Friday, June 26, 2009

A Lesson in Magyk - Is it Harry Potter lite?

Call me shallow. But I picked up this book mainly because I adored the cover!! I mean seriously, doesn't it just radiate fun and fantasy?? Magyk: Septimus Heap Book 1 by Angie Sage (564 pgs, Harper Collins Kids, 2005) is the perfect way to finish off a little fantasy for the Once Upon a Time III Challenge, as well as a selection for the YAC 2009. It is also the first book in the Septimus Heap Series, that is so far up to 4 books.

Silas Heap pulled his cloak tightly around him against the snow. It had been along walk through the Forest, and he was chilled to the bone. But in his pockets he had the herbs that Galen, the Physik Woman, had given him for his new baby boy, Septimus, who had been born earlier that day.

On the day that Septimus Heap was born, there was trouble brewing in the Castle. As his father Silas was returning from a trip through the forest, he finds a baby wrapped tightly in the snow. Since there was no way he could leave the poor child to freeze to death, he bundled her up and hid her in his cloak. As he was winding his way home, Marcia Overstrand, the Apprentice to the Extraordinary Wizard, stops him and tells him that no one must know that he found the baby. He MUST say she was born to him. A strange request, but one that Silas would keep.

But when he reached home with his bundle, he is met by the Matron Midwife. She is rushing out of his apartment carrying a bundle. Silas' son Septimus had died. As the seventh son of a seventh son, there were high hopes in the wizard world for the boy, but apparently it wasn't meant to be. So he and his wife Sarah, took in the baby girl and Jenna filled the vacancy left by Septimus' death.

It was a few weeks later, that the Heap's found out exactly where baby Jenna had come from. The Queen had been murdered on the night she had given birth the to Princess, the heir apparent. Not only had the Queen been shot by one of the Custodian Guard's assassins, but so had Alther, the ExtraOrdinary Wizard. And although no one knew exactly what happened, the Princess was missing. It was presumed she was being held prisoner somewhere....but the Heap's knew differently.

All was well with the Heap family for 10 years. But on the day of Jenna's birthday, a knock at their door changes everything. The ExtraOrdinary Wizard herself, Marcia Overstrand had come calling (which NEVER happens). In the ten years since Jenna has been with the Heaps, life has changed if you are a Wizard family. No longer seen as a good thing, Magyk classes were cancelled. Although Marcia was still made ExtraOrdinary Wizard, a position of power, The Supreme Custodian had taken over the castle. He has spent 10 years trying to find the Princess. With spies all over the place, the guards had figured out that Jenna was really her. An assassin was on the way over to kill her. Only when she was gone could the Ex-ExtraOrdinary Wizard and Necromancer, DomDaniel, come back and fully take over the Castle.

The Heaps have to go on the run, taking Marcia and a little boy, Boy 412 from the Young Army, with them. Now the race is on to save Jenna....and themselves.

I kid that this book could be called Harry Potter Lite. But any books with wizards and magic are going to come up with that kind of comparison. It just can't be helped. Although, I figured the storyline out within a few chapters, the predictability certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book. Magyk is a really fun read! Full of spells, white witches and wizards, it is a non-stop ride from beginning to end.

I loved the development of Boy 412, who had spent his entire life as only a number in the Young Army. And Jenna, who had taken the best of both being raised by the loving, bumbling Heaps and having Royal blood. She was tough and smart and kind. Certainly everything a future Queen should be. And even though she wasn't blood, the Heaps were ferocious about protecting her. You can actually feel the love they had for her.

Angie Sage has created a world of Wizards that is unique, even if the story is not. With a flare for storytelling, she sucks you in from page one...and doesn't let go. Even when the last page has been turned!

This is a perfect start to a fun series, and I know that I will definitely be reading the rest!! Aimed at kids from 9 - 12, this is still the perfect book for kids and adults alike. Even if you aren't a huge fantasy fan, I think you would enjoy reading this book/series. And if you are a fan....go out and find a copy!! Highly recommended!! 4.5/5

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fantasy and Science Fiction Writer's Day - June 23rd

I've been sitting here all day trying to figure out what I was going to write about for Fantasy and Science Fiction Writer's Day. As you can probably tell by my blog header, I'm a pretty big fan of fantasy!! But that hasn't always been the case. In fact, until about 4 years ago, my reading habits were vastly different. I seem to go through phases. I know a lot of fantasy readers grew up with the Narnia books or Tolkien. But I never read them (still haven't, if you can believe that!) I was actually into mysteries....Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and later Agatha Christie. I SO wanted to be a female sleuth! But then I picked up the book Carrie by Stephen King, and my future reading path was forever changed.

