Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Read Across America - Children's Books

In honour of Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2nd, the National Education Association (NEA) has set aside a week to honor the birthday of one of the world’s most beloved children’s author *beginning 1 March in 2013. The NEA's Read Across America began in 1998 and is an annual reading motivation and awareness program celebrated to encourage reading and literacy and create lifelong readers.

This year NEA is teaming up with Renaissance Dental to deliver an important message: 2 x 2 + 20 = good oral health and literacy habits. “We’re asking children and their parents to brush for two minutes, two times per day plus read for 20 minutes each day,” said Rob Mulligan, president and CEO at Renaissance Dental. “That’s a daily total of 24 minutes focused on developing good oral health and reading skills.” American students miss over 51 million hours of school every year due to oral health problems. Students miss critical instruction time—especially in early grades where reading skills are a critical focus. This partnership will bring books and toothbrushes to kids in need on the eve of National Children’s Dental Health Month (February).

There are so many wonderful Dr. Seuss books that inspire and encourage reading, and there is nothing like reading with a child. Joy can be found not only by sharing the story, but also by sharing their reactions and discussing their thoughts.

Don’t forget to read to your adult loved ones as well. That special poem, silly rhyme, moving passage, joke that you can’t wait to share, or just the book you are reading now.

"You're never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child."

Here is a listing of some of my favourite children’s and young Adult Authors (that I am still reading!)

A. Chris van Allsburg (Polar Express), G.A. Aiken (What a Dragon Should Know), Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)

B. J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Frank Baum, Alan Bradley (Flavia deLuce), Thornton Burgess, Gillian Bradshaw (Camelot series)

C. Lewis Carroll (Alice), Chaucer

D. Kate DiCamillo, Roald Dahl, Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe), Jeanne DuPrau (Embers series)

E. Julie Andrews Edwards, Michael Ende (NeverEnding story)

F. Ian Fleming (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Anne Frank, Fynn (Mister God, this is Anna)

G. Neil Gaiman, Kenneth Graham, Jean Craighouse George

H. Mark Haddon (Curious Incident Dog in the Night), Rachel Hartman (Seraphina), George Haley

I. Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), Washington Irving (Rip van Winkle)

J. William Joyce (Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore), Brian Jacques, W.E. Johns (Biggles)

K. Rudyard Kipling, Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew)

L. Andrew Lang (Blue Fairy Book), Madeleine L’Engle, Munro Leaf (Story of Ferdinand), Edward Lear (Owl and Pussycat), C.S. Lewis (Narnia)

M. Walter Moers, Gregory Maguire, Andrew Motion (Silver), Brandon Mull

N. Edith Nesbit (Railway children), John Newbery, Mary Norton (Borrowers)

O. Scott O’Dell

P. Terry Pratchett (I shall wear Midnight), Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Gary Paulson


R. JK Rowling (Harry Potter), Arthur Ransom, Marjorie Rawlings, Rick Riordan (Perry Jackson)

S. Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped), Maurice Sendak, Lane Smith, (It's a Book), Louis Sachar, Dr Suess, Lemony Snicket, Brian Selznick (Hugo)

T. J.R.R. Tolkein, Nigel Tranter, Mark Twain, Tasha Tudor

U. Anne Ursu (Shadow Thieves), Florence Upton (golliwoggs)

V. Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji)

W. T. H. White (Sword in the Stone), E. B. White (Charlotte’s Web), H.G. Wells


Y. Laurence Yep (Golden Mountain Chronicles), Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, Wizard’s Hall)

Z. Paul Zindel (Pigman), Pamela Zagarenski (illustrator)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book of the Moment

Susanna Kearsley The Winter Sea

I read Shadowy Horses, Mariana and the Rose Garden, quite quickly in succession, charmed by the writing and locations. Historical Scotland, medieval England, magic as well as reminding me greatly of reading Mary Stewart as a teenager. Then I discovered Mary Stewart was one of Kearsley’s favorite authors growing up, and I couldn’t wait to read more. Her first novel Mariana won the Catherine Cookson literary prize, all of her books have become bestsellers. She also writes classic thrillers under the name Emma Cole.

The Winter Sea is her most recent book, and rumour has it her next one is a sequel (you have time to read this one before Firebird is released in June). Prepare to be enthralled: this is a beautiful and engaging work of historical fiction, with a dash of romance, tragedy, mystery in an engrossing story. She has done her research, both in richly detailed history but also in the present day settings – interesting characters, a moody sea, enchanting scottish village and local customs.

