Sunday, December 28, 2008

Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle

the third in a series of travelogue-style comics from delisle. basically vignettes of his time spent in burma/myanmar with his wife and young son while on a mission for doctors without borders. i found this one significantly less interesting than his previous offerings of "shenzhen" and "pyongyang". in his previous two books delisle tried to take us into the reality of a couple of places that few westerners ever go. he travelled, and went out and experienced things. because his role on burma is basically relegated to looking after his young son while his wife is on a mission for doctors without borders, his scope is by necessity limited.

this is still a good and interesting book, and delisle of course still manages to get out and experience life in an isolated dictatorship. i just wouldn't recommend it as the place to start if you wanted to read something by delisle for the first time start with "shenzhen" and "pyongyang", and then if you thought those were great definitely read "burma chronicles".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Emiko Superstar - Mariko Tamaki

the penultimate publication of dc comics' ill-fated teen girl imprint, minx. this is sad. i loved minx. i thought the comics published through this imprint were almost always enjoyable, and were definitely suitable for the public library market. for teen girls getting into comics, or those who were already fans of the medium it was a fun accessible line. i'm not quite sure why after only a year and a half minx was given the axe. it likely had everything to do with money. but for crying out loud dc, you could have given it a bit of time!

"the p.l.a.i.n. janes", "re-gifters", and "good as lily" were wonderful indie comics. "emiko superstar" was right up there on my list. emiko is a bored suburban good girl. when her friends abandon her one summer to go on a young executives retreat, emiko starts to question her priorities. a babysitting gig and a chance encounter with an arty punk catalyze a memorable summer. while shopping emiko receives a pamphlet for a performance art venue called "the freak show". blown away by what she sees emiko determines to reinvent herself as a superstar a la warhol's factory. of course she needs to find some sort of medium first, enter the babysitting job. while doing laundry one day emiko finds her employer's diary. it is a detailed sketch of dissatisfied suburban life, and forced adherence to the status quo. take a few great go go girl costumes and you've got the makings of a real superstar.

of course the ending is bittersweet. but isn't that always the way with summers?

Yotsuba&! Volumes 1 - 4 - Kiyohiko Azuma

yotsuba is a strange little green-haired girl who comes from somewhere to the left. it would seem that yotsuba was adopted by mr. koiwai while overseas. though the details of this remain unclear. they lived with koiwai's parents in the country. following his mother's death koiwai used his inheritance to purchase a place in the city, and the manga starts with yotsuba and koiwai moving in. yotsuba is incredibly energetic and amazed by the world around her, and before long she has adopted her neighbours as a extended family and is involving them in her zany adventures. yeah. i used the word 'zany'. so what? this is a sweet and funny manga series that is perfect for young people.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives Volumes 1 & 2 - Ellen Schreiber

raven is back. this time in graphic novel format. following in on the trend of making graphic novel adaptations of popular youth books: artemis fowl, daniel x, young bond, redwall, avalon high, and warriors just to name a few. the "vampire kisses" series of books is vampire romance at its fluffiest. the graphic novel makes it just that much lighter. volume 1 is a particularly insubstantial tome coming in at about 1/3 the length of a typical manga tankobon. if you enjoy the "vampire kisses" series and you like manga you'll probably still get a kick out of seeing how artist rem depicts all of the characters. the goth punk style of clothing is particualrly fun. but i still can't quite figure out the reason for such extreme brevity. perhaps just so they have to spread the series out over more volumes.

but, "what's the story about?" you might ask. and i might well answer. goth girl raven and her vampire boyfriend, alexander, are set upon by alexander's cousin claude and his gang. claude, a half-vampire, is intent on procuring vials of pure vampire blood that his and alexander's grandmother has hidden somewhere on her estate in dullsville. apparently claude's ingestion of these vials will enable him to become a full vampire. of course alexander is set on stopping him, fearing that claude is not capable of handling the powers of pure vampiredom. and so a struggle between to the two sides ensues. check out tripp, claude's geek-chic, cellphone addicted sidekick. stylistically speaking, he's by far my favourite of the newcomers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Generation Dead - Daniel Waters

vampire love stories have been done to death. ahem. werewolves aren't far behind. with all of this recent "twilight" mania sweeping the nation there's one classic monster who i'm sure was starting to feel a little left out. oh, those poor old zombies. zombies are never romantic heroes. zombies never get the girl. zombies always get shot in the head. (or if you take the advice of the zombie survival guide, the head should be severed with a blade, as blades don't need to be reloaded. my kendo sensei would argue that a blade would be problematic however as it would quickly dull. in fact we actually had this discussion at kendo just a few weeks ago.) anyway, the point of the matter is that zombies have been demonized for too long and it's about time someone gave the poor shuffling, moaning corpsicles a break. thank you daniel waters.
here you have it, "generation dead". for some reason american teenagers have been returning from the grave. however, they don't appear to be out for brains, so much as grades. they shuffle back home and attempt to pick up their lives where they were so abruptly cut off. of course, not everyone is happy to have the walking dead hanging around. some of them are abandoned by their families. some are killed again in zombie hate crimes. and some are not allowed to join the high school football team. of course, my calling them zombies would be considered a bit of a faux pas. in "generation dead" there are perfectly good pc terms for these guys: differently biotic or living impaired.
i quite liked this book. basically it is the story of tommy williams a zombie kid at oakvale high and phoebe the goth girl who falls in love with him. because relationships between zombies and "breathers" aren't really accepted this causes no end of problems. there's a love triangle; phoebe's good friend and neighbour, adam, is also in love with her, but is doing his best to support her. phoebe's best friend, the punky pink-haired margi is absolutely terrified of the zombies ever since her friend colette returned from the dead. and there's pete, your typical dumb bigoted football jock who's intent on causing problems for all of them. everything comes to a rather edge of your seat conclusion in the last few pages. my only complaint being that waters never addressed the issue of the somewhat dodgy zombie research facility. are they really good guys? or could they be responsible for a string of zombie deaths across the country?
ah well, nothing's perfect. and perhaps he's saving that for the sequel. it was nice to see the zombies get theirs for a change.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters

alexandria hyatt (*cough* paris hilton *cough*) is a spoiled little rich girl. think the flesh wastes of "my super sweet sixteen" (thank you charlie brooker for that vivid phrase). when she's caught shoplifting, a judge having a bad day decides that her lack of remorse demonstrates an attitude severely in need of adjustment. so he sentences her to a stint in a juvenile detention facility. at the end of the day the prosecution decides that they are willing to make a deal and offer alexandria a choice between serving a term in juvie or going to kenya with an organization called free the children where she will help build school houses. after a brief consideration she chooses the latter figuring it will be easy enough to avoid any real work and come home as if she's just had a vacation.

of course alexandria's pampered lifestyle sets her up for a bit of a reality check when she is faced with only having the bare essential on the compound once she gets to kenya. her fellow volunteers (alexandria is the only one participating against her will) are all so friendly and wholesome and the poverty of the people where they are working really start to get to her. of course she ends up experiencing things and meeting people that will ultimately change her for the better. a bit didactic , and the moral is obvious, but it's still a great read and i had trouble putting it down.