Later on, I read tons of "Chick Lit" and best sellers. I even went through a classics phase. Then an online book club I was in picked the book The Little Country by Charles de Lint. This a beautiful fantasy story that dealt with music, a mysterious manuscript, and magic. And I loved it!! So much so, that I started to hunt up books with the same magical themes.

It wasn't too much later I started this blog and found out there were tons of people that liked the same kind of books as I do! Today my reading is a bit eclectic...on top of the fantasy and sci-fi, I find myself picking up Classics, Young Adult literature, literary fiction, chick lit, and even the occasional memoir. But book blogging has definitely helped my love for fantasy evolve. I have made quite a few friends here whose love for fantasy have increased my TBR list from, well an actual list, to PILES of books! Not only that, blogging has brought me some new Favorite authors. Included in this list are Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Melissa Marr....and the top notch Neil Gaiman. One of the first books I read when I started blogging was American Gods. Neil Gaiman really rocks my world. With such wonderful stories and beautiful prose, I can't help but admire and love him. In fact, my literary crush on Mr. Gaiman grows with each book I read! If I had to list my favorite fantasy reads ever, I'm sure the top 5 would all be Gaiman's!

So, what is the difference between fantasy and science fiction? I've asked myself that alot. I looked up the definitions in Wikipedia: Fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is generally distinguished from science fiction and horror by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific and macabre themes, respectively, though there is a great deal of overlap between the three (collectively known as speculative fiction). I read all 3, although the books I tend to really love seem to fall more into the "fantasy" category. But I do read the occasional sci-fi novel. One of the best that I have read is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. But I do realize I'm seriously lacking in reading some of the masters like Robert Heinlein, Philip Dick, and Isaac Asimov just to name a few. One of my goals in reading for the next couple of years is to remedy this situation and expand my reading to more sci-fi.

I realize this post is kind of rambling. Not really much to it. But I just wanted to bring to light on this "special" day my love for fantasy and share a little about it. Now, if you'd really like to help me out, give me some tips. What authors, fantasy or sci-fi am I missing? What authors can you not live without? What are some of your favorite books? I really don't need to add any more to my list...but I'm going to try to do just that!!

I guess I will add a list of my 10 Favorite Fantasy books (or series, as fantasy tends to run in either Trilogies or series):

  • 1. American Gods - Neil Gaiman
  • 2. Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman
  • 3. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
  • 4. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
  • 5. The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
  • 6. The Mercy Thompson Series - Patricia Briggs
  • 7. The Dresden Files Series - Jim Butcher
  • 8. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
  • 9. Memory and Dream - Charles de Lint
  • 10. The Dark Tower Series - Stephen King

OK, so only the top 4 were Gaiman. I stand corrected!! I think this is a list I'd like to revisit at the end of the year to see if it's changed. Then maybe again at the end of next year, and the year after that....and so on. The books may change, but the love for Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror and Speculative Fiction never will!

Bloggers and the FTC....A Good Thing??

Just when all the controversy over blogging seemed to die down, it looks like it's under fire...again. This article hit the AP wire on the 21st. The gist of it is that the FTC is going to be setting up guidelines regarding blogging and any compensation that said blogger receives. Now, I don't know who these bloggers are that are getting free trips to Europe and $500 gift cards, but I can see how a review could be "swayed" for something like that.

"The guidelines also would bring uniformity to a community that has shunned that.

As blogging rises in importance and sophistication, it has taken on characteristics of community journalism — but without consensus on
the types of ethical practices typically found in traditional media.

Journalists who work for newspapers and broadcasters are held
accountable by their employers, and they generally cannot receive payments from marketers and must return free products after they finish reviewing them.The blogosphere is quite different.

