Saturday, May 24, 2008


Publisher Review: London Calling

by Edward Bloor. Reviewed for Random House. Find more information about this book on their website here.

(And first, a word about publisher reviews on kittenpie reads.)

This book is a fascinating blend of historical fiction, family issues, and the supernatural. In it, Martin is hating school and weighed down by the accepted order of things based on history in both his school and his family. He begins to be angered when it is clear that nothing will change as long as this version of history remains entrenched, and he sinks into a depression. It is only the arrival of an antique radio that seems to connect him to a past time and give him a mission that finally shakes him into some action. He begins to research, at first to figure out if he is crazy or dreaming, then because of growing interest, and finally, to also create some temporary solution to his issues at school by doing independent research projects from home. Through his feverish dedication, he wins over his sister, his father, and his mother, and is allowed to go on the errand of a lifetime, creating a healing on many fronts that in fact changes quite a few things in the end.

I'm not giving too much away here because it is a wonderful book to watch unfold, not in terms of suspense, so much as watching Martin grow and learn, and seeing how he inspires changes in others around him. There are in this book subplots that are skillfully woven directly into the main thrust of the book, rather than being distractions as subplots can be when handled less deftly. While doing his research and following his intuition, Martin is also dealing with issues of identity, of the weight of expectations, and with an alcoholic father, all of which fold back into what he is uncovering and his pondering about what he can and cannot change. By the end of this, Martin has grown in amazing ways, and has helped everyone around him grow, too. Quite a feat for a young man just coming of age, really.

What I am most impressed with about this book is how it successfully blends enough action (in both his school struggles and the wartime setting of his time travels) to keep it interesting with a mystical quality that is not pure fantasy and with an inward-looking, serious look at self. This is pretty rare stuff, especially in a book with true boy appeal. I can think of few that manage such a balance, though I think that Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life may be a contender as well. Plus, it warms a librarians heart to see research become so important and life-changing to someone! All in all, this was a great book, and while I think it is decidedly a teen work, I wouldn't hesitate to give it to anyone but the most struggling of readers.

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Monday, May 19, 2008


Publisher Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray. Reviewed for Random House. For more information on this title, see here.

(about publisher reviews on kittenpie reads)

Though largely set in Victorian England, this book open with Gemma chafing to leave her home in India and go to London. She is now 16, after all. Her journey to England is set in motion when a strange vision comes over her, and she sees her mother kill herself rather than be claimed by some mysterious creature while in the company of an unknown man. This shadow cast over her family, she is to go off to finishing school at Spence to be made marriageable. This is not quite what happens there, however.

Instead, Gemma learns more about the strange amulet her mother gave her, and about the visions she continues to have.It turns out that she is a conduit to another place, a centrepoint of the next generation of a group of women known as the Order who can access this land and the magic therein. It isn't all as beautiful as it looks, though, because there is a dark side, and someone known as Circe wants control.

As she learns more about the past from a diary, it seems that it is a hunger for power that caused things to go astray when the last generation of girls entered this other land, the Realms, and that they had been sealed to prevent Circe from crossing into our world. Which means that there is current danger of repeating history or allowing Circe to manipulate one of the girls in Gemma's circle by opening the portal again.

The ending does wrap things up fairly nicely, though there are sequels, which I appreciate. I don't love to be left hanging! I am curious about the sequels, though.

Although a substantial read at over 400 pages, the book moves along fairly quickly and drew me in enough that I read it in a few days, even as a slower reader. I loved the language in many places, and enjoyed that while it has a Victorian setting and some Victorian conventions, it moved faster than your average Victorian novel, and had enough rebellious sentiments among the girls to appeal to a modern girl's sensibility, particularly in the slightly naughty pranks and the horror at Pippa's being forced into a marriage with a much older and quite unappealing man.

All in all, I'm not surprised that this has been a big hit. It had a long holds list at the library for some time, and was much-requested in-branch, with lots of girls wanting to read it. It was one with great media push at the outset, as well, but unlike some books, I think this one has substance behind all of that. It's a great read for a teen girls, with its gothic and fantasy elements being well-handled, but not the whole story, and the characters being very strong and relateable.

Now off to reserve the next one in the set...

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Love Is A Many-Trousered Thing

by Louise Rennison. Book #8 in the Georgia Nicolson series.

Oh my giddygodspajamas (as Georgia might say), how I love these. Truly, I can't read them in public because I tend to gigle, snort, and ocasionally howl, they are so damn funny. This last is no less ridiculous, with family madness continuing, a class camping trip looming, and not one but two potential boys to figure out?

How to choose between a Luuurve God who has said he is free for you and a Sex God who has returned from afar without notice or known reason? Ack! Yes, our girl Gee is stumped, and as such, acts like a crazy loon. As you do. (If you're Georgia.) And there's Dave the Laugh. Why does he keep popping up in her thoughts? He's just a mate. Right?

So yes, still funny after all these years, though I must admit - the bouncing back and forth between and not noticing Dave is starting to wear thin. I had figured this would be the book where she pulled him into the mix of her boy confusion, but no, it is more of the same, and she still has not figured that one out by the end. So while I continue to love them... She'd better at least add him to the list by next book, or I may just give up entirely.

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Publisher Review: Running the Bases

by Paul Kropp. Reviewed for Random House. See more info on this title here.

(a word on publisher reviews at kittenpie reads)

This book is subtitled Definitely not a book about baseball. Well, yes, most definitely not. I can see how that subtitle could be necessary, I suppose, given the title and the fact that the author is a man, and people could easily jump to the conclusion that this one is about sports, not about dating, as it actually is.