Broken Soup - Jenny Valentine

when rowan's brother jack died her family fell apart. since that day she's been busy just trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. her father has left and seems to be blind to the difficulties that rowan is now facing with a semi-catatonic mother and a six year old sister that she is now caring for on her own. and suddenly one day things begin to happen. a strange boy at the supermarket hands rowan a photo negative claiming he saw her drop it, although she's never seen it before. at school the next day rowan is introduced to bee who saw the exchange and is interested to see what is on the negative. they go back to bee's house where they develop the photo in the tub, which turns out to be a picture of jack laughing.

this mysterious event is just the beginning, and suddenly things are getting better for rowan as she allows herself and stroma to be drawn into relationships with the friendly, outgoing bee, her laid-back father, and cure baby brother, not to mention harper, the boy from the shop who is traveling the world and lives in an ambulance. all of these people help rowan start to build a family again, but unfortunately before things can really get better they must first get much worse.

i really loved this book, and the fun notebook graffiti cover should entice people to pick it up off the shelf.

Godchild Volumes 1 & 2 - Kaori Yuki

gothic mystery manga. i like it. told in a series of short stories that pretty much stand alone, it unlike a lot of manga that i've read it doesn't seem to focus much on a continuous developing plot.

the earl cain hargreaves is a young aristocrat in victorian england with a dark past. it is said that like his namesake he is cursed by god. having endured a brutal childhood he now attempts to get on with his life while taking care of his young charge, his half sister, mary weather. wherever cain and mary weather travel though, it seems that trouble is never far behind.

all of the stories have a dark gothic tone to them that suggest the supernatural, but tend to have everyday explanations. think du maurier's "rebecca", wilde's "the picture of dorian gray" and conan doyle's "sherlock holmes" as shojo. and you're starting to get the picture.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jellaby - Kean Soo

here it is. the 50th post of 2008. i did it. i have officially read 50 books this year. take that 50 book challenge! if you're interested google "50 book challenge" and check it out. mind you i've actually read much more than 50 books this year, but i only blog about the kid and teen books i read. i decided that my reading of grown up books shouldn't come with additional homework.

i think "jellaby" is a good book to hit 50 with. a graphic novel i've been meaning to read for a while. thank you kean soo for such a cute book. told in shades of purple, with the odd dash of colour, such as portia's red hair clip or jason's orange t-shirt, i couldn't help but be reminded of "harold and the purple crayon". and you could certainly do worse than that.

when portia and her mom move to a new town, portia has difficulty making new friends. of course i'm sure it doesn't help when her classmates are giving book reports on "horton hatches the egg" and portia decides to do "reason and emotion: classical and romantic philosophies in tom stoppard's arcadia". thankfully this is the only bit of academia in the book, otherwise i'm sure it would alienate it's intended audience.

one night portia looks out her window to see a strange dragon-like creature running off into the woods. she gives chase and brings the lost and frightened creature home with her. this is jellaby. although jellaby is a creature of few words, he is very expressive, and has a well-defined sense of right and wrong. when portia and jellaby witness the school bullies picking on the aforementioned jason, jellaby spurs portia to action. the three become friends and decide to work together to get jellaby to toronto where he will hopefully be reunited with his family. there's a great illustration of a go train station that really brought me back to my days in outer suburbia.

a wonderful graphic novel by a regular contributor to the popular "flight" anthologies.

Ways to Live Forever - Sally Nicholls

this is a sad book. so, if you're going to read it make sure you have a box of tissues handy. "ways to live forever" is the story of sam, an 11 year old boy dying of leukemia. told in the first person, in the form of diary entries, lists, and stories, sam shares with readers his memories and dreams.

nicholls' character is a smart, creative boy, whose questions about the bigger picture (life the universe and everything) have a certain urgency, due to his illness. sam spends a lot of time thinking about death. where do you go when you die? does dying hurt? how do you know you are dead? what if you were accidentally buried alive? his home tutor encourages him to do research to discover the answers to these questions.

sam is a lovable child, and his inevitable death, coinciding with the end of the book, although expected, is nonetheless incredibly sad. nicholl's deals with the death of a very real seeming boy in a very real seeming way. perhaps a good book to help those who know someone who is suffering from a terminal illness.

High School Debut Volumes 1 to 4 - Kazune Kawahara

this is possibly the cheesiest manga i've read in a long time. and that's saying something. but for some reason, despite the incredibly high levels of cheese (thank goodness i'm not lactose intolerant), i really like this series. it probably takes me about 30 minutes to run through an entire tankobon, so there's not really much in the way of a time commitment. and it's fluff, pure and simple, so there's not really much in the way of any sort of mental commitment either. and some days that's a good thing.

"high school debut" is the story of middle school jock haruna, who decides that when she enters high school she will put away the cleats in favour of high heels and try to make herself over to be more girly in order to get a boyfriend. needless to say haruna's natural inclinations lie more toward sweatpants and trainers, and her understanding of how to appear more feminine is culled from various teen girl magazines. try to imagine living your life based on rules laid out in "cosmo girl", "ym" and "seventeen". long story short; it's a complete disaster.

haruna decides she may need a little help with this goal, and decides to enlist the help of a coach, a "love coach". she chooses a cute upperclassman named yoh. she actually walks up to the guy and asks him to help train her to be more attractive. of course, no shock here, yoh looks at haruna like she's an alien, says "no", and walks away. this being a romantic high school manga though, yoh eventually changes his mind and agrees to coach haruna under one condition, she mustn't fall for him. well, we all know where this is going, right? right.

if you like fluffy manga in the spirit of "ouran high school host club" or "lovely complex" you might also get a kick out of "high school debut", just be sure to take your lactaid ahead of time.

Getting the Girl - Susan Juby

i've never read anything by susan juby before, though we do have all of her books at the library. but when this one came in i thought it looked kind of fun so i took it home. it's a fairly thick little book, a good 341 pages long, but it's light reading and i finished it in an evening sitting on the couch waiting for g. to get home from work.

sherman mack is a bit of a nerd, though he fancies himself a real ladies' man. much of his life is devoted to trying to make the women/girls around him feel good, and helping them out in anyway he can. sherman really is a nice guy, even if his somewhat overuse of the terms "mack daddy" (does anyone actually say that anymore?) and "the ladies" (ew) does get a little tiresome at times. however, nice guys aren't necessarily the popular guys, and such is the case with sherm.

when sherman starts grade 9 at harewood high he becomes aware of the school's sick tradition of "defiling" girls. when a girl is "defiled" her picture is stuck in all of the bathrooms with a big "D" on it, and from that point onward she is a social pariah, and can expect all sorts of rumours of the most heinous sort to be spread about her. sherman believes that his current crush interest is in grave danger of being the next girl to be d-listed, and so he vows to do everything in his power to find out who is behind the defilings and expose the truth.

armed with his friend vanessa's detective books, a talent for cookery, and a team of devoted if somewhat inept friends, sherman may have just what it takes to bring justice to the halls of harewood high.

Aya and Aya of Yop City - Marguerite Abouet

a pair of beautifully packaged graphic novels depicting urban middle class life in the ivory coast in the 1970s. the story (started in "aya" and continued in "aya of yop city") focuses on a female high school student named aya, her two girlfriends adjoua and bintou, and their families. i really enjoyed these two books. clement oubrerie's illustrations offer wonderful depictions of abouet's simple story about young women growing up in africa. sort of how "persepolis" offered us a glimpse into the life of a young woman growing up in revolutionary iran, "aya" gives us a glimpse of growing up in africa. one of the nice things about this story is that abouet presents the africa of her childhood, and although in abouet's africa things are not perfect, this is also not the negatively sensationalized africa of the evening news plagued by war, famine and aids. if you are a fan of more mature graphic novels like "persepolis" or guy delisle's travelogues, i highly recommend taking the time to read "aya" and "aya of yop city".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Imaginary Enemy - Julie Gonzalez

wha?! i was pretty confused for the first half of this book. we had it catalogued as ya, but our protagonist, jane, spends the entire first 109 pages progressing from elementary through to middle school. it's not until page 110 that she actually hits high school. so you can understand my confusion. here i am reading a ya book and the main character is only in grade 2. for a long time. not just a quick flashback to explain everything that came before.