"Rules are set by the individuals who create the blog," said Lee
Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "Some people will accept payments and free gifts, and some people won't. There's no established norm yet."Bloggers complain that with FTC oversight, they'd be too worried about innocent posts getting them
in trouble, and they say they might simply quit or post less frequently. "
As to book bloggers, I'm not really sure what the effect will be. I don't really feel like getting a free copy of a book is compensation....but I know others that feel differently on the subject. I personally don't do any Amazon affiliate links on my blog, so I'm not worried about that at all. But some people view those links as "selling" a product. And that right there is the whole thing in a nutshell - Are bloggers "sales people" that are selling products, or are they reviewers that are giving unbiased opinions?? Should this be a concern in the book blogging world or not??

I hate the idea of having any oversight on my blog. In no way, shape or form did I start my blog to sell a product. I don't think I've ever had that goal in mind. Even when I'm writing a review for a stellar book. My hope is that a good review will make people want to go out and read that book. Because I love books, I want everyone to have the same enjoyment that I have. Would I quit blogging if I had someone looking over my shoulder when I post a review? I can't answer that question. But I do know it would be a consideration. This is fun for me. And that would NOT be fun.

But the funny thing is, I can actually see both sides of this subject. When I read a review on anything, all I expect are honest opinions. And if someone is getting compensated for writing that review, then I feel it is tainted. If I knew someone got a trip to Europe for reviewing a product, that opinion would be no more than an ad to buy said product. But again, should this be a concern in our little book blogging world? I don't think so.

I'm curious to see how this whole thing shakes out, and especially if it will affect me in any way. Do you, dear readers, have an opinion on the subject at all?? Have you heard of this before??

(This wasn't exactly what I had planned on posting today, but I thought it was pretty relevant. Will be back tomorrow with a review on Magyk: Septimus Heap Book 1 by Angie Sage!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Music Mundays - The Dresden Dolls

In 2005, I was sitting in the Congress theater waiting to hear one of my favorite band, Nine Inch Nails, perform. I was hoping the opening act would be short because I was ready to rock. Then the curtains went up and one of the coolest acts I have ever seen live came on.....The Dresden Dolls. Composed of Amanda Palmer (lead singer, song writer and pianist) and Brian Viglione (guitar player and drummer), this duo, with their cabaret style just blew me away!!

With their dramatic burlesque-style make-up and unique costumes, the group just struck a chord with me. Mike didn't care much for them, but I fell in love. The artistry and beauty of their act is something that needs to be seen live to understand. The music ranges from the cabaret sound to an indie rock sound, and even a few beautiful melodic ballads. Their first album, self-titled The Dresden Dolls, features such hits as Coin-Operated Boy and Girl Anachronism. The only other album they released was in 2006, titled No, Virginia, which has the hits Night Reconnaissance, Dear Jenny and a kick-ass cover of the Psychedelic Furs' Pretty in Pink.

Here is my favorite, Coin-Operated Boy:

Here is Backstabber, released in 2006:

In 2008, Amanda Palmer released a solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, taken from the TV show Twin Peaks (after all...that was the question: Who Killed Laura Palmer?) Produced by Ben Folds, the really cool thing about this album (besides the music, of course!) is the companion book that is soon to be released that will accompany it. It is written by Neil Gaiman!!! That's right. Neil Freakin' Gaiman!!

Ever since I signed up for my Twitter Account, I have been following Amanda like a stalker. She is so ice cool!! I just love her!! She interacts a lot with her fans, and has an extremely loyal following. I really hope that there is a lot more to come from both Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls!! Enjoy some of her solo music. The first is Guitar Hero:

The final video is Leeds United:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Burning???

Book Burning?? When I read the headlines, I was like WTF?? Is this the 1950's?? That can't possibly be in AMERICA. The Land of the FREE. No way. Then I read this article posted at ABC News. There isn't any that burns my ass (pardon the expression) more than censorship. While I fully admit that some books aren't meant for all readers, I deplore the idea that someone out there wants to take away my RIGHT to choose whether a book is ok for me or my kids.

