Monday, April 25, 2011

A Re-Read List

I felt the need to write a list right now and the first thing that came to mind was this --

Ten Books That I Want to Re-Read Right Now

The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
Armadale by Wilkie Collins
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie
The Black Tower by Louis Bayard
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
the entire Thursday Next series beginning with The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

I've been focusing so much lately on my TBR but I don't want to forget about all of the wonderful books I have available to revisit! I'm choosing books for my upcoming flights and now I think I will include one re-read in them.

What book(s) are you wanting to re-read right now?

Getting my money's worth out of my books,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

There are so many fantastic bookish ways to celebrate Earth Day with the children around you. Here are a few of the books that you might catch us reading today.

We might be learning about a specific ecological problem like habitat loss with Bluebird Finds a Home. This picture book, written by Ryan Jacobson and illustrated by Joel Siebel, features the Nature Squad, a group of animals and a park ranger that help a bluebird who has no place to rest when the trees that he used for nesting in are cut down.

This book has a lot of great messages about ways to protect nature in both obvious ways (picking up litter) and not so obvious ones (leaving dead trees for shelter). It also explains why habitats for one species of an animal aren't suitable for all the different species. At the end there are even instructions for building a simple nest box and some conservation tips for kids. Making conservation and care for wildlife a part of a child's every day routine is an investment in the future of the planet.

You might also see us learning about one of our favorite scientists and environmentalist role models with the stunning Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau, with text by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret. This is a wonderful book that connects the childhood of an inquisitive and intelligent boy with an adulthood that seems almost unreal in its productivity and influence. This book highlights Cousteau's ingenious inventions, his prowess with a video camera and his desire to use his newly-found knowledge for the benefit of the planet.

We never seem to tire of picture books about Cousteau. Each new author and artist pair brings him to life in a different way. Puybaret's soft colors and imaginative layouts are wonderful. And Cousteau is the perfect example for children of how to take a childhood interest from daydreams to a productive career, whether it be as a scientist or anything else.

We could be learning about the beauty of nature's creatures with Fabulous Fluttering Tropical Butterflies. With beautiful bright artwork by Kendahl Jan Jubb and words by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, this book celebrates some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world and their caterpillars. With flowery prose, this picture book is packed with facts about these delicate insects.

Our local science center has a butterfly house and we love going in the warm, misty room and seeing all of the creatures as they fly from plant to plant, sometimes landing on the shoulder of one of the visitors. Pairing books with real-life adventures is a wonderful way to make learning fun and relevant.

But it's just as likely that you will find us enjoying I Wonder Why Penguins Can't Fly by Pat Jacobs and filling our brains with knowledge about places that we many never get to visit but still should care about. This is a great collection of facts about the North and South Poles and the plants and creatures that live there. With the answers to questions like "Were the poles always frozen?" and "Are there any polar plants?" there's a lot that even I didn't know in this book.

Sometimes it's easy to ignore places that are far away but in order to preserve nature's balance, we need to take care of places both near and far. Familiarity with these places makes it harder to ignore the unique ecosystems and their inhabitants.

Visit for more ideas on how to celebrate this unique day. This year's focus is "A Billion Acts of Green".

Doing our part,
K and Z

Support our site and buy Nature Squad: Bluebird Finds a HomeManfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau,  Fabulous Fluttering Tropical Butterflies and I Wonder Why Penguins Can't Fly on Amazon or find them at your local library. We borrowed some of these books from the library and received some for review.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

photo by k
It's my birthday! I'm still able to say I'm in my mid-thirties so I'm okay. This isn't any sort of milestone age and so I'm expecting to just have a quiet, peaceful year.

It's a day of celebration here but I also feel like I need to apologize for being absent so often recently. This has been such a busy month and I just haven't had much time for reading or blogging! I promise to get back to a full schedule here in May.

As part of my birthday present, I'm going to be at the LA Times Festival of Books at the end of the month! If you are going to be there too, let me know and maybe we can find a time to meet up.

Having a happy day,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Paperback Release: Russian Winter

A beautiful and engaging novel, Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay will sweep you up in the tragedies of life in Soviet Russia and have you hoping and praying for present-day redemption. There are many narratives in this novel including those of the young Nina Revskaya, ballerina at the Bolshoi and also her ailing modern self, now residing in Boston. There is also Grigoiri Solodin, a professor who was adopted as a newborn in Russia and who believes he has traced his parentage to Nina through the few small artifacts he inherited. And finally there is Drew Brooks, a woman who works at the auction house where Nina Revskaya is selling her famous jewelry collection. Though the lives of these people seem to have little in common, we see that there are common human threads that run through each of their lives.

I'll admit to having lost track of time and I started this book a bit late but it wasn't a chore at all to read this almost-500-page book over the course of three days. I got caught up in Nina's story and couldn't wait to find out what had happened to cause her defection from the Soviet Union and to learn if Grigori was really her son. Some readers might be a bit put off at first by the switching of tenses in the novel (the past story is written in the present tense) but after a while it simply becomes the natural rhythm of the book. There were a few slightly redundant parts and it took me some time to care about Grigori and Drew's stories but it all came together nicely by the end. As for Nina, I fell in love with her, as did so many others, and her story slowly broke my heart.