"imaginary enemy" is the story of jane white, who feels like the only neutral colour in a box of saturated primaries. her siblings and her neighbours all revel in their eccentricities while jane decides to toe the line of the status quo in search of popularity and acceptance. two things that seem to elude her. her desire to fit in ends up alienating her from the people who care about er the most.

however, jane isn't as normal as she'd like to think. perhaps the best example of this being her imaginary enemy beelzebub, who she writes to whenever things go wrong in her life. events seem to come to a head though when bubba starts writing back.

The Stowaway - R. A. and Geno Salvatore

back when i was living in london my roommate g. was all into the "forgotten realms" books, especially the ones starring everyone's favourite dark elf, drizzt. if you don't know the "forgotten realms" think "dungeons and dragons" or "dragonlance" and you've got a pretty good idea. of course he managed to get me into them as well, and we had some good arguments about how you actually pronounce drizzt; would it be like drizz-it or drissed? i was also able to get him to visit the public library in town to fulfill his "forgotten realms" addiction. good times.

ok, now fast forward. the year is 2008 and salvatore, the creator of drizzt has released a "forgotten realms" book for younger readers co-written with his son geno. drizzt is on the cover and i'm sure he was one of the book's main selling points. however, he's really only a bit player in this particular series. here the main character is a young boy named maimun who possesses a stone that presumably has some sort of magical powers that only he can control. unfortunately maimun doesn't have a clue what the stone does so he just carries it around with him everywhere. although maimun doesn't have a clue about the stone it appears that a demon named asbeel does and he really wants the stone, enough to devote many years to tracking maimun and murdering everyone who offers him refuge. ok, so this is your typical high fantasy set it a pre-industrialized world populated by every sort of fantasy creature you can imagine.

but does it succeed? is it a good book? well, it certainly wasn't as engrossing as salvatore's drizzt books, and perhaps trying to sell it as another volume in the saga of drizzt does it a diservice. i didn't love it. however, i'm sure there are lots of people out there who will. and it would be a great suggestion for kids who are into high fantasy and read the junior "dragonlance" books or series like "ranger's apprentice".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr

well, here's another one to add to the list. i really do love dark urban fantasy, and i'm happy to count melissa marr among other great authors of the genre like charles de lint, holly black, pamela dean, and o. r. melling. "wicked lovely" is the story of a high school girl named aislinn who has the dubious gift of being able to see faeries. and they are apparently everywhere. however, since most 'normal' people can't see faeiries aislinn has had to spend her whole life pretending she can't see them or else terrible things might happen. all has been going well and good until the faeries begin to take an interest in her. suddenly ignoring them isn't working anymore. and she's not going to be able to run away. when the summer king decides he wishes to take aislinn for his bride, aislinn must find a way to trick the trickster or else risk losing everything and everyone she loves.

Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf - Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

seems like this is going to be another fun series from the author/illustrator team that brought us the edgeworld chronicles. "barnaby grimes" is a victorian gothic thriller set in the streets of a fictionalized london, england. riddell's illustrations lend the story an air of steampunk as well, which i quite enjoyed. this is the story of barnaby grimes, a tick-tock lad (errand boy) who delivers everything from packages and messages to observations on the aggressiveness of the local bullfinch population. barnaby's preferred method of getting from points a to b is referred to as "highstacking", which is not at all unlike parkour (look it up), which takes him across the chimney's of his city. one fateful night barnaby happens across a large and vicious wolf, which he is luckily able to do away with by knocking it into a vat of glue. however, when he retraces his steps to investigate he discovers that an old friend of his appears to have been a victim of the wolf, though there is nothing left of his body. concerned and curious barnaby utilizes his considerable sleuthing abilities to find out more about the mysterious wolf. barnaby is eventually lead to the door of dr. cadwallader's clinic, and that's when things start to get really dangerous. this is an easy to read story that will be perfect for young people who want a bit of a darker element in the story. however, be warned, this book does get a little gruesome in places and the illustrations (particularly the first one) are somewhat disturbing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle - Catherine Webb

holy smokes, what is up with these youthful writers? webb, fan, paolini. geesh, its enough to make a girl in her twenties weep. i had a friend in high school that figured he'd better have his first book published before he was 25 or he would be too old for it to have any significance. i dunno about that, but when i read that "catherine webb was just 14 when she wrote her extraordinary debut, mirror dreams." i can't help but feel a little twinge of jealousy. and i don't even have any designs toward authorship. this blog notwithstanding.

"horatio lyle" is victorian adventure story about cynical inventor/policeman horatio lyle, reformed thief tess (to a mr. hardy she claims her last name to be 'derbyville', wink, wink, nudge, nudge), and an aristocrat in search of some excitement named thomas. together horatio, tess, and thomas must stop a group of supernatural beings known as the tseiqin, which seem to be some sort of fairy/vampire cross, from obtaining the fuyun plate, an object of power that will enable them to take over the world and destroy the human race. it's fairly on the edge of your seat exciting, and if you know kids who enjoy a good adventure story, or who like something with a touch of the supernatural then 'horatio lyle' should be a good recommendation.

as an aside, this book made me think of 'hellboy II: the golden army". in 'hellboy II" we're presented with a villain whose aim is to wipe out all of mankind. however, i found it rather hard to hate him for it, and i thought he actually had a pretty good argument. essentially mankind has so royally messed up the planet that the only way to save the earth is to eliminate man. and although, being a human and marked for extermination i would find it hard to sincerely cheer him on, i also found i didn't entirely disagree. this state of mind echoed the desires of the tseiqin in 'horatio lyle'. the tseiqin desired the destruction of mankind not so much so that they could rule, but so they could halt the environmental destruction they saw happening during the industrial revolution. how can you really argue with that? so yes, the tseiqin may be the bad guys, but i find it hard to view them as entirely reprehensible.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Off to War - Deborah Ellis

i credit deborah ellis' "three wishes" with really opening my eyes to the whole israeli-palestinian conflict. yes, before anyone thinks i'm completely lost under a rock in the boonies somewhere, i was well aware of the conflict before, but in typical detached north american fashion i never really stopped to wonder where it all started. i do know that i had wondered, and continued to wonder why the palestinians and the israelis couldn't simply agree to disagree on some issues, but still manage to live together peacefully and equitably. that, i believe, remains a very good question. "three wishes" was a deeply moving and disturbing book. it is even more to its credit that several groups attempted (and succeeded in some places) to get it banned.