In West Bend, Wisconsin, the Christian Civil Liberties Union has petitioned the courts to have the "racist book be removed and publicly burned or destroyed as a deterrent to repeating this offensive conduct." And not only that, they would like damages in the amount of $120,000 paid to them. The book in question? Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block. A description of the book from Publisher's Weekly:

A prequel of sorts to Weetzie Bat, the novel opens while Weetzie's best friend Dirk is still a child, lying on his mat at naptime. ``Dirk had known it since he could remember''-known, that is, that he is gay. Tenderly raised by Grandma Fifi, famous for her pastries and her 1955 Pontiac convertible, Dirk struggles with love and fear: ``He wanted to be strong and to love someone who was strong; he wanted to meet any gaze, to laugh under the brightest sunlight and never hide.'' After his first heartbreak, with his closest friend (who cannot accept Dirk's love nor his own for Dirk), Dirk battles more fiercely for identity; beaten up by a gang of punks, he slumps into semiconsciousness and is visited by his ancestors, each telling a haunting, lyrical tale of love, faith and self-acceptance. What might seem didactic from lesser writers becomes a gleaming gift from Block.

Now, mind you, I am writing this post without actually having read said book. However, I have read Lia Block before and her lyrical writing really is beautiful. But the CCLU has stated that this book is "explicitly vulgar, racial and anti-Christian" and is "inappropriate for the elderly and their minor grandchildren, and degrades the community," according to the complaint. Braun said he found the homosexual content particularly offensive. "They call one character 'faggot' with every swear word you can think of ... and they use the N-word," Braun said.

This isn't the first book on Homosexuality that has been challenged. And it won't be the last. I'm pretty confident that the chances the court will uphold a request to burn a book to be extremely unlikely. BUT that doesn't really make me feel any better. For a few reasons.

First of all, there are lots of books out there that I deem offensive (particularly anything written by Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly!), but I don't call to have them burned. Just because I don't agree with them doesn't give me the right to say they should be removed from book shelves...especially at a community library that's sole purpose is to give their community a vast choice of books to read. What do I do? I CHOOSE not to read them. Period. End of story. What I take offense to is having someone else's values shoved down my throat. If this group doesn't like the fact that the library has chosen to have Lia Block's book on the shelf, don't read it. Give up your library card if it means that much to you. But DO NOT petition a court for removal of said book and certainly don't burn it. THAT is a violation of the rights of others that would like to read this book.

You know, I am a Catholic. That makes me a Christian. One of the things that the church has taught me is to love and respect others, no matter what they believe in. To call yourself a Christian and then spout such hate-mongering words (and believe me, this is hate-mongering) goes against everything being a Christian is all about. It is fundamentally wrong.

Secondly, people need to wake up and realize the world we live in today is vastly different than the time we grew up in. Folks, this isn't the 1950's. Our children are facing challenges that need to be addressed. And I'm sorry, but Little House on the Prairie books are fine, but they certainly aren't indicative of the world we live in today. I think it's terrible that people think young adults today need to be shielded from topics like racism, sexism, and homosexuality. Young adults today are more worldly than ever and certainly are discerning enough to be able to handle these topics.

This whole lawsuit is just grandstanding, and frankly, it makes me sick. I would love to be able to stand-up in West Bend, Wisconsin, and make my voice heard. But I can't. So, this post is going to be my voice. Stand Tall, West Bend Community Library. I am behind you. Don't cave in to the intolerance and hate. Do what is right. I know you will.

Chime in here readers. What do you think? Am I wrong for being so offended by this? Are you offended by it?? What else can we, as readers, do? I'm all ears!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Sci-Fi/Fantasy

One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.

As she puts it:
So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

Uh...Yeah!! I read Sci-Fi and especially Fantasy. One look at my header and you know it's true!! I love them!! I'm a late convert into these genres. It's only been about 5 years for me. A book group that I was in decided to read the book, The Little Country by Charles de Lint. And I was forever hooked!! Some of favorite authors include de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Rachel Caine, Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher for fantasy. John Wyndym for Sci-Fi. Will be fun posting about them!

What will I do to celebrate? Well, since I have no actual plans, since I had never heard of this before today!! That being said, I probably will do a post on some of my favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers one day....and my favorite books the next. Sounds like a good plan??


