

I picked up The Midnight Curse by L.M. Falcone because I thought my son would enjoy reading it.  It is the story of eleven year old Lacey and her fraternal twin brother, Charlie.  Lacey is level headed and steady, while Charlie is a little more flighty.  When their great uncle Jonathan dies, they travel to England with their mother for his will reading.  While there, great uncle Jonathan's deadly Midnight Curse is passed onto Charlie.  The Midnight Curse is the crazy, sometimes funny horror story of how the twins deal with the curse and try to reverse it.

My Thoughts:
I can see young readers, maybe grades 3-6, liking this book - there is humour, the pacing is fast and it is scary but not too scary.  However, I had a difficult time getting into it (and I read a lot of books to my kids).  One of the things that put me off right from the start was L. M. Falcone's use of words like "gonna" and "wanna" into the dialogue.  I understand that it is dialogue and that she is trying to talk like kids talk, but these were the only colloquialisms she used, so they jumped out at me every time.  However, these type of words are one of my personal pet peeves and may not bother other people.

Overall, I liked the book enough to finish it, but it did not draw me in.

Here is the  book trailer from YouTube:

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers.
My teasers:

"He knew the difference between the vague impressions of a dream and the sharper sensations of wakeful consciousness."

"He surveyed the vicinity - the mossy trees along the river, the shrubs below, the insects buzzing nearby - mildly astonished at how acceptable the impossible became once it had transpired."

Book:  Beyonders by Brandon Mull, p. 20.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I was reading through book blogs, looking for a book with a strong female character when I found the recommendation for Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  Katsa, the heroine of Graceling, is certainly one of the strongest heroines I have come across.

Katsa lives in a world called The Seven Kingdoms, a place where some people are born with a Grace, and this is signified by having two different coloured eyes.  Katsa is born with the Grace of killing and the king exploits her skill to keep everyone in line, punishing his enemies and instilling fear in those who would disobey him.  Katsa becomes dissatisfied with her role of being the King's bully and questions how the King treats others.  Prince Po, who has the Grace of combat skills, visits looking for his kidnapped grandfather and he spurs on further changes in Katsa, namely whether to disobey the King, regain some of her humanity and accept the consequences of the King's wrath or continue to be a tool for the King and accept the consequences of suppressing her humanity.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed reading Graceling and tore through the book.  Even though I am not a fan of violence, I loved that Katsa could fight and win against 20 or so armed soldiers without even considering it to be a challenge.  Katsa is young, strong, and can fend for herself.

Katsa also embodies an interesting dichotomy:  she is so incredibly physical and has complete control over her body, but is quite stunted emotionally.   This is largely because she was found to have the Grace of killing at age eight and has been trained in this and been treated like a killing machine ever since.  She can confidently outfight anyone, but cannot stand up to the King and follows his orders even when she is turned into a senseless killer and a thug.  This is where the story gets interesting, watching Katsa develop and explore her humanity.

I love a strong heroine, and Kristin Cashore certainly succeeded with Katsa.  I enjoyed reading Graceling and watching Katsa grow, develop, realize her inner strengths, and think for herself.  I found myself engrossed with this book and was anxious to see what would happen next.

Kristin Cashore's writing was also great.  The world that she created was vivid and some of her descriptions were fantastic.  

Graceling is the first in the trilogy, the second book being Fire, and the third, Bitterblue, is yet to be released.
Here is the book trailer for Graceling from YouTube:

Book:  Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Harcourt Inc., 2008.

By the way, I am always on the look out for books with strong female characters, they don't have to be physically strong, like Katsa.  I would appreciate any recommendations that you have, so please leave a comment.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Blog Hop & Follow Friday

I am trying this Blog Hop for the first time.  It is sponsored by crazy-for-books.

This weeks question is:
"Pick a character from a book you are currently reading or have just finished and tell us about him/her."

I have just finished reading the young adult fantasy Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  The main character is Katsa and she is wonderful.  She lives in a world where some people are born with a Grace, and this is signified by having two different coloured eyes.  Katsa is born with the Grace of killing and the king exploits this to keep everyone in line.  Katsa is young, strong, can fend for herself, and think for herself.  I love a strong heroine, and Kristin Cashore certainly succeeded with Katsa.  I so enjoyed reading Graceling and watching Katsa grow and develop and realize her inner strengths.  I will post a full review of this book very soon.