"off to war" is ellis' next non-fiction offering that examines the plight of children affected by war. this time we are presented with an issue that is perhaps a little closer to home. the children of canadian and american soldiers who have experienced what it is like to have one or both parents sent away to fight in a war. there is incredible contrast among these children in how they react to their parent's departure. some fully support the wars, and their parents, whereas some actively take part in the anti-war movement. some children seem to have been practically indoctrinated by the military to believe that the government is infallible and the wars that their parents are involved in are necessary to protect their personal freedoms. some question the validity of all that they hear. some are far too young to fully comprehend. i have my own personal beliefs when it comes to canadian and american involvement in iraq and afghanistan. it is always good to hear the opinions of others on such weighty matters, and especially to hear the voices of those more directly affected by such conflicts. the one thing that manages to come through crystal clear, through all of the different points of view, is that war creates victims out of those who are not even given a voice in the conflict. as grown-ups make decisions to go to war and kill each other and destroy families and cities and countries it will always be the children who are forced to deal with the outcomes, however brutal.

i look forward to ellis' next book in this series, "children of war: voices of iraqi refugees" to be published by groundwood books. also, i would like to encourage people to buy their own copies of this book as ellis donates all royalties to the children is crisis fund (

The Willoughbys - Lois Lowry

what i really want to do is first get something off of my chest that's been bugging me ever since i read lowry's most recent offering... hasn't she managed to firmly ensconce herself enough in the annals of modern children's literature via "the giver" that she doesn't need to stoop to the level of writing yet another book to add to the piles of lemony snickett read-alikes? i mean, really... really? phew, now i feel better. i started off this book hating it, and feeling not a little bit contemptuous toward it. i even debated not finishing it. and believe me, i'm the sort of person who leaves literal tides of unfinished books in my wake. life is too short for unenjoyable literature. sure, i read my fair share of trash, but i'll be the first to admit that everyone needs a little fluff to round out their literary diet. but, for some reason i didn't simply throw this book on the floor in disgust and move onto the next thing in my pile. no, i stuck it out. and somewhere along the line i changed from being irritated by it to quite enjoying it. strange that.

this is the story of the willoughby children. four old-fashioned children, who face challenges and peril with good old-fashioned ingenuity and perseverance. actually, i'm not quite sure there's really much in the way of perseverance, though there is quite of a bit of ingenuity to make up for it. it seems that they have read most of the classics of children's literature and fancy themselves to be somewhat like the characters in those well-loved tales. to that end they endeavour to rid themselves of their beastly parents, because all good, old-fashioned children are orphans. everyone knows that, i mean look at oliver twist and anne shirley for goodness sake. full of sarcasm and mildly dark humour this is a good book to recommend to fans of lemony snicket's series, though you'll need to have more than this ready at hand as it is fairly short and they'll be back soon enough looking for something else.

Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum, Peril and Romance - Marthe Jocelyn

"mable riley" is a story taking place during the early days of the suffragist movement in rural ontario. jocelyn's protagonist, the title character of the book, bears a bit more than a passing resemblance to another favourite canadian heroine. if you guessed the indomitable anne shirley you'd be spot on. like anne, mable is unable to fit into the prescribed notions of young womanhood that colour her era. she is inclined to speak her voice, and is driven to take action to right perceived wrongs, than to simply wait for someone else to take care of things. she can't comprehend an acceptable life of marriage and housewifery, instead dreaming of world travel and fame as a writer. like anne, these things mean that mable is bound to find conflict among the more proper citizens of her community. however, also like anne, her effervescent spirit ensures she also has many supporters. unlike anne, mable's story is used as a sounding block through which children can be introduced to the very real and perilous struggle that was the suffragist movement. mable's friendship with mrs. rattle, a local suffragist opens her eyes to the unfair plight of women in the later part of the 19th century. this is a great book for young girls to learn about an important movement in canadian and feminist history. i'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially fans of canadian historical fiction while they're waiting for the next "dear canada" book to hit the shelves.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Vampire Diaries - L. J. Smith

when these books showed up on the new york times bestseller lists i nearly peed myself laughing. it's so funny because "the vampire diaries" were written in 1991. that's 17 years ago. i probably read them initially nearly that many years ago. and now, because vampires are hot thanks to "twilight", l.j. smith's books finally hit the bestseller lists. weird. or at least i think it is. really, i'd be interested to know how unusual of an occurrence it is for a book to spend nearly 20 years in limbo before being noticed.

well, all things considered, when "the vampire diaries" came into the library i had to read them. mostly for the nostalgia. i was expecting trash, and i was not let down. yes, these are trashy, trashy vampire romance novels. but just because it's trash doesn't mean it can't be good fun. if you have readers who are into twilight or ellen schreiber's "vampire kisses" series, they'll really sink their teeth into these (pun definitely intended).

so, what are "the vampire diaries" about you may ask. well, wait for a moment and i will tell you. here goes: v. attractive centuries old italian vampire shows starts attending a high school in a small town in virginia. v. attractive high school prom queen falls in love with said vampire. they start dating. vampire's equally attractive but slightly more sinister brother shows up. supernatural love triangle ensues. *cough* twilight *cough*. no, seriously, there's nothing wrong with that. i mean its kind of its own subgenre by now, right?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The New Policeman - Kate Thompson

here it is, august 25th, and the summer's nearly over. labour day weekend's coming up and the kids will all be returning to school next week. although it's been a couple of years since i was last in school, the beginning of september always manages to make me feel a little melancholic. it marks the consummation of those lazy summer days, and it makes me think that sometimes time moves much too fast for my liking. doesn't it seem like july just barely started and here we are at the end of august?

with all of that in mind i really couldn't have chosen a better time to read "the new policeman". jj liddy lives in the county of kinvara in ireland. his family is well-known throughout the county for the incredible ceilis they've been hosting for generations. however, lately it seems as though time is moving faster than it ever has. of course everyone finds things to attribute it to: computers, extracurriculars, cars, etc. and really, who doesn't feel that way? with all of these modern demands there barely seems to be time to truly enjoy and experience life to the fullest. but is that all it really is?

when jj asks his mother what she wants for her upcoming birthday, her response is simply "time". and so, perhaps taking this a little more literally than most would be inclined to, jj sets off to buy his mother some time. and not just in the form of a nice wristwatch. jj sets off to do something about the general feeling of being pressed for time that has invaded his household, and indeed the world. of course this being ireland, you can bet that this is a good point for the fairies to make an appearance and jj's quest takes him through a souterrain and into tir na nog.

this is a quietly brilliant book that addresses a feeling that tends to increase as one gets older. i don't remember time going by as quickly when i was much younger. perhaps it's because the younger you are each day represents a larger fraction of your life. yes, i've spent some time thinking on this. however, back to the book. although i really enjoyed this book i'm not sure how well it would truly resonate with children, and the lack of "real" action may count against it. although it was awarded one of britain's most prestigious book awards in 2005, the whitbread (now costa: gah it's been taken over by the starbucks of britain) it should be noted that the awards are decided by adults and not children. and perhaps that's something to keep in mind more generally.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Life Sucks - Jessica Abel

abel's graphic novel offers up a hilarious addition to an already well-populated canon of vampire lit. if "clerks" and "buffy the vampire slayer" managed to procreate, "life sucks" would be the result of that unholy union.

dave miller is a vampire stuck in a dead end job. he's the night manager at the last stop convenience store. dave is to dante as his buddy jerome is to randall. dave is the conscientious schmuck that is not only doomed to an eternal hell of vampiric convenience store employment, but must also compete for the affections of human goth beauty rosa with his psychotic surfer jock tormentor wes.

and if that's not the makings of a classic movie, i don't know what is. though i must warn you, i thought the harold and kumar movies were quite witty.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paul Goes Fishing - Michel Rabagliati

i really do love paul. i read "paul moves out" a couple of years ago and was really blown away by the honesty of it. although rabagliati's "paul" books can be read as standalones, "paul goes fishing" is actually a continuation of "paul moves out". paul and lucie are settled into their new apartment and settling into life as "real grown-ups". these are lovely quiet books, that ring so true to life i have to keep reminding myself that paul is not michel. rabagliati has a way of celebrating and immortalizing the real day-to-day lives of his characters. of course, he does find ways to tie in, through paul's musings, comments on society and provide a larger picture of the world that paul and his friends and family inhabit, but it is done in a very natural way. very much as though you or i were walking down the street and something like the building of a new large drug store caused us to think about the old building that had been torn down and what this new structure would do to the downtown. if you want a book to read while on your summer vacation that will make you smile in small ways, then may i suggest "paul goes fishing"?