It's been a busy week in the Toland household. The kids are leaving on Saturday to go spend the week with the grandparents. Man. I'm going to miss them! So this week, we've been catching up on things, trying to get ready for them to be gone. Swimming on the nice days, softball practices and games. Trying to finish up the laundry so they have plenty of clothes to take with them. Checking in their books for the Summer Reading Program. Watching movies. I'm going to be crazy when they are gone. But maybe I'll get some reading of my own done! I've been so involved with them, I've barely had time to crack a book myself.

I am half-way through Magyk right now. And hope to have it done either tonight or tomorrow. That would put me down to 25 books in the next few weeks. Like that is in any way possible!! Dare to dream, I guess!!

I do have the first book to read for the Nerds Heart YA challenge though. Kelly from YAnnabe choose The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine over Leftovers in the first round! So, Dylan Fontaine is waiting for me at the library! I'm still waiting to hear the other selection.

That's it for now!! Happy Thursday everyone!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

De Lint's Novella Doesn't Pack As Much Punch as A Full-Length Novel

In an effort to whittle down the completely insurmountable number of 27 books from the library, someone suggested I start with the shortest. So that is what I did. I picked up The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint (160 pgs, Firebrand, 2002) for a number of reasons. 1. I love Charles de Lint. 2. It is a fantastic choice for the Once Upon a Time Challenge - Mythic Fiction (or perhaps Folklore fiction). 3. Being Canadian, this is another selection for the Canadian Reading Challenge. More of a novella than a novel, The Dreaming Place is also part of the Newford Series.

"I didn't see you at school today, Nina," Judy said. "Were you sick?" "No, I just couldn't go in."

Nina Caraballo is having a hard time. Although she has a wonderful best friend, great parents, and is doing fantastic in school, she is having these awful dreams. She has started dreaming that she is an animal. It's usually random. One time, it's a cat. The next time it's a rabbit. But what makes these dreams such a problem is that they seem SO real. Almost like it's actually happening to her. And she is scared. In fact, she thinks that her cousin Ashley has put some kind of hex on her.

Ashley is the first cousin who lives with her. Although close to the same age, Ashley and Nina couldn't be any more opposite if they tried. Where Nina likes girly things and nail polish and boys, Ashley is broodier, angrier and spends most of her days wearing heavy metal t-shirts and hanging out at the occult store. Ashley's mother died in a horrible accident a few years before and her father just didn't want the responsibility of caring for her. Abandoned, she is now in the care of her aunt and uncle, and has such an anger inside her, she can hardly control it.

Although Ash didn't hex Nina, her anger has drawn a manitou spirit from the Otherworld, and that spirit has fixated on Nina. Can Ashley get over her anger to help her cousin? Or is Nana doomed to live in the Otherworld forever?

First of all, I have to say I'm a HUGE fan of Charles de Lint. The novels I've read (most notably, The Little Country and Memory and Dream) have been incredible. This short novella...not so much. One of the reasons that I love de Lint so much is his wonderful use of language to tell a story. It's rich and vibrant and brings to mind such wonderful pictures. In this short story, there just isn't the time to flesh out the characters as much as I would have liked. They seemed sort of "flat". This has always been my objection to short stories and novellas. And while some work, this one just didn't grab me.

This was also his first attempt at writing a book meant directly for the YA set. And it just didn't have the flare some of his other works do. Not that it's a bad book/story, because it's not. The idea behind it is really interesting. And I loved the Shamen Bones and his description of the Otherworld. I also liked the folklore and mythology behind the manitous. Maybe I just expected too much from this little book.

Regardless, I'm still going to read through the entire Newford series some day. Ever book gives you an other glimpse into this artful and magical place. This one just wasn't what I had hoped for. 3/5

PS. Check out my Music Munday Guest Post over at Kailana's The Written World!! It's a cool tribute to Girl Power Rock!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Library Loot, an OMG Moment...and Books!

So...yesterday I got a call that a couple of my book requests had come in. I had already promised the girlies an afternoon at the library, so it all worked out great! Our library system has been doing a bunch of upgrades, and where I used to be able to log in from home, at the moment I can't. I can log in from one of the library terminals, and that's usually what I do. I look up the books I want and place the holds myself. I can renew online and check my account.