Follow Friday is sponsored by Parajunkee's View.  Today's question for Follow Friday is:

Q. Do you have anyone that you can discuss books with IRL? Tell us about him/her.

 Unfortunately, I don't have someone I can discuss books with consistently, which is one of the reasons I have started this blog.  This is also why I have enjoyed reading other book blogs.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Why I Love Young Adult Fantasy Novels

Now that I am no longer a young adult, I have found that I love to read young adult fantasy novels. Recently, I was thinking about why that is. I started really reading young adult novels, like many others, with Harry Potter, mostly to see what all the buzz was about. Reading Harry Potter taught me something: these books are extremely well written, captivating, and easy to read. I have found many young adult books full of amazing well developed characters, plot twists, fantastic lands, tragedy, humour - whatever it is I'm in the mood for. Fantasy also transports me to magical places, full of imagination, and reminds me to be open, have fun and not take things so seriously.

The other, and no less important reason to read young adult novels is because of my nieces. They love to read and get so passionate about their books that it is contagious and I want to share in that and be a part of their excitement and enthusiasm. They have introduced me to many great books that I would not have read otherwise. It also gives us something in common to talk about.

Then, there is the fact that I can share young adult books easily with my own kids. They love being read to, but won't put up with books they don't like for long and I love being able to read them longer, more interesting books. My middle one especially took to Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. We read the book together, at times laughing so much that we had to stop until we could get under control. Then we went to see the movie together, comparing it to the book, what we liked and didn't like. Again, wonderful connections.

And I can't forget one of my most shallow reasons, young adult books tend to have short chapters. To me this is vital because I am the mom of three kids and I fit reading in where I can, and short chapters can make the difference between reading a book and losing track.

So, now I am hooked. I absolutely love young adult fantasy - they are easy to read and extremely entertaining and exciting all at the same time. There is so much out there that is well written and full of brilliant imagination. I know that I said that they tend to be easy to pick up and put down when I get distracted, but more often than not, I find myself staying up too late, reading "just one more chapter."

Some authors that I am enjoying right now are Jonathan Maberry, Brandon Mull, Eoin Colfer and Rick Riordan. There are so many great books and authors out there - I am always on the lookout for new books to read. I would love to hear about other people's favourites, so please leave me a comment telling me about your favourite books and authors, or even what you are reading right now that you are loving.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Book Review: The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009.

The Demon's Lexicon takes place in present day England. Nick, who is sixteen years old and has a HUGE chip on his shoulder, and his older brother Alan, along with their insane mother, Olivia, are on the run from magicians who want to kill them because Olivia stole a charm from one of the most powerful magicians, Black Arthur, years ago. These same magicians killed their father, so Nick and Alan have to take care of each other. Their mother will only talk to Alan and wants nothing to do with Nick, though he doesn't know why.

All of this becomes more complicated when brother and sister Jamie and Mae show up asking for help. Jamie has been demon marked, which means he will die, but Alan agrees to try and help them anyway. Nick is furious; he and Alan have enough problems without taking on any more. And, in the process of helping Jamie, Alan gets himself demon marked. Then they find out that Black Arthur has had enough of chasing the brothers and is going to track them down in earnest and take back his property. During their quest to run away and defend themselves, Nick learns that Alan has been lying to him and covering up some big secrets.

My Thoughts:
I picked up The Demon's Lexicon because I had read great reviews about it, though I'll have to admit, it is not one I would normally read. The cover, with its pouty teenaged boy, did not appeal to me, but I thought I'd better not judge the book by its cover.

In some ways, this is a difficult book for me to review. There certainly were some exciting parts, interesting plot twists, lots of hints, interesting development between the two brothers, and some great descriptions. However, I am not a fan of books where the main character has a big chip on their shoulder the whole time, which Nick certainly does. His anger and angst just seem to go on and on and it gets tiring and is difficult to read. In fact, I nearly did not finish the book because of this. In the end, I did enjoy it enough to keep reading, and am glad that I got to the end, because the ending made the book. Overall, however, I found Nick's pouty behaviour and machismo to be repetitive and off putting. I imagine that if you are a fan of the Twilight series, that you would enjoy this book.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Book Review: All I Can Handle by Kim Stagliano

All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa by Kim Stagliano is an interesting, funny and very readable autobiography of a mother of three autistic daughters. She candidly tells about her life with her daughters, her husband's unemployment and love affair with golf, and explains how she can be happier than she ever imagined, though this is certainly not what she ever thought her life would be like.
I enjoyed reading this book and felt like I could better understand what it means to have an autistic child. Rather than dwelling on horrible stories or even hour by hour, day by day blow by blows of her day, Stagliano gives us vignettes of memorable or typical times with her daughters. I found this quite powerful. 