Chiggers - Hope Larson

this was an incredibly nostalgic read for me. it brought back memories of summer camp, and the social networks that develop in that strange insulated environment. i loved summer camp, and went every year until i was too old to be a camper any longer. i was never a very strong swimmer so i wasn't able to get the requisite life guarding credentials required by most camps to be a counselor. but i suppose that is besides the point. larson's story about a young girl's summer at camp rings absolutely true. abby is back at the same summer camp she returns to every year. but things seem to have changed, and her friends from previous years all seem to have matured a little faster than she has. she is left feeling like a third wheel much of the time, and pining for the way their relationships had been in previous summers. when one of her bunk mates is sent home following an infestation of chiggers (which sounds wholly unpleasant i might add), a new girl named shasta is assigned in her place. shasta is a little weird and somewhat fae in nature and she is immediately disliked by most of the girls who think she is just trying to be cool. however, abby seems to connect with shasta and to her old friends' dismay she starts spending time with the new girl. a wonderful story about summer relationships and girls growing up, a book to be enjoyed by anyone who has ever spent any time at summer camp.

Three Shadows - Cyril Pedrosa

"three shadows" is pedrosa's response to the death of his friend's child at a young age. really, the book is an allegory on death, and how we deal with the loss of a loved one. one evening, from his bedroom window, young joachim sees three shadowy figures sitting on horseback. these unmoving figures appear to be watching his home. frightened he calls for his parents. their reaction to the figures is one of fear and anger. as joachim's parents attempt to keep him safe, strange events are occurring with frightening regularity that leads us to believe that the shadowy figures are not of this world. it would seem that there is nothing that can be done. but, louis, joachim's father, is desperate to save his child and will go to incredible lengths to do so. this is a powerful story, both frightening and sad about how one family is able to deal with the unshakable presence of death. a truly excellent mature graphic novel.

Monday, July 14, 2008

King of the Lost and Found - John Lekich

raymond dunne is a swooner. and a bleeder. and a sneezer. high school junior, raymond doesn't seem to have a lot going for him. he wakes up several times a week, flat out on the hall floor of his school surrounded by people's feet. he is a member of his school's "accelerated leadership" program, and he is the self-proclaimed "king of the lost and found". in short, raymond dunne is a nerd. things start to change for him when two popular grade 12 students take an interest in him. janice, perfectionist extraordinaire, is following raymond for an extra credit psychology project. she figures his many afflictions make him a fascinating subject. jack, former basketball star turned loner, is interested in raymond's lost and found booth, or rather what's behind it. together, raymond and jack team up to bring a little bit of happiness to their fellow students at "the grave". this is the nickname given to their seemingly joyless school, run with an iron fist by principal dr. goodrich, who has outlawed all junk food and who patrols the halls handing out good citizenship points or demerits as she sees fit. this has turned hargrave high into a particularly joyless place. but now jack has a plan to rectify that, and he's planning to take raymond along for the ride. a good fun read. made me think of those brat pack movies from the 80s, like "the breakfast club" or "pretty in pink". it just had that sort of feel, and quirky innocence to it, despite the fact that it was only published last year.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

so card was awarded this fairly prestigious award this year, the yalsa lifetime achievement award for young adult literature. of course, due to card's (depending on what side of the fence you're on) contentious politics, there was a huge flap over him being granted this honour. the big question is, how much should our reading be influenced by the personal views of the author? i'm aware of card's political views (some of which i like and some of which i hate), but only because people made a big deal about him. otherwise i would have continued happily along, totally oblivious to what he thought about gay marriage rights, and would have judged his literature solely upon what was contained therein. the more i think about it, the more i think that that should be the way it is. i don't know what meg cabot's politics are, and yet i read her books. i couldn't tell you whether or not meg rosoff supports gay marriage, and i certainly couldn't tell you who charles de lint voted for in the last canadian election. and yet, i will happily continue reading their books without knowing any of that stuff, or even trying to find out. and perhaps that is the way it should be.

anyway, do this little debate i decided to read "ender's game". i'm not generally a sci-fi fan. i'm not that into alien races, space travel, and wars to save humanity. however, i did kind of enjoy "ender's game". "ender's game" takes place on a future earth, which is suffering from overpopulation. space travel has been developed. and the government seems somewhat dictatorial. in the past humans have experienced two wars with an alien race known as "the buggers", due to their resemblance of large bugs. a third war is eminent, and thus all of mankind is united in preparing to fight this threat. children are selected at a young age (6 years) and sent to battle school where they are constantly immersed in battle games, kind of like high stakes lazer tag or video games. to the children it all seems like a game, but really it is preparation for something much more serious. because young children are so easily molded and learn so quickly, they are the optimal choice for new soldiers. of course this brings up all sorts of questions about child soldiers, the greater good and all that.

because i am a nerd, i couldn't help seeing similarities between "ender's game" and "naruto". the characters in "naruto" are all selected from a young age to become ninja and dedicate their lives to protecting their countries by killing enemies. and this is a cartoon. i enjoyed "ender's game", it really is a good book. it didn't influence my politics. at all. it's the beginning of a science fiction saga, and i can't imagine such a thing changing the way i live and think in the real world. and that's what it comes down to, orson scott card, a man, with his own personal thoughts, writing a work of science fiction for people to read and enjoy. i would like to say though, that after becoming more familiar with "ender's game", that i now disagree with card being given the yalsa lifetime achievement award, because i'm pretty sure his books were written with an adult audience in mind, not teenagers. but that's a whole other debate, and i'm not sure i can be bothered.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

the. best. book. of. the. year. hands down, no kidding. i could literally not stop reading this until i finished it. cory doctorow, co-editor of "boing boing" writes the "little brother" to orwell's "1984". marcus, aka w1n5t0n, is a teenaged hacker whose group of friends are involved in an online/real world game called "harajuku fun madness". one day, while skipping school to find the latest "harajuku fun madness" clue, they find themselves caught up in a terrorist attack and taken in by the department of homeland security. when marcus is finally released from jail a week later he can't believe how much his world has changed. in the wake of the largest terrorist attack since 9/11, san francisco finds itself a mini police state. everything is controlled by a paranoid government, and san francisco is fast becoming very scary. marcus, a natural rule breaker, finds that these restrictions to his inalienable rights and freedoms are a little too much to bear, gets to work hacking, and gathers a group of young people (don't trust anyone over 25) who set out to bring down the system. set in the united states of the near future, doctorow makes use of real and existing technology in "little brother" and succeeds in even geeting a n008 like myself thinking about security and technology issues. there is an awesome bibliography in the back. i would recommend this book to anyone, teens and grown-ups, who are feeling up to a revolutionary and exciting read this summer.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Holes - Louis Sachar

another one to add to the list of books it took me way too long to get around to reading. "holes" was awarded the prestigious newbery medal in 1999. it's remained consistently popular over the years and my library definitely ensures we maintain a circulating copy. so, with the knowledge of the aforementioned list in my mind, i decided that i want to make a concerted effort this summer to spend some time catching up on blockbuster junior and young adult titles that i never read at the height of their popularity. "the golden compass" is another one of these. "eragon" was another one. i tried to get through it back in april, but i have to admit (and this will probably set me up for attack by legions of rabid paolini fans) i just didn't dig it. probably has something to do with the fact that although i do enjoy fantasy, i don't tend to like dragons. go figure. much more into elves and vampires. but oh well, it takes all kinds.

