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?