Stagliano also introduces us to the world of politics within the autistic, medical, and pharmaceutical worlds. I love how she says that she would never tell anyone what to do, but that she is an advocate of getting all of the information you can and making a decision from there. Stagliano is not afraid to give her own controversial opinions in her book, but she it seems to me that she respects other people's opinions so long as they are informed and non-judgmental. It is very clear that she is quite vocal and is seen as contentious by many. 

The level of humour and grace that Stagliano is able to maintain is amazing - she freely admits that she has bad times, times when she feels like screaming. She is able to take a situation that most of us could never imagine and see the joy and happiness in it. I especially love her last chapter entitled "My Turn," when a friend of hers, who also has an autistic child and has also taken care of her sick and elderly parents, wonders when it will be her turn. Kim counters that this is her turn. This is her life. It is all we get and she is not going to waste it. She has the opportunity to appreciate so many little things about life, things that others take for granted. There is a valuable lesson for us all.

My only criticism of the book is that is it repetitive at times. Though annoying, it can maybe be understood given the chit chatty nature of the book. It almost feels as if she is talking to a friend.

Throughout the book Stagliano believes that treatment of autism is the answer and dreams of the day when her daughters' autism will be cured, not that she doesn't love them, but of course she wants their lives to be better and easier, she worries what will happen to them when she and her husband are gone. Her hope is infectious and becomes our hope as we read this book.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Follow Friday Blog Hop

I am trying something new here called Follow Friday sponsored by Parajunkee's View.  The idea is to check out other people's blogs.

This weeks question is:  Do you judge a book by its cover?

Yes, I do!! I find that the cover gives a feel for the book and can often set the tone.  I often use the cover to pick books depending on my mood.  I love a good cover.  That being said, I have been pleasantly surprised by some books and disappointed by others.

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I enjoyed reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner and found the premise interesting: a boy named Thomas finds himself delivered to the Glade, an isolated place full of other boys and surrounded by a maze. There are no adults around and everyone's memory is erased before arriving. Each night the boys are locked in the Glade as the Grievers, nasty, vicious monsters that are a mix of organic and mechanical, roam the maze and kill anyone they can find. Every month for two years a new boy is delivered to the Glade; however, the day after Thomas arrives, a girl is delivered, speaking an ominous message. Something is about to change.

As much as the story was interesting and kept me reading, there were certain levels of frustration that I felt in reading this book. For instance, Thomas is in a fog: he does not remember anything, but does have familiar feelings about some things. He tries to ask several of the other boys questions about their life in the Glade and how things work, but everyone is reluctant to talk about it. Thomas spends a good part of the book frustrated by this, and as a reader, I was frustrated too. Perhaps this was intentional so that we could feel what Thomas feels. However, it also got repetitive. I was compelled to keep reading, however, because I wanted to know why they were in the Glade, what was the purpose of the maze, and what kind of people would send children into this situation.

Another interesting aspect to the book was the almost Lord of the Flies feel to it: what would kids do if left to themselves, would they form a society with rules and structure or would it be a free for all? In this case, unlike the classic tale, Thomas finds himself in a functioning society where order is upheld at all cost.

For me, the book alternated between moving quickly and dragging. There was an interesting cliff hanger at the end, which definitely makes me want to find the next in the series, The Scorch Trials and the groundwork was certainly set to make the second book quite interesting. Overall I did enjoy the book and am glad to have read it and would recommend it to young adults over aged twelve.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Truth

White lie
Black lie
Stick a needle in my eye,
Cross my heart and hope to die.
A web of lies,
Tangled up in the truth.

We are told to tell the truth,
Seek the truth,
Live up to, uphold and be martyr to the truth,
Do it in the name of the truth.
Truth, wisdom and virtue,
Pinnacles of human achievement.
Truth is a holy grail.

We look outside ourselves to
A higher authority who knows the truth
And judges right from wrong.

What is done in the name of truth,
By those who know they are absolutely right?
Without truth, we are left with...non-judgement,
A virtual chaos of kindness and acceptance.