back to "holes". what a great book! i can't believe i put off reading it for so long. it definitely deserved the recognition it got. "holes", in case you are slow getting around to it also, is the story of stanley yelnats, who is wrongfully convicted and sentenced to a juvenile facility for stealing a pair of running shoes. the juvenile facility possesses the seemingly facetious name, "camp greenlake", is located in a barren texan desert. the kids serving time there are expected to dig a five foot square hole every day in the blistering texas heat. i'm pretty sure this cruel and unusual form of punishment would be considered illegal, but for the sake of the book i am willing to let that slide. suspension of disbelief if you will. "holes" is about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of injustice, but is told with sachar's dry dark humour (which i've just made sound inaccessible, but really it isn't). i can absolutely see why nearly a decade later "holes" continues to maintain the interest of young readers.

Submarine - Joe Dunthorne

is it possible for a coming of age epistolary set in britain to not put the reader in mind of a certain adrian mole, aged 13 3/4? something tells me it isn't. young mole has so permeated most people's consciousness that even the authors of such books do not attempt to mask the fact that their work will be compared to townsend's and have a (not unfunny) tendency to make comparisons themselves within the text. this is of course the case with joe dunthorne's "submarine".

oliver tate, "submarine's" main character and narrator parallel's the eponymous mole in various ways. however, despite this, oliver is a unique character unto himself. i can't help but like him, even though i think him a bit of a freak. oliver seems to be absorbed in a world all his own. it's a world peppered with obscure vocabulary, daytime tv self help talk shows, sexual awakening, imperfect parents, and several slightly bizarre instances of stalkerish behaviour. i think i would have like to have been oliver's friend in high school despite his somewhat serious case of social awkwardness. it seems that his self-directed melodramas never fail to keep his life interesting. i recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed adrian mole. but remember, this is a bit more of a modern take on the teenaged experience and as such is prone to be somewhat more honest and graphic.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last Exit to Normal - Michael Harmon

i really liked this book. i liked it so much that when i got home from work the other night i pretty much just sat on the couch and rad until it was done. "the last exit to normal" is a coming of age story told from the pov of 17 year old ben campbell. ben's life has been rather difficult the past few years due to the fact that his dad came out and his mother left. since then ben has had to accept the fact of his father's homosexuality and come to grips with his mother's abandonment. mostly, he has chosen to do neither of these things and has let his anger lead him on a downward spiral of drugs and skateboarding. at 17 ben suddenly decides that enough is enough and that he's ready to clean up his act and make peace with his dad. this seems to be a rather mature decision for a 17 year old to make, but what the hey, i'll let it go. unfortunately, ben seems unable to keep out of trouble for very long and he is soon involved in a car chase with the police that culminates with him driving into a house. understandably his dad is unimpressed and he decides to uproot ben and move to rough butte montana, ben's momdad's (the name ben uses for his dad's partner) hometown.

ben's move to rough butte sees ben having to come to terms with many of his prejudices. as a city boy he views the inhabitants of rough butte as hicks and rednecks. ben's skate punk style is severely out of place among the more conservative population in his new town. in terms of his dad's sexual orientation, ben assumes that everyone in rough butte will be homophobic and that things for him as well as his father will be rough. this provides an opportunity for ben's own homosexual prejudices to show themselves. and finally, there is the boy next door who ben believes is being abused by his father, but he is told time and time again to let it slide because people in rough butte have their own ways. i could take tonnes of time and space here and go on about deeper meanings to all of this stuff. however, i will instead suggest that you read this book and make up your own mind.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Maid Machinegun - Aaliyah

ooookay. i did know that this novel was set in a maid cafe in tokyo's akihabara district (apparently the place to be if you happen to be any kind of otaku living in japan). so, it's a bit of a weird concept to begin with, but considering how hot japanese culture (manga/anime culture specifically) is right now, i thought, 'what the heck, could be fun". to be honest it wasn't quite as fun as i thought it would be. the narrator is a 15 year old girl named aaliyah who is passionate about dedicating herself to doing the best she can working as a maid. her dream is to see her cafe one day become very successful. she seems to have no life outside of the cafe, and doesn't appear to attend school or have a family or any friends aside from the people in the cafe. the word "maid" is used almost to excess in order to convey her obsessiveness. and then, right at the end, we get a rather bizarre twist. now all that said, it's pretty good for explaining various details about manga culture that some people aren't familiar with and introducing the world of japanese manga fandom and cosplay. but i'm just not too sure about it, am i?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

God Save the Queen - Mike Carey

absolutely brilliant. a dark urban fantasy in graphic novel form. i'd put this right up there with bill willingham's fables. the story of a battle for the realms of faery between two famous queens: titania and mab. although titania and mab are both shakespearean creations, they are depicted in "god save the queen" as the representatives of the seelie and unseelie courts. under titania's rule faery is beautiful and light, under mab it it dark and torturous. neither is good of course, i mean these are faeries we're talking about. not quite the cute little disney-fied pixies of contemporary creation. it seems that the one being with the key to turn the tides of the battle in titainia's favour is a young changling who is unaware of her faery heritage. stop me if you've heard this one before. i know, i know, it's been done (holly black, cassandra clare, o. r. melling and charles de lint to name but a few) but i'm not complaining because carey does it quite well. the art is awesome and the story's as good as anything you'll get from neil gaiman. my only complaint is that there's a few too many gratuitous underwear scenes. but then, what do i expect, it is a comic book after all.

Tank Girl: The Gifting - Alan Martin

i saw the tank girl movie back in high school. probably in grade 10 or 11. i thought it was awesome. the creators of tank girl and the fans of the comic book series that spawned the movie all hated it. alan martin and jamie hewlett, tank girl's creators, hated the movie so much they actually gave up on the whole thing and locked tank girl away. hewlett of course went on to fame and fortune by teaming up with blur's damon albarn to create the gorillaz. ok, so here's the thing. i know the movie was a flop, and is hated by all who loved the comic so dearly before its production. however, as a teenager i saw the film, loved the anarchy of it and went off in search of the (at that time) incredibly hard to find original comics. it was then that i realized that the comics were in fact way cooler than the movie, and that hewlett was a comic god.

so, now hewlett's away and working on the gorillaz and martin comes back with a new tg graphic novel. with new artists. 3 of them. and the result? every bit as raunchy and nasty as the original tank girl (of course, because martin's still writing). but the art is something else entirely. the character designs are a little different, a little sketchier i think, and i find the panels can be a little difficult to decipher at times. the printing style is totally monochromatic and very retro with the screen printing dots very obvious. i'm not sure yet if i love it or hate it. it didn't resonate quite so well as the originals, but then i am a little older now and a little more boring, so that might have something to do with it. what i do love about this new offering though is the cover. which is way different from anything you would have ever seen in the originals. essentially, it's a semi-abstract oil painting of tank girl running with her tank in the background. even if i don't ever come to love the stories i would have bought this book for the cover art and ashley wood's tank girl gallery at the back of the book. for that alone.

