Monthly Archives: November 2010

3 almost-cures for an endless cold

1) Cookies. Specifically these cookies:

I recommend eating at least 5. Your sniffles / cold misery will improve. Honestly.

2) Knitting. I knit this (in only two couch-sittings! Yay me!):

3) Start to make your Christmas Book List. I did. Here are three books on the list so far:


Dust City

There have been a lot of urban fantasy novels published lately. It is possible that some readers may be just a teensy bit done with them for a while. I promise you that Dust City, by Robert Paul Weston, is special. I also promise that there are no werewolves in this book. Honest. You should read it, and not just because the cover is so awesome which will make you want to carry it around, facing out, as you walk down the street, stopping every so often to spend a little time staring into the spooky wolf eyes. You should read it because it is gripping, clever, richly imagined and thematically complex.

Henry Whelp isn’t just any wolf. His father is the wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother. It’s hard enough to be a wolf in Dust City to begin with, but it’s way harder when everyone expects you have murder in your blood, and they’re just waiting for you to lose it, like your dad. For a while, Henry has been keeping quiet in a Home for Wayward Wolves outside the city, but after a murder in the home he breaks out. He’s looking for answers. He wants to find out once and for all what really happened the night his father became a murderer, and he thinks it may have something to do with Dust, a mind-altering drug sold on the black-market in the city. He also hopes he might discover what happened to the fairies, who disappeared and took their powerful fairy dust with them, inspiring thaumaturgical companies to create an entire industry to provide synthetic dust to an increasingly addicted populace.

I will read just about any reworking of a fairy tale. Love ’em. I was extra excited about Dust City because Robert Paul Weston is uber-creative and accomplished. (His debut verse novel, Zorgamazoo was phenomenal and so much fun. Anyone who can write in iambic pentameter for close to 300 pages without a misstep is a rockstar in my books). The Big Bad Wolf is not the only fairy tale character who makes an appearance here. Henry’s best friend is Jack, a notorious thief with a bag of beans. The gutsy, ass-kicking detective on Henry’s tail is Inspector White, with cherry-red lips and skin white as snow. There are more clever surprises, but I’ll let you discover those yourself. I was prepared for dark, and it was.

Weston’s prose is the kind of work that makes you sure he has put thought into every word and sentence. As I read, there were many moments when I stopped and went back to enjoy his images and his turns of phrase. It’s tight writing that brings the fantasy world vividly to life. The novel as a whole moves at a brisk pace. It’s full of action and imagination, much like Weston’s first book. But what’s different is the grittiness. Much of the story takes place in the underworld of Dust City, quite literally, in tunnels beneath the city which runners use to ferry dust from the warehouse to addicts. There are scenes of violence and torture – nothing that is too much for the audience, but be forewarned. Weston explores the challenges that come when a society is full of all different types of citizens and communities, with different histories, cultures, and degrees of power. It makes for a rich and challenging reading experience which could inspire discussions around the drug trade, oppression, multiculturalism, and justice.

It is exciting and unusual when a writer produces two such unique and different books back-to-back. I can’t wait to see what Robert Paul Weston imagines next. You can hear him discussing the book on a podcast from the CBC. Take a listen here.

Dust City is published by Razorbill in the U.S. and by Penguin Canada in Canada.

This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Paisley Hanover Kisses and Tells (a small rant + speedy review)

Okay. Before I can write anything about Paisley Hanover Kisses and Tells, I have to get this one thing out of my system.

The cover. Ugh. The cover. It torments me.

It torments me for a few reasons:

1) I like the book so much. The story. The voice. The characters. All fantastic. And I don’t like the cover. (Except for the paisley background. That I like).

2) Paisley is a redhead. Over and over and over in the story she is described as a redhead. On this cover? Not a redhead.

3) And also? While we’re on the subject of the lovely cover model? Does she look fifteen to you? No? Didn’t think so. She looks 25. Who is she supposed to be? 100% not-even-close-to-convincing as Paisley.

4) The original cover for the first book was Just Right. Perfect balance of quirky / artistic / out-of-the-ordinary. Exhibit A:

Red hair? Check. Adorable paisley-inspired font? Check. Just a little bit different? Check. And then this happened:

At least they sort of tried to give her red highlights. But still not good enough. Not at all. Zero uniqueness.

(I am done).