Truth is Beauty and
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Do we each have our own truth, then?
Can we be all right?
Truth is individual, malleable, changeable and beautiful.
I would rather be kind than true.

c Coreena McBurnie, 2010.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Book Review: Kill All The Judges by William Deverell

In anticipation of the 2011 Shuswap Writers Festival that will be happening in Salmon Arm, BC at the end of May (which I am so excited to attend), I have decided to try and read books from some of the authors who will be there. This particular writer's festival will concentrate on BC authors. I have already read books by some of the authors, but not for all of them.
Recently I picked up Kill All The Judges by William Deverell. Several BC judges have been killed and no one knows if it is just a coincidence. Cudworth Brown, a backwoods, uncouth poet from Gabriolla Island is accused of killing Justice Whynet-Moir. Brown is being represented by Brian Pomeroy, a hotshot lawyer who has gone off the rails after his divorce. He is now on cocaine, is delusional, and is writing a creative non-fiction mystery about the case. After Pomeroy runs from the courtroom on the first day, Arthur Beauchamp, a fellow islander, is reluctantly recruited to come out of retirement and represent Brown. Beauchamp has better things to do: he has a farm to run, his wife is running as the federal Green Party representative, and he is given only three days to prepare for the major trial. That, and he does not like Brown.
First off, I have to say that Deverell has an amazing vocabulary and his use of language is wonderful to read. Also, Deverell was a lawyer himself and has an obvious familiarity with the legal system. I also loved his descriptions of the islands and Vancouver, places where I have spent time.
I enjoyed reading this book, especially the different levels of the story. I liked how Deverell used Pomeroy's mental breakdown and novel writing to create different aspects to the story and move the plot along. Some of this was even quite funny. However, there are four different voices in the book and at first it was a bit confusing, but I found it did not take long to figure it out. The dialogue was great as well and the characters all developed nicely. There were some good surprises and some of the minor characters were good as well. I would recommend this book to anyone who like murder mystery or legal books.
Kill All The Judges is the sequel for April Fool, from what I understand, and I will be sure to keep my eyes open for it as I liked the Arthur Beauchamp character.

William Deverell, Kill All The Judges, McClelland & Stewart Ltd, 2008.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Book Review: The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle

I personally love Roddy Doyle's novels. The Irish author normally writes adult fiction, so when I ran across The Giggler Treatment, I scooped it up for my seven year old son. That night, I started reading it to him and, well, let's just say the humour was right up his alley. The story had both of us laughing our heads off. This is a story that he was quite capable of reading himself, but we could not resist the fun of reading it together. It is the first in a trilogy called “The Rover Adventures.”

The entire story of 102 pages takes place in the few moments it takes Mister Mack to step, or not step (I don't want to give the ending away), in a mound of dog poo. This sounds unlikely, but Roddy Doyle pulls it off beautifully. He creates a wonderful tension and children cannot wait to read the next chapter as Mister Mack's foot inches its way closer to the poo.

Where does this poo come from? Well, it turns out that there are Gigglers out there, who cannot be seen because they can expertly camouflage themselves. Their mission is to punish adults who are mean to children by making them step in dog poo, and a large amount of this dog poo comes from an obliging, and now rich, dog named Rover.

There is so much in this story for kids to love: poo, punishing adults, Gigglers who are on their side, silliness, page turning tension and lots of laughs. When we were done, my son started making a list of the friends he wanted to lend it to. To me, that is the best recommendation, to have enjoyed a book so much that you cannot wait to share it with others.

Hint: if your child likes and can read Captain Underpants, they will probably like this. But it is not only for boys, several of the girls in my son's class have read The Giggler Treatment and loved it.

This review was first published on page 21 of the April/May 2011 issue of Kamloops Momma Magazine.  We loved this book so much, if anyone knows of other books in this vein, can you please comment below.  I would love to hear your suggestions.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Book Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Our local librarian recommended Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry for my son; she said she likes to read a couple of chapters of all the new books that come in, but that she could not put this one down. When my son got to borrow the book, he was reading something else and it was sitting around, so I picked it up and was hooked almost immediately. Now, I like to read YA novels already, especially fantasy, but I had never read any of the zombie books. Still, this one immediately caught my attention.

Benny lives in a post apocalyptic world. Fourteen years ago, the dead woke up and became zombies. They bite the living and turn them into zombies, it is almost like a virus. No one knows why this happened, but the result is that the zombies have taken over the earth, except for a few areas where humans are fenced in. Other than killing people, zombies are actually quite passive.

Benny lives with his older brother, Tom, as their parents were turned into zombies on the First Night. Tom is a well respected bounty hunter, someone who goes out into the Rot and Ruin to track down zombies for people and quiet them, or kill them. Benny has just turned fifteen, the age at which he must get a job or have his rations cut in half. After much resistance, Benny decides to join his brother in the family business of quieting zombies. 