As I was reading this novel, I realized that though I frequently read novels set in Russia, they are never set in this time period of Stalin and Communism. I enjoyed this journey and appreciated the depth of Kalotay's research. The artforms that she chose to include in the story--ballet, music and poetry--are all well-incorporated as well and make this an epic sort of novel.

Coveting the jewels,

This novel is currently on a TLC Book Tour. You can read other reviews at the following sites:

Library Queue
Luxury Reading
A Few More Pages

Other reviews will be linked up at the tour page during the coming month.

Support our site and buy Russian Winter on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a finished copy for review.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Release: The Last Dragonslayer

I forget where I was searching but, at some point late last fall, I discovered the fact that a new Jasper Fforde YA novel had been released. I immediately went searching and found that it was not actually released in the U.S. Well, I wasn't about to let that stop me from getting it so I promptly ordered it from a not-so-prompt store in the UK right after Christmas and received it about ten weeks later. Thanks to the Once Upon a Time challenge, The Last Dragonslayer didn't spend as many weeks on my bookshelves as it apparently did in transit.

Jennifer Strange is a foundling, raised by nuns, who is now an indentured servant and temporary manager at the Kazam wizarding agency. The wizards have been slowly losing their power but even they can't miss the powerful premonition that the last dragon in the Ununited Kingdoms is about to die -- on Friday, to be exact. Jennifer has the feeling that the dragon and the magic of the land are linked and so she sets out to find the current dragonslayer (there's always just one) and to figure out how to save the livelihoods of her wizard charges.

As with many Fforde novels, this one is also set in a world that has one toe in the real U.K. and the whole rest of the body somewhere else entirely. And, just as with his other books, it takes a while to get situated in the world but, by the end, it's as familiar as our own. I would venture that the only reason this book is a YA novel, is that it features a young teen protagonist. Otherwise, I found it to be just as well done as any of his adult novels. It was a bit less heavy on the wordplay and literary references, which might actually appeal to some readers who are intimidated by The Eyre Affair.

I'm especially excited to find out that this is the first in a trilogy, with the second book tentatively scheduled for November (though long-time Fforde fans will know never to put stock in dates because his genius is never on a schedule). In the meantime, I will be embarking on a re-read of the Thursday Next series, finishing up with the newly-released One of Our Thursdays is Missing.

Fetching a tin of food for the Quarkbeast,

Support our site and buy The Last Dragonslayer on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Celebrating Spring in Picture Books

Spring conjures up so many different images: flowers, rain, warmer days and, best of all, baby animals. We've had some great picture books come into our home that make us long for all of these exciting signs of new life!

(oliver) by Christopher Francheschelli is a wonderful board book about Oliver the egg. Done in black, grey and white with only photos of the egg and its shadow, the simple words are enhanced by a real sense of motion and a fun, colorful surprise at the end. The final words of the book are actually on the back cover, next to the two halves of an eggshell --

(...Because miracles happen.)

I think this would be a perfect gift for a first-time expectant mother who could then share it with her little one the next spring. New life truly is a miracle!

Lemniscaat is a well-established (since 1963) publisher in Holland and have published in the US for twelve years as Lemniscaat USA. They have a really interesting backstory and a wide variety of beautiful books. This particular book is constructed in a very unique way and I'm glad they took the extra time and effort to make it so special.

Quiet Bunny's Many Colors by Lisa McCue is a celebration of everything spring and also a lesson about accepting and embracing what makes you different and unique. Quiet Bunny sees all of the beautiful colors of spring and is a bit disappointed by his own drab colors. He tries various ways to change his colors (including a roll in a blueberry patch) but eventually learns that he is beautiful in his own way.

This is another stellar title from Sterling Children's Books. The colors are absolutely gorgeous and they make us want to go right out and frolic in a meadow of wildflowers. Quiet Bunny is adorable, as are the many other creatures who are scattered around each page. This book also has a surprise at the end (this time a fold-out page) that makes it extra special.

This final book won't be out until May 1 but I think it's well worth the wait. 999 Tadpoles is written by Ken Kimura and illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. 999 tadpoles are hatched in a small pond. As they become small frogs, they quickly outgrow their pond and are desperate to find a new home. They set off together (with the requisite "are we there yet"s) and narrowly escape a snake only to be set upon by a hawk. However, the strength of 999 little frogs (plus mom and dad) is just enough to save them and they happily reach a new home.

The illustrations in this book are deceptively simple. They still manage to convey a wide range of emotions and are bright and happy. Another plus for this book is the integration of the jacket summary on the back of the book, perfect for those of us who are forced to immediately remove jackets from children's books! This Japanese picture book will be released by NorthSouth Books, a publisher that I've mentioned before that specializes in bringing international picture books to the States.