If you haven’t read the first book in this series (Paisley Hanover Acts Out) you are in for a treat. The first and the second are both treats, fun, light, and with just enough substance to make you feel that you are doing something worthy in reading them. They are thought-provoking in a subtle way. In the first, Paisley Hanover discovers just how uncool it is that so many kids in her school are so focused on being popular, when the popular kids are sort of jerky a lot of the time. She creates a secret alter ego (Miss UnPleasant) and works to expose the “Pops” for what they are. Plus some romance. Plus a lot of laughs. In the second book, Paisley and her crew of UnPop / Pop supporters, work to oust the sophomore class president, who took office in spite of an unfair election. (Plus some more romance. Plus some more laughs). Tuttle can really write humour. There are plenty of hilarious turns of phrase, and characters who are memorable and real. You will laugh out loud. You will remember high school and what was fun and what was miserable. You will wish you could go back and be a lot more like Paisley and her cool crew.

Ignore the cover. The story is so, so much better.

Paisley Hanover Kisses and Tells is published by Dial.


Seen it yet?

I did.

I saw it on opening night, which is always extra fun. I was saying to my fella, imagine how excited kids are, if we are this excited? I was curious to see how the film would represent the book, and how well the text would translate to film, because the first half of the book is quite slow to get going. I’d read some great reviews, and some not so great (great, not so great). I had my fingers crossed.

The long and the short of it? I loved it. In fact, I think it would make it into my top three of the film versions along with The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire. It’s dark and moody and sad, and it’s quite beautiful to watch. There are some gorgeous epic landscape shots when Harry and Ron and Hermione are hiding in the country, and the battle scene at the beginning is edge-of-your-seat satisfying. I thought that the shadow-puppet type representation of the story of The Tale of the Three Brothers was perfection – quite unexpected and creative. I don’t understand people griping that there isn’t enough “action.” There was plenty of tension throughout, and I thought that the pacing wasn’t too rushed or too slow. It is a much more character-focused book at the beginning, so it makes sense that the movie would represent that. Boring? I don’t think so. Of course, if you’re not a Potter fan, at this point, I’m not sure why you’d go. The story is so tied up in all that has come before that I wonder how you could appreciate it without knowing the backstory.

I’ll see it again. And I’ll be waiting for July. Maybe in the meantime, I’ll read this (can’t believe I haven’t already):


I LOVE this book. Love. It’s dreamy and magical and gorgeously written. In Keeper, Kathi Appelt has created a more than worthy follow-up to her award-winning Middle Grade novel, The Underneath.

Keeper is about a girl who believes in magic. She believes her mother, who has been gone for seven years, is a mermaid. After a particularly bad day, the day of a much-anticipated Blue Moon, Keeper chooses to go in search of her mermaid mother. She gets into a tiny boat along with her dog, and sets sail, hoping to find answers and solace and a way to mend everything.

What do I love about the book? I love the setting. Keeper lives on this strange little stretch of Texas coast, on a strip of land with only a few houses on it. Appelt brings the Gulf Coast to life so completely that you can smell the salt in the air and hear the surf and picture the sting rays floating under the waves. She devotes such attention to the setting that it’s really more of a character. I adore that.

I love how it’s about one really bad day. All kids can connect to that. The day when every single thing is awful, and keeps getting awful-er, no matter what you do to try to make things better.

I love the animals. There are three wonderful animals in the story: B.D. (Best Dog), Keeper’s loyal companion on her adventure, Captain (B.D.’s best/only seagull friend), and Sinbad (mysterious one-eyed cat). I’m not sure I could say which one of them is my favourite. That’s a good thing. (Warning: for a little while, it looks like something awful happens to one of the animals. It made me have to read really fast to find out if the worst had indeed happened. Don’t worry. Take home message? Dogs should wear life jackets). I’m not sure I’ll ever look at seagulls in quite the same way.

I love that it’s full of love stories – unexpected loves, old ones, lost ones, friendships, the love within families, the bonds we share with animals and that they share with each other. It’s all here.

The beginning of the book has a meandering and repetitive quality to it. You are waiting for something to happen, just like Keeper is waiting for her plan to get moving. At first I wasn’t sure about this slowness. I felt that the story wasn’t getting anywhere. But as I read on, I started appreciating it. As things get going, Appelt weaves in the different elements of the narrative and the backstory so gradually that you appreciate each separate story as it unfolds and joins in with the greater plot.