Well...with all the requests I had put in coming through and a few random stops at the library in the past couple weeks, I didn't realize how many books I actually had checked out until yesterday. 27 books, folks!! 27! Now, how in the world am I going to read 27 @&^%$ books in the next few weeks?? Impossible! I don't know what I was thinking. And they all look so good! So, today, I moved them all to one place and have them stacked in the order I'm going to read them. I really need to get a little more organized, I think! So...would you like to see what the library faeries brought to me through ILL (or that random pickup) this week??

Nymeth wrote the most excellent review for I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (of course, ALL her reviews are excellent!). I wrote about this on my Book Coveting post a week ago. Figured I should get it while I could!

With the Once Upon a Time Challenge drawing to a close, I decided I wanted to read as much fantasy as I could. Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede fits for Fairy Tale Fantasy and I've wanted to read it for ages!

Another fantasy/fairy tale fiction book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is another book that has been on my wish list for years!

The Vanishing Hitchhiker by Jan Harold Brunvand is a non-fiction book about Urban Legends of the scary kind!! I love this stuff, and I was trying to find something to fit into the Folklore category of the Once Upon a Time!

While searching for the Vanishing Hitchhiker, I stumbled across this little book by the same author: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid by Jan Harold Brunvand is another book on scary urban legends. I think these 2 books are going to be fun!

While in Non-ficiton mode, I also picked up a couple of others for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. The first is Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff. It's a memoir and first-hand experience about drug addiction. I know Chris reviewed this book awhile back and it looks fantastic!

The other Non-fiction book I picked up was 21: Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich. There was just a movie about this and I think it looks excellent!

The Dead & the Gone is the second book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about the shifting of the moon and it's consequences. I read Life as We Knew It last year for the End of the World Challenge and I wanted to read the second one for this year's challenge.

The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler was a nominee for the Printz Award a few years ago. I'm trying to read my way through the list. And frankly, how can you pass up a shiny, pretty book like this with such an uber-cool title??

Finally, Black Juice by Margo Lanagan was another Printz honor book in 2006. I don't know much about it, but it was there and I snapped it up!!

The girlies were excited to go to the library. As tired as I was yesterday, the chance to foster my love of reading with my kids totally outweighed my need for sleep!! Over the weekend, the girls were playing "school". I think it's hilarious because I used to make my brother play school with me. He HATED school, and he really hated playing with me. We usually ended up fighting, and I'd play by myself. No wonder he thought I was a geek!! Oh well, I loved school. Anyway..totally off track with that. The girls wanted to read some "learning" books, so we hit up the computers and found a whole stack of books about volcanoes, the stars/sun/moon, dinosaurs and "snow" bears. They were amazed that I could find each book they wanted to read (I'm a Dewey Decimal whiz kid!) And it was fun. We had a great time, topped off by Blizzards from DQ. I guess if you count the books the girls have, we've probably got close to 50 books from Alpha Park! Man.....

Anything else today? I don't think so. I'm off to read!! Later!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Canadian Family Saga

Confession time: I suck at challenges. I like to join, but have little luck finishing them. Which is why I'm SO far behind in the 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge, there is no hope to finish! That being said, I've already done better than last year, so I guess that is some progress. I just finished Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (374 pgs, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2000). In the grand scheme of things, since I'm not going to finish the challenge, at least I'm reading quality books!

Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla. La'es, they say, La'es, la'es. I push myself out of bed and go to the window, but they launch themselves upward, cawing. Morning light slants over the mountains behind the reserve. A breeze coming down the channel makes my curtains flap limply. Ripples sparkle in the shallows as a seal bobs it dark head. La'es - Go down to the bottom of the ocean.

As the story opens, Lisamarie Michelle Hill (and yes, she was named after her Uncle Mick and his love of Elvis!) is waiting with her parents on pins and needles for word of her brother, Jimmy. Jimmy took a job on a fishing boat and it has been lost at sea. Her life is told in a series of flashbacks, about growing up in Kitamaat, an Indian reservation 500 miles North of Vancouver, and homeland to the Haisla people.