Tommy Sullivan is a Freak - Meg Cabot

another plane book. i actually had about 4 or 5 books with me for the flights to and from england. 7 hour flights. just an indication of how my ability to concentrate on any one thing for an extended period of time goes right out of the window when i find myself worrying about fiery doom. it is very important to ensure that i have several book choices with me. i mean can you imagine the horror if i'd only brought one book with me and found out that i didn't like it, or even worse, i finished it before the flight was over? gah. just thinking about it is stressful.

anyway, that's all besides the point. what i really want to talk about here is "tommy sullivan is a freak" by another of the chick lit greats, meg cabot. i tend to really enjoy meg cabot's books. she's a bit of a guilty pleasure isn't she? like sophie kinsella. yes, you may read their books and enjoy the spice girls-esque girl power nature of them, but you're not going to show up at a gallery opening and try and make conversation about them. i'm just saying. and that being said, i don't think i'd talk much about reading "tommy sullivan is a freak" a whole lot regardless of where i happened to be. this is honestly, one of the worst meg cabot books i have ever read. i know that cabot is notoriously fluffy, but this is beyond fluff. the main character, katie ellison, is popular, pretty and smart. although the only way you'd ever know that katie is apparently smart is because she keeps reminding you about her grade point average throughout the book. if she didn't do this i wouldn't blame you for thinking that katie doesn't have two brain cells to rub together. katie is also dating uber jock and high school heart throb seth turner. she's not all that into him though because she's constantly making out with or thinking about making out with various other boys. every page seems to be a litany of how hot this guy or another is. it gets old fast. katie is supposed to be the girl with character, but she comes across as way too vapid to ever make it believable. if you like meg cabot go ahead and read the rest of her bibliography, but give this one a miss.
note: apparently in england the book is called "tommy sullivan is a freak" and over here in canada it's call "pants on fire" thus explaining why the jacket picture and the title from the review seem a little at odds.

Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella

i had to fly to england a couple of weeks ago and decided that i needed some very light reading material for the plane. i am a notoriously bad flyer and needed something that would not be stressful at all. so, back to that old, reliable stand-by, chick lit! although i'm not a fan of kinsella's shopaholic series, i do actually really enjoy her other stand alone titles. "remember me?" is her newest standalone offering, and i was quite looking forward to it. lucky for me it did not disappoint. it wasn't enough to fully take my mind off of the fact that i was 36,000 feet up in the air, nothing except possibly prescription medication would do that, but it certainly didn't add any extra stress either. thanks to kinsella for that.

the story is about a young woman, lexi smart, who wakes up following a nasty bump on the head to find that she is suffering from amnesia. lexi's memory abruptly stops about 3 years prior to the current date. although not a lot of time to miss out on - she does remember who she is, she knows her mother, she remembers going clubbing with friends 3 years ago - it seems that quite a lot has changed in that short period of time. lexi is no longer a simple office drone, but has moved into a managerial role, she has married a very attractive, rich man, her old friends seem to hate her and she appears to be having an affair with one of her husband's colleagues. all of this is so far removed from the person she remembers herself being that lexi has her work cut out for reconciling the woman she remembers being and the woman she appears to have become. the major question that needs to be answered then, is whether it is possible for lexi to remain the person she is (or was 3 years ago) and maintain the (admittedly desirable) lifestyle that the new lexi has established. all of the endearing/enduring hallmarks of the chick lit genre, along with kinsella's enjoyable light and airy style. if you like this kind of thing this is a great read. g. handed it off to his sister after we arrived in england. it would seem that she is into this sort of thing too, and it was nice to see the book going to another good home after i was done with it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Queen Camilla - Sue Townsend

so, i'm pretty much familiar with townssend through her adrian mole series, you know, "the secret diary of adrian mole aged 13 3/4". a great series that is as funny as it it depressing. "queen camilla" has townsend continuing to display that painful comic talent that seems to be such a penchant among the british. have you ever noticed that british comedies don't often attempt to make you laugh out loud in the way of american comedies (which try to do so and so often fail). instead of inspiring a hearty "hahahaha", i find that my reaction to most british comedies is a groan of sympathetic pain mixed with a laugh. i know the germans have a word for it, schadenfreude, but the british have done so much to perfect it. anyway, that was a long and very tedious way of saying that like "adrian mole", "queen camilla" displays the same sense of painful humour, and maintains a focus on the defining aspects of british life, but there's royalty involved now.

in "queen camilla" townsend has written a dystopian novel with more than a few hints of nineteen eighty-four. all of britain's societal rejects: the morbidly obese, teen aged single moms, pedophiles, and the royal family, just to name a few have been rounded up and made to live in exclusion zones. these are areas of terraced housing that have been fenced off to segregate them from the rest of the population. used to lives of luxury the royals are coming to terms with what it means to live a bit more frugally. charles appears well chuffed about the red plastic washing basin he acquired for only a pound at the everything a pound store. and while there is some talk that a change in government may result in the reinstatement of the monarchy, not all of the royal family are quite so willing to head back into the limelight. but real problems arise when the prime minister introduces an anti-dog bill, limiting british households to one dog per, and charging exorbitant fees for the keeping of that dog. and while the royals themselves suffer through a state of impotence, their canines are not about to take this lying down.

Flight - Sherman Alexie

zits is a fifteen year old orphan. his father, an indian, left his mother "like a cruel magician" during zits' birth. his mother, irish, died of cancer when zits was still a kid. passed around from foster home to foster home zits is trying to come to terms with his heritage, trying to understand both sides of his ancestry. however, life hasn't been easy and although some foster homes have been better than others, many have been downright abusive, and something always happens that makes zits leave. zits wants the world to stand up and take notice of him, to acknowledge his existence, and to this end plans to commit a massive act of violence. however, something stops him, and instead he is taken on a spiritual journey into the past where he lives the lives of an fbi agent in the 1970s in red river idaho, an indian child during the battle of little bighorn, an indian tracker in the 19th century, an airline pilot, and a homeless indian man. these past lives culminate in zits developing an understanding of the person he actually is. a powerful and disturbing story that is both hilarious and painful to read, like "the absolutely true diary of a part-time indian", "flight" is another excellent contribution by alexie.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life - Wendy Mass

by the author of "a mango colored space", "jeremy fink and the meaning of life" is a great mystery novel for kids. if you enjoy the work of blue balliet you'll want to check out this new offering from mass. on his thirteenth birthday, jeremy fink's father is told by a fortune teller on the pier in salt lake city that he will die when he is 40. his dad cannot help but let his life be coloured by this dire prediction, and so chooses to embrace life and live by the motto that one should always eat dessert first. in his 39th year, when jeremy is 8, jeremy's dad is killed in a car accident. never having quite gotten over this jeremy does not like surprises, has a limited diet of peanut butter sandwiches and candy, and refuses to venture more than four blocks from his apartment. shortly before jeremy's thirteenth birthday his mother receives a package in the mail. jeremy and his best friend lizzy cannot resist the temptation and open the package, only to find a locked box inscribed "the meaning of life: for jeremy fink to open on his 13th birthday". the box is from jeremy's dad. however, the box needs four keys to be opened, and the keys have been lost. thus, jeremy and his friend lizzy are thrust into an adventure that will take them through the summer and they will go places, do things and meet people that they never would have suspected. as jeremy races against time to find the lost keys that will unlock the meaning of life in time for his thirteenth birthday. this is an exciting mystery that kids will be excited to solve.