Keeper sweeps you up. As you read, you can feel all of the elements, the separate threads of story, pulling together. That is a most satisfying feeling, I must say. Love each word. Read this story out loud, and then read it again. It’s a beauty.

Keeper is published by Atheneum.


Maru the famous box-loving cat (+ book… I swear)

Do you know of Maru, the famous Japanese box-loving cat?

I did not. Until yesterday. Now I am Maru’s #1 fan.

Meet Maru:

Do you not love how he launches himself into the way-too-skinny box at the end?

Maru reminded me of this book, which is a favourite of mine:

It’s a funny rhyming story with adorable, understated illustrations. A hidden gem.

I think Maru should receive this book for Christmas. Perhaps I will send it to him…


Jennifer Donnelly’s new novel, Revolution, is captivating. It’s complex, layered and poetic. Like Donnelly’s previous YA novel, A Northern Light, this book has history, mystery, and heartbreak, but it also has an element of fantasy. It centers around two girls, two centuries apart. One is Andi Alpers, a talented young musician who is on the verge of a breakdown after the death of her younger brother.  The other is Alexandrine Paradis, an actor and companion to the son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. In the beginning, Andi is very close to failing her year at her prestigious Brooklyn private school. Since the death of her brother, her mother is hardly functioning. Andi’s father decides to take her to Paris, where he will be doing some unusual genetic testing to see if a preserved heart is the heart of the dauphin, Louis-Charles, who was imprisoned so many years before. In Paris, Andi discovers Alexandrine’s diary and finds herself drawn into Alex’s struggle. Paris and the diary change Andi’s life.

Here’s Jennifer Donnelly speaking about the book:

Revolution is in places very dark and sad, but it is also a story about hope and healing, and the role that art can play to create meaning and offer solace in an often brutal world. There are some wonderful sections on the power of music and creativity to provide consolation and inspire courage in the most desperate circumstances. I think Revolution should appeal to readers who might not typically go for historical novels, even though it is heavily historical. The reason is that Andi is such a believable teen. She’s angry and defiant and desperate, and she’s so full of potential. You really come to care about her and want to see her survive. The themes are brilliantly developed and Donnelly has skillfully interwoven the contemporary and historical plot-lines. When I finished the last page (what an ending!), I realized this novel had really seized me, made me think, and moved me. This is the sort of story that becomes a part of you and alters the way you see the world. It’s that good. Don’t miss it.

Revolution is published by Delacorte.

1136 hours to go…

According to my handy Christmas countdown clock, we are less than 1200 hours away from the big day.

Maybe that’s why I made this yesterday:

It smelled like Christmas had already arrived in our house. Gingery perfection, for hours and hours. The house still smells yummy today. After one slice, I was so much in the spirit that I started hunting for holiday music and I found this loveliness:

It made me think of one of my favourite winter books, which is just as atmospheric and haunting and perfect as Priscilla Ahn’s voice:

If you haven’t read Beth’s book (and all of her others too), don’t wait for Christmas.

The Dancing Pancake

With some books, it’s the cover that gets you. With this one, it was the title that sold it: The Dancing Pancake. A-dor-able. (Not that there’s anything shabby about the cover here. It’s Joanne Lew-Vriethoff’s handiwork, and the whimsical sweetness is perfect match for Spinelli’s story). Everything about this little gem is sweet and carefully crafted. It’s a lovely middle-grade read.

When I saw it was a verse novel, I confess, I was a tiny bit disappointed. In general, I don’t enjoy verse novels as well as prose, and middle grade verse novels can be particularly tricky because I often think that it’s hard to create a believable middle grade voice through poetry. Spinelli’s The Dancing Pancake proves the exception. She gets her main character’s voice just right. There’s nothing in the poetry that seems a stretch given the age of the main character.

Bindi’s life changes in a big way with her parents’ separation. Her dad moves to another city to look for a job and Bindi and her mom have to move out of their house into an apartment. Bindi’s mom and aunt decide to open a café in the shop beneath the apartment, and The Dancing Pancake fills Bindi’s life with even more unexpected people and situations.

The pen-and-ink illustrations add even more heart and humour to Spinelli’s words. They made me think a little of Clementine. I liked that the novel succeeded in communicating the complexity of emotion that a child feels when change happens. Change can be exciting and awful all at once, and you really get that in this novel. Spinelli manages to create a verse novel that is accessible, engaging and thought-provoking, where family makes life difficult and better all at once.

The Dancing Pancake is published by Knopf.