Lisamarie was always the trouble maker. Dubbed "Monster" by her favorite uncle, Mick, she was outspoken, questioning, headstrong and ALWAYS in trouble. Her younger brother Jimmy was the golden child. With a natural flare for swimming, he made good grades, did what he was told, and was destined for the Olympics.

We meet her Uncle Mick, a Native Rights activist (and all around trouble-maker himself); her Ma-ma-oo, her grandmother and tradition keeper for the family; her parents, who are devoted to their children and try to infuse both the Haisla way with Western ways; and many other family members.

To delve much deeper into the story would be giving much away. But suffice it to say, this is a story that is about much more than just family ties. It's a story about a heritage that has seen the ups and downs of prejudice. It is the story of the unconditional love that being a part of a family entails. But it's also the story of Lisamarie and the visions she has. Part magical realism and part character study, Monkey Beach is a wonderfully funny, yet heart-breakingly beautiful tale. It is the story of love and loss.....and the grieving process. But it's mostly about self-discovery and how grief can affect who you become.

Lisamarie is a hard character to like. On the surface she is rough and abrasive, but underneath it all is just a scared child that you want to hug (even though you know it will earn you a punch in the chops!) Robinson did not compromise at all with this character. She is unapologetic from beginning to end, but you come to appreciate this in her. Jimmy is a sweet kid. But when he suffers his own sort of loss, he just isn't able to accept it. And as much as she claims to hate him, Lisamarie is the first one in line to help out her brother.

It's hard to review a book that is at once funny, superstitious, and take-your-breath-away sad. And I'm afraid I can not do it justice. Even if you don't appreciate the quirky characters, you should read it for the Haisla heritage and folk stories alone. My favorite being the B'gwus (Sasquatches), and the story of Jimmy trying to find one to take it's picture so the family can be rich.

Eden Robinson was nominated for the Giller Award and the Governor's General Award for Monkey Beach in 2000. I would highly recommend this book. Like I said earlier, to say more about the story would be ruining a lot of it for you, dear readers. So do yourself a favor and read it yourself! 4.5/5

Monday, June 8, 2009

Music Mundays - Love And Rockets

Forgive the long post today. Love And Rockets is one of my all-time favorite bands. Danny Ash has one of the greatest voices of all-time. But to get to Love And Rockets, you have to go through a couple of iterations of the band.

Bauhaus was formed in 1978 (and yes, this was way before I started listening to their music!) Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins created something unique in Bauhaus. Most notably considered the fathers of "Gothic" music, they named themselves after the German Bauhaus art movement of the early 20th century. Dark and stylistic, they created something that was post-punk and even gloomy. Goth kids around the world, to this day know Bauhaus. They were only together for about 4 years, mostly because too many alpha dogs in one band is never a good thing. Bela Lugosi's Dead is their one major hit (although they did a killer cover of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust that I still love almost as much as the original!) You can still hear this song today featured in many vampire movies. It made that much of an impact!! Peter Murphy's voice still gives me chills!

But Peter Murphy left the band, and Ash and Haskins quickly formed a new band called Tones on Tail. Danny Ash took over the reigns as lead singer. It started out as a side project during the Bauhaus years with the addition of Glenn Campling. They only released one album, Pop, but it contained the song Go (or the ya-ya song, as my husband likes to call it!) I couldn't find an actual video for the song, but here is the best I could do:

Love and Rockets formed with all the members of Bauhaus minus Peter Murphy. Like I said before, I LOVE Danny Ash's voice. It is so unique! You can't hear a Love and Rockets song and NOT recognize it. Their first album will always be my favorite: Seventh Dream of a Teenage Heaven. A few of their later songs went mainstream, but Seventh Dream offers up Haunted, just a beautiful song. Again, there is no actual video, but you can hear what an awesome song this really is!!

There next album, Express, offers up such killer tracks as Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man), Kundalini Express, All in My Mind, and this fantastic remake of the Temptation's Ball of Confusion:

Most of their videos were done in black and white. Check out that hair! Man, I love Danny Ash!! And you all wondered why I like Adam Lambert from AI so much!! I have a thing for guys and guyliner!! Post-punk, psychedelic, and glam could be an apt description.