Tom, however, is not like some of the other bounty hunters in town, he is not full of bravado and exciting stories of killing zombies. In Benny's eyes, Tom is a coward.

Out in the Rot and Ruin, Benny watches Tom and the zombies and even some of the other bounty hunters. He sees for himself what is really going on and is faced with serious questions, not the least of which is who are the real monsters, the zombies or the humans.

I really enjoyed how this book examined some serious questions and explored what it means to be human, the nature of fear, how societies develop, and how people can close their eyes to what they know is wrong. The writing was good and moved easily and kept me interested. I also liked how the author played with the zombie story line, making it much more than a gruesome suspense or horror book. In a way, the zombies were not a big part of the book, but the set up to explore human behaviour. Rot & Ruin was left open for a sequel, and I have recently found out that it is called Dust & Decay and will come out August 2011. In fact, a four part series is planned.  I am looking forward to reading how the series progresses.

Here is a YouTube video interviewing Jonathan Maberry about Rot & Ruin:

Friday, 1 April 2011

Book Review: "Room" by Emma Donoghue

I had noticed “Room” by Emma Donoghue in the bookstore several times. It's simple white cover with the child's crayoned writing across the front stands out. It won the Rogers Writers' Trust Award. It was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. Canadian author. All good things. Several times I was interested enough to pick it up off the shelf, but then I would open the book and read the inside flap: it is the story of five year old Jack and his Ma, who are being kept prisoner in an eleven-by-eleven-foot room. Jack was born in Room, and his entire life is his Ma and Room, except for the arrival of Old Nick in the night, who Jack does not see because he is tucked away by then. To top it off, the book is told from Jack's point of view. This is too much, I thought to myself several times as I put the book back down, a story of obvious abuse and confinement told by a five year old. I don't think I am up for that.

But then, our library announced that Emma Donoghue would be in town and that she would do a book reading. I love book readings and getting out and being around stimulating conversation, so the next time I saw the book in the bookstore I picked it up and bought it. Am I ever glad that I did - once I started to read it, I could not put it down. Then, having the opportunity to hear Donoghue speak about the book, how it came about, the research that she did, the reactions that she has received, her thoughtful and intelligent answers to the many questions made my experience of the book even better.

As I said, the story is told entirely from Jack's point of view. His small world is all he knows and he is quite happy with it. For him, everything outside of Room is unreal and make believe. They do have TV, but Dora and the news are both equally fantasy for Jack. Ma does her best to create a stimulating world for her son – she reads to him, tells him stories, teaches him math, plays games, gets exercise. As Donoghue pointed out in her talk, she wanted the story to be from Jack's point of view, but not as a traumatized child. In this way, “Room” becomes a microcosm for the mother-child relationship. We also learn about Ma and her circumstances entirely through the lens of Jack, who understands nothing about kidnapping and sexual abuse. The reader, then, has the job of piecing together Ma, what has happened to her, and what she is like.

Donoghue, along with some of the audience members, acknowledge that it is difficult to read a book written in five year old thoughts – she said that she had received a lot of criticism for it. Personally, I did not have a problem with it, but perhaps it is because I live with a five year old! It also made the story what it was because Ma's point of view would have been devastating.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Room.” Despite its dark circumstances, Donoghue succeeded to write an interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad book about the mother-child relationship. Talk to any mother of a young child and she will tell you how confining it can feel. As much as parents love their children, they are “locked in a room” with them and need to get out sometimes. In this way, Donoghue presents universal themes. This is certainly not a morbid book, though parts of it are difficult to read.

Donoghue herself admits that this is a book that she probably would not pick up at the bookstore given the promise of such dark themes. I am glad that she came to Kamloops to speak or I likely never would have taken the plunge and bought her book either.

What Inspires You?

Here I sit, waiting for inspiration to hit me.
Like what?
A slap in the face? A ton of bricks?
Something I’ll easily recognize, I hope.

Will I see the inspiration behind my thoughts?
Will I be open to divine intervention?
Would I know a sign,
Even if it had giant, flashing arrows pointed at it?

Would I mistake it for a bug,
An inconvenience?
Something to swat out of existence before it even gets started?
Or would I be offended because someone had slapped me?
Will I be too busy carpooling, cooking, and cleaning bathrooms
To see what is right in front of me?

I’ll take a minute now,
With the kids screaming in the yard,
Trying to figure out what to make for dinner,
And wait to be inspired.

c Coreena McBurnie, 2009

I would love to hear how other people get inspired for their creative adventures?  Do you need a certain "head space", music, place, feeling?  Please feel free to comment.