What I Was - Meg Rosoff

meg rosoff is officially my favourite ya author. i really think that this woman cannot fail to write a psychologically gripping novel. one of the most amazing things about her i think is that she hasn't fallen into the trap of repetition. although i think i would be able to recognize a rosoff book if presented with one, it is not in the same way that you recognize a book by the hooblers or by hiaasen. "what i was" takes place in the early 60's, and is set in a somewhat decrepit boarding school on england's south-east coast. the narrator is a teen aged boy, who is, according to himself, rather non-descript in both character and appearance. he is one of those boys of who it might be said is failing to reach his potential, but you might just be being polite in saying that. desperate to escape from the gaol that is this particular british public school he befriends a young man who lives alone in a fisherman's shack on the shore. finn is everything our narrator is not, self-assured, capable and beautiful, although somewhat socially inept. as their friendship grows rumours of "perversion" grow and the narrator's need for finn's company eventually lead to destruction. another great book by rosoff, and quite a bit darker than most boarding school novels. don't expect the public school system to be presented with many redeeming qualities herein.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Castle in the Air - Diana Wynne Jones

who knew that there was a sequel to "howl's moving castle"? i'll let you know who didn't know. yeah, that would be me. which is extra funny because "howl's moving castle" is one of my favourite books of all time (as well as an excellent animated film by famed director hayao miyazaki). bad llama. anyway, although howl, sophie, and calcifer, as well as several other residents of ingary that were introduced in "howl's moving castle" make appearances in "castle in the air", the latter does not really build on the plot of the former.

in "castle in the air" the story centres on a young and starry-eyed rug merchant named abdullah, who lives in the desert city of zanzib. he spends much of his time dreaming that he is actually a prince who was stolen from his royal family by bandits and will one day marry a princess, etc. one day he experiences a chance meeting with a strange man who sells him a magic carpet and from there the story takes off (ha!). the magic carpet transports abdullah to the garden of the princess flower-in-the-night. they fall in love, but the princess is stolen by a djinn. abdullah thusly embarks on a quest to rescue the princess acquiring a genie in a bottle along the way. can you say aladdin? anyway, it's a fun story, though i do wish that my favourite ingarian trio played more prominent roles. ah well. there's a third book to the series that is coming out this summer (house of many ways). i highly recommend you read the works of this great british writer if you enjoy high fantasy... anything along the lines of j. k. rowling, o. r. melling, charles de lint or pamela dean.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil - Jeff Smith

huzzah! the great jeff smith has done it again. here, collected into on hardbound graphic novel is smith's reinvention of the classic dc superhero captain marvel (can anyone tell me why dc has a captain marvel?). fleeing from bullies, street kid billy batson runs down a strange subway tunnel and into the presence of a wizard who instills upon him a magic word (if you guessed shazam then you win a cookie!) that will transform him into captain marvel, the superbeing that he will now share his existence with. along the way billy locates his long lost sister, befriends a djinn, and ends up having to save the world from evil (the monster society of that is) with the help of captain marvel (who likes mustard and onions on his hot dogs). smith's style that was so clearly defined in "bone" remains present in "shazam!", and the giant monster robots bare a cursory resemblance to the "stupid, stupid rat creatures" of the former, though no mention of quiche is made in the latter. this is a reinvention with a retro feel, and i promise that it won't disappoint smith's fans or captain marvel fans, or anyone who just digs a good fun superhero comic.

Spud - John van de Ruit

in the spirit of great schoolboy novels (epistolaries) comes van de ruit's "spud". i'm not sure why i put off reading this so long. i kept putting it up on display desperately willing someone to sign it out as i thought it looked like a great book, and tragically no one ever seemed to want to take it home. so i did. this is the story of john (spud) milton, 14year old scholarship winner to a prestigious all boys boarding school in south africa. the year is 1990, the end of apartheid, and this political event creates the backdrop to the story. the school is populated with the usual cast of bizarre teachers, and sadistic schoolboys. however, just because the characters are typecast doesn't mean they aren't realistically or sympathetically drawn.

throughout reading this images of "a separate peace", "the catcher in the rye" and "the secret diary of adrian mole, aged 13 3/4" kept swimming through my head. mostly adrian mole though. something about spud's diary style reminds me of mr. mole, and van de ruit even references the book once. i believe that spud decides that reading the "diary" of a spotty 14 year old boy who drinks too much lucozade written by a woman named sue townsend is stupid, but he can't help but admit that he did find the book rather funny (and adrian mole is, in that painful funny way that is particular to british comedies). diaries, schoolboys, bildungsromans (that's a fancy german way of saying "coming of age novel"), if you like these sorts of things then give "spud" a chance.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang

wow. i've been waiting forever to read this book. it was worth the wait. yang's printz award winning graphic novel was amazing. this story is really three stories that all come together somewhat unexpectedly at the very end. there's jin wang, the only chinese kid in a largely white suburb who wants desperately to fit in despite the racism he encounters. when wei-chen sun moves to the neighbourhood from taiwan jin is initially embarrassed to be seen and associated with this somewhat awkward newcomer. then we have the story of the monkey king, an old chinese fable about monkey who wishes to become a god. his desire to be accepted as something he is not eventually leads to downfall. and finally the story of popular all american kid danny who's cousin chin-kee (a horrible chinese stereotype) is ruining his life. what do these three stories have in common? how do they all come together? well, you'll have to read american born chinese to find out. and it's well worth it.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam - Ann Marie Fleming

one of my first questions when reading this is why would a filmmaker, who is a self-admittedly bad artist, decide to tell the story of the search for the truth about the life of her maternal great-grandfather in graphic novel format rather than through the medium of film? just happen to be wondering. anyway, fleming sets off on this journey to learn more about her great-grandfather who was apparently a famous and influential magician of the vaudeville era, a contemporary of houdini. her research takes her through the states, to austria, china and australia, and slowly, piece by piece she is able to put together some understanding of who this man was. it is an interesting genealogical road trip that is told through captioned photographs and poorly drawn stick person characters. an interesting read. seems to tie in well with gene luen yang's "american born chinese" in terms of searching for cultural identity, or jason lute's "houdini: the handcuff king" in terms of a historical document regarding vaudeville era magicians. however, i prefer both yang and lute's work to fleming's.

Fool's Gold Volumes 1 and 2 - Amy Reeder Hadley

just got in fool's gold 2 at the library, but found that i had to go back and reread fool's gold 1 to remember what had happened. something like a year and a half had passed between publication of volume 1 and volume 2. how irritating. each volume in this series ends with a fairly major cliffhanger that makes you want to keep going onto the next one. however, if there continues to be such a long period of time between publication of volumes in this series this whole cliffhanger business is going to get old really fast.

that said, this really is a series worth reading. very girl power. basically, penny, high school fashion goddess extraordinaire, is angry that her best friend keeps falling for his one guy who treats her like dirt. when penny finally convinces katie to seriously dump the jerk, she decides to go on a crusade to rid her high school of jerks. or to at least severely inhibit their social lives and ability to get a date for friday night. she does this by starting a club of girls that meet under the guise of a geology club (it's so boring that they don't have to worry about anyone actually wanting to join.... wait wasn't this done in hartinger's "geography club"?). they label the jerks "pyrites" or "fool's gold" (hence the title) and then place a ban on dating said pyrites. it seems to work amazingly well, the jerks are miserable, the girls are happy and the quiet nerds are getting dates. but you know it can't stay all happily ever after. in volume 2 things are really starting to fall apart. not sure how long hadley plans to keep this series going, but that could effect what happens in volume 3.

read this one cause you enjoy girly comics. read it because penny is a great character. read it because hadley's character design and fashion design in the series really, really rocks.