Probably their biggest hit, and the one you might have heard before is So Alive, taken from their self-titled album in 1989. The band is still together is some form. They've toured recently as L&R, and even got together with Peter Murphy for a small reunion as Bauhaus, playing Couchella in '08.

One of my favorites for years, this is just a peek at this fantastic band. Check them out!! Love them!! (But stay away from Danny...he's mine!)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dracula the Undead and a Library Sale

This morning was the first day of the big library sale in Bloomington. The girls and I headed over this morning after breakfast and kind of went nuts!! They are going to be as bad as I am!! All in all, it was a pretty good day for the Toland girls! The little ones ended up with 27 books of their own, including some classics, like The Incredible Journey, Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret, and Freddie the Hamster. Me? Well, I ended up with 21, which I'll list in a minute.

When we pulled up to the house, there was a package in the door. And I was so excited!! I just got the new ARC from Penguin. It is Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt!! This is the sequel to the ORIGINAL Dracula by an actual member of the Stoker family (or so the story goes!) I can not WAIT to dig into this one!

And here is a list of our booksale finds:

  • Bloodstone by Nate Kenyon
  • Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
  • The Pact by Jodi Picoult
  • Witch Child by Celia Rees
  • Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella
  • Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
  • Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty
  • Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
  • Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen
  • The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Dead Over Heels by Charlaine Harris
  • The Cadaver's Ball by Charles Atkins
  • I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire by P.N. Elrod
  • A Killing Frost by John Marsden
  • Minion by L.A. Banks
  • Ever World Books 1 & 2 by K.A. Applegate
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (Books 1, 2, and 3)
  • Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

How's that for a Friday Haul??

What's new on YOUR bookshelf this week??

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why I LOVE my Library, Nerds Heart YA, and a Blogging Friend

I do so love my library!! Today is the kick-off to the Summer Reading Program and I took the kiddies to the Kick-off Party. The theme this year is "Read on the Wild Side". One of the things that makes this such a good program is that it really does get kids excited about reading. First of all, is the kick-off party. With popcorn and punch in hand, the kiddies were armed and ready. There was face-painting, arts/crafts (of bags to carry library books in, bookmarks, and book covers) and games. They loved playing musical chairs to The Lion King soundtrack!

But once the party ends, the program just begins. There are weekly sign-ins and prizes to be won if you complete your weekly reading. There is also a prize for the grade school (there are 9 in our district) that completes the most books. If you complete 6 of 7 weeks of the challenge, there is also an end of the year party. For the girls, it's a free pool party at the community pool. And for Chad (jr.high/high school) it's a dance at a local club. But even besides all this, there is an entire program. There are weekly speakers dealing with the theme. This year it includes a "snake" expert (I'm hoping he shows lots of pics with no actual snakes. I have an insanely irrational fear of snakes!), a professional "storm chaser", a "Mad" Scientist, and the Mobile Zoo. At the end of the summer is even an organized bus trip to the St. Louis Zoo and City Museum.

My kids are excited!! They like to read anyway, at least for the most part. But this gives them added incentive...and helps nurture that love of reading along the way! Does your library offer any sort of programs like this?

Another thing I am really excited about this summer is the Nerds Heart YA tournament. What is this, you ask? Well, it's a young adult reading tournament that is the brainchild of the super-cool Renay. From June 1st through August 2nd, twenty bloggers will be judging sixteen young adult novels, published in 2008, that should’ve received more attention. I'll try to do another posting soon, to list the books!

The judges are:
Ali, Worducopia and Lenore, Presenting Lenore
Mary Ann, Libr*fiti
Kelly, YAnnabe

Be on the look-out for reviews and updates on the tournament from the judges. Nerdsheartya is also on Twitter. I’m so very excited to be a part of this!! Because A) I am a Nerd and B) I heart YA! Seriously, it will be fun. And I’m hoping to read all the shortlisted books some time this year!

Lastly, but certainly not least, I wanted to bring to your attention a new blogger out there. A very dear friend of mine recently started blogging, and I want all of you to march right over there and give her a warm welcome! Her name is Michelle and her blog is Master Musings by Michelle. A book blog of course. Michelle is great - she's smart, funny, and has a great sense of books (of course, she also has a raging Twilight obsession!!) So....go check it out!!