Seeing the signs of spring all around,
K and Z

Support our site and buy OliverQuiet Bunny's Many Colors and 999 Tadpoles on Amazon or find them at your local library. We received all of these books for review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Winner of HOP books

Congratulations to the randomly-selected winner of the 5 pack of HOP tie-in books from Little, Brown --

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest! Has anyone seen the film yet?

Avoiding jellybeans,
K and Z

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Release: Kat, Incorrigible

Out tomorrow is the middle grade fantasy novel Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, the first of the new Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series (also called A Most Improper Magick in the UK). I really wanted to love this book and after reading some glowing reviews, I thought it was pretty likely. This is the story of twelve-year old Katherine Ann Stephenson, who lives in pre-Regency England with her clergyman father, horrid stepmother, two older sisters and troublemaking older brother. Her life changes entirely when she finds that what she inherited from the mother she never knew is a magic stronger than witchcraft. The question is if she can harness the magic soon enough to save one of her sisters from having to marry for money and to save the other sister from her own magical dabbling.

This just seemed like such a perfect match for me and yet I found myself nitpicking while I was in the story and, worse, for days after. Now, before I complain, I did think this was a cute story and it will probably be a fun series but ...

... I wasn't transported to 1803 at any point in the story. Everyone was far too modern and there were very few period details. There were also no cues in the language as to when it was supposed to happen except that Kat called her parents Papa and Stepmama. This book could have easily taken place at any time in a 100 year range.

... too many characters were trapped in Austen-esque stereotypes. This book was populated by just exactly the characters that you would assume would be in it -- the mother that dies in childbirth, the brother with gambling debts, the cruel, society-climbing stepmother, the absent-minded (and absent) clergyman father, the charming but poor suitor, etc. I know that the kids that this book is meant for will not have read Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer yet but I think it does them a disservice to present these characters in such a bland and predictable way. The book also just seemed overpopulated.

... the magical portions of this story were too derivative of Diana Wynne Jones, JK Rowling and others, and not in a new and fresh way. The idea of magicians that police other magicians was perfected in the Chrestomanci stories and in Rowling's Aurors. I just found myself wishing those noble characters would show up.

It is obvious that Burgis really loves Austen and Heyer (as many of us do) but I just don't feel that she did enough with her own story to make it as wonderful as the novels that inspired it. I would recommend Stevermer and Wrede's Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot instead of this book for its strong period feel, interesting characters and unique magic but I also don't think any child would be harmed by reading this book.

(I am counting this book as my second read for the Once Upon a Time challenge.)

Seeking out the best magic,

Support our site and buy Kat, Incorrigible on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an Advance Reader's Copy for review.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dogsbody Revisited

Last August, I read Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody for the first time and really enjoyed it. Even though it has only been eight months, I decided to re-read it when Tif chose it for her Tales to Tomes read-along for this month and also as my first Once Upon a Time choice. It has some interesting themes and situations and I wanted to read it more purposefully.

There will be a discussion in the next few days on Tif's blog and on Twitter so I will save my plot thoughts for that (and you can read them in my previous post as well). Instead, I'll tell you briefly about my reading experience. I can't recall ever re-reading a book so soon after my original read-through and I was surprised to be able to better balance my interest in the plot with some more meaningful thought about the author's choices. I thought about the names chosen, the family structure, the depth of the politics discussed and so much more. Really, I can just say that I thought about the book, which I tend not to do too much. I am admittedly a plot reader and, as long as the author takes a sane route through their story, I mostly just go along for the ride. I wish that I had known that I was able to re-read a story so soon without being bored. This could have been helpful in school. I could have read the required books early and then read them more thoughtfully a second time when I had to write about them!

Are you a purposeful reader or a plot reader? And have you ever re-read a book less than a year later? Was it a good or bad experience?

Constantly learning,

Support our site and buy Dogsbody on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy of this book.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Starred Saturdays: Week of March 27

photo credit
Welcome to Death Star Saturday! (I didn't get a chance to put up an April Fools' Day post so I couldn't resist a little joke today.) We're on Spring Break now but not going anywhere and it's supposed to rain all week. Doesn't that sound fun? If it clears up at all, I'll try and get out and get some unique Pacific Northwest piccies that would make Al's Uncle Harry proud.

I didn't know I needed a dress made of Golden Books until I saw it. I would insist on The Poky Little Puppy being front and center though! (And you can see how it was made by Ryan Novelline. Amazing.)

Edward Scissorhands, a movie I have watched an uncountable number of times, has been around for 20 years and Gallery Nucleus is having an exhibit of art inspired by the film. I love that they are serving ambrosia salad at the opening night!

If you don't get why some of us are making such a big deal out of the loss of Diana Wynne Jones, read what Neil Gaiman had to say about this amazing woman.

This one's for Diane -- someone in Paris has found a creative way of filling in potholes!

Flavorwire thought it would be funny to make some revisions to classic novels to render them gender-neutral. My favorite? A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Artist.

And I know we're supposed to be looking forward to spring but if we have to have one last look at winter, I can't think of a better one --

Listening to the rain on the roof,