This book is also definitely fluffy, and a teen read, focussing entirely on Al's project to get himself a girl. The twist is that when he tries and gets shot down by one of the less popular but very smart girls in his class, she offers to hire out as a consultant and guide to the world of dating and what girls want. A dating coach.

They sign a contract, and the fun begins. He tries and practices and stumbles a good few times, and she points out where he went wrong, prepares him for the next steps, and basically grooms him to treat a girl properly. In the end, she discovers that he has made good headway based entirely on a lie, and quits, just in time for him to get dumped anyhow. She sets him up on one last blind date, though, giving the book a "twist ending" once she thinks he is fully prepared.

I say a "twist ending" in quotations because, well, it was predictable. As were the ways in which he messes up - you see them coming well down the road as he builds towards them. Still, it was an easy read on a topic of high interest to teens, and because of the main character being male and all, this could appeal to boys as much as girls already familiar with the dating genre. The thing I particularly liek about that is that the advice is, in fact, pretty solid, and Al's friend who tries to give him advice and pass himself off as a well-seasoned ladies' man is exposed as a total fraud, his opinions rendered as useless as they really are. So if boys would read this? They might actually improve their own chances by acting like the boy a girl really does want to date, and wouldn't that be a boon to both sexes?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Publisher Review: The Blue Helmet

by William Bell. Reviewed for Random House. See here for more info on the title.

(a word about publisher reviews on kittenpie reads)

Lee is going down a bad path, largely raising himself in the absence of his late mother and hard-working single father, letting hatred and anger grow into a hard knot inside him, until he decides to join a local gang. The last stage of his initiation, though, goes terribly awry, and he ends up in the hands of a police officer who knows his father. A deal is worked out, and though Lee is none too thrilled, it is explained to him that he has run out of options.

In short, the deal is to get him into surroundings where he won't be tempted by the gang, will be put to some productive work, and will have more supervision. He will go to live with his aunt Reena and help her run her small cafe in New Toronto, a corner of Etobicoke, Ontario.

Reena takes a pretty hands-off approach, but gives him enough to do to keep him occupied, and lets him see her empathetic way with her customers, a mix of homeless morning visitors, college kids, and neighbourhood eccentrics. Eventually, she gets him a bike and sets up a delivery service that puts him in contact with some real characters, and he finds himself making friends, opening up a bit, and seeing people in a new way. He slips up now and then, but on the whole, he is making some progress, and even starts talking to his aunt about what is happening in his life a bit.

But the real leap occurs when tragedy and an unexpected gift come together. He puts off the discoveries that will follow for a bit, but eventually finds his way to a realization about how destructive the dark, violent corner of his soul really could be. In the end, he mends fences on all sides, finding a new way to repair the hurt and the anger that had been pushing him down the wrong path.

The book is nicely written, pulling you along through vignettes and small epiphanies one after another at a pace that moves quickly, yet doesn't feel too hurried. I did feel at times that it was all happening a little more easily, with less struggling on Lee's part, than I might have expected, perhaps even too easily, but on examining it, I got the gut feel that Lee was at heart a good kid who had fallen into bad circumstances, and that he had been caught early enough not to give over to the growing internal anger entirely.

On the whole, I think this book has plenty of appeal, and moves quickly enough to keep even less avid readers. I think it speaks to boys well, something of increasing concern as we notice how many boys stop reading, while not excluding a female audience. This is a nice balance, and could make it good for a book discussion title or a class read.

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Publisher Review: What I Was

by Meg Rosoff. Reviewed for Doubleday/Random House. Here is their info on the title.

(a note about publisher reviews and kittenpie reads)

This was one of those much-hyped titles this last fall/winter season, so I was curious, because it sounded interesting, with the vague descriptions I heard, and because I've never read anything by this author before. It was an interesting book - a looking back, a sort of reverie of a time in the narrator's life that changed and stuck with him.

He is not a boy with ambition, not a boy suited to the boarding school life that has been chosen for him, not a tough boy, but one who has learned to survive in that setting. Still, he has been failed out of or expelled from more than one school already, and is at what is pretty much his last chance school. He is going through the motions, when he sees something that changes everything. On a forced class run, he sees a beach shack and a smallish boy beside it, and decides to make his acquaintance. He is fascinated by him - his physical grace and beauty, his independence, his strength and capability, and the fantasy of living without adult supervision. Indeed, he sort of falls in love, though he seems unsure of what kind of love it is, whether it's about the boy, or the fantasy, or about a wish to be like him.

In the end, though, his occasional playing at keeping house with his friend doesn't add up to knowing what to do when his friend seems really and truly sick, and he puts his friend's position in jeopardy to get the help he doesn't know how to give any other way. (Yes, I am being vague here, but there is a surprise twist at the end that is worth keeping a surprise!) The book closes with the boy now an old man, returning to the scene, now long slid under the sea, where the beach house once stood, remembering.

The book is written in lovely, lyrical language and has the feel of a dream state through most of it, which really works, and kept me captive. My only real quibble is whether most boys would read this or enjoy it. It doesn't have much action, it has a questionable sexual subtext that might make less secure boys uncomfortable, and the dreaminess of it may be offputting to some. I would certainly recommend this to girls, but I think it would take a particularly sensitive, dreamy boy or one secure in himself and with a genuine interest in literature to appreciate this, even with a boy protagonist.

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Monday, May 12, 2008


Hiatus Over!

Okay, so I sort of took a break there for a while...
I read a bunch of grownup books, wallowed in bodily discomfort some, worked on my house a few times, started a new library branch, and so on.
But now I've read a new fistful of books, so expect reviews to fly fast and furious the next couple of days, as I get cover images loaded, books written up, and more books moved off of the building stack.
Back to the kidlit I love!