Summary: Carrie McClelland moves to Scotland to continue to research her next book on a relatively unknown Jacobite rebellion of 1708. She is drawn to Slains Castle, rents a remote cottage and begins to dream of her characters, creating a parallel story.

If you like Barbara Erskine (Lady of Hay), Diana Gabaldon and Mary Stewart, read on.

Monday, February 18, 2013


The Midwife's Tale by Samuel Thomas

The midwife in this tale is Lady Bridget Hodgson, and her newly acquired servant and apprentice Martha. Lady Bridget is a 30 year old twice widowed woman, whose very real sorrow is the loss of her 2 children. She lives in St Helen’s Stonegate Parish, York, and best of all, is based on an actual character. The author discovered this woman from her will written in 1683, perhaps the only document to list her occupation as midwife instead of status as widow. These were streets I know well, and the pull back in time was intense : the setting perfectly depicted the harrowing days of a siege (by the Scots, described here as barbarians, during the political and religious strife of King Charles and Parliament). This story has an intriguing list of characters, all well developed, with distinct differences and functions. Many classes of people are represented from city officials, soldiers, jailers, gentlewomen, working women, wives, tailors, to street urchins, in churches, government, bars, apothecaries etc.

Martha is also a fascinating character, useful to the household, but with unusual set of skills, not so much house cleaning as house breaking. She has a few secrets of her own.

This is primarily a book about women, but there is an interesting assortment of men:

brother-in-law (Edward), dominating, political, ultimately trustworthy

nephew (Will, son of Edward) tormented individual (club foot) but supportive, helpful

Italian (Bacca) mysterious bordering on violence and deadly

husbands, sinful men of god, 'the godly'

dwarf jailer (Samuel Short) – humour in odd places, goodness

mayor - powerful, secretive, ruthless chess player

rebels and kingsmen in bombardments (to be avoided!)

This is not a fast paced thriller. It is filled with death and the grim reality of the struggle for life, such that you wonder how we as humanity made it out of the 17th century. There is scathing social and religious commentary, interesting portrayal of the conniving and desperate lives of most women, the corrupt power of local politics all the while presenting everyday life. If you think you'd like time travel, read this for the gritty, grimy gruesome detail that will make you revel in central heating and plumbing. My nose wrinkles just thinking of her descriptive reeking passages. The contrast with her life (with linens, extra clothing, food) to the poor and unfortunate is uncomfortable at best. The writing is evocative - reel from the scents (stinking smells really), the sounds (cannons, horse screams, rain) but also the torment and sorrow of loss of children, babies, diseases, and the precariousness of life. There are full descriptions of several types of births but also the customs and camaraderie of the gossips (those women who helped with birthing)

But the characters were intriguing and interesting and every page turned effortlessly. I so enjoyed this book that I seriously hope that it is the beginning of a series. That Lady Bridget will continue to deliver babies and solve mysteries satisfactory, especially with Martha now taken on as deputy (midwife in training).


"I was struck once again by the artist's inability to portray him as any less pathetic than he had been in life. In truth it was a peculiar kind of masterpiece."

“Phineas (her second husband) had taught me the hard lesson that contentment in marriage could not be taken for granted. I preferred the certainty of my work to the unknown of married life.”

'I never forget a mother, the fathers were a different matter."

“It is said that in his youth Edward ordered his sleeves cut an inch longer than was fashionable in order to hide the pommel of his dagger. This seemed right to me.”

“Edward was a voracious reader, and the walls of the room were covered with bookshelves containing works on every subject imaginable. There were books in English and Latin, of course, but also French and what looked like Greek. Massive folios of Shakespeare’s plays sat comfortably next to cheap pamphlets detailing a monstrous birth in Sussex….his desk was a riot of correspondence and commonplace books in which he scrawled notes…despite all this the room exuded not chaos but a sort of controlled energy.”

4.5 stars
read as an ARC

If you like Ariana Franklin, CJ Ransom and Vanora Bennett this is a book for you.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Climate and Conservation Eds. Jodi A. Hilty, Charles C. Chester and Molly S. Cross

Island Press (publishers) May 2012 392 pages

I anticipated an interesting and informative read as Island Press is a leading non-profit environmental publisher which specialises in ecology, biodiversity, conservation and natural history, all subjects I love. They publish 40 titles each year (with a library of over 800 titles) trying to reach a broader audience with scientific information. One of their books "Unnatural History of the Sea" by Callum Roberts (2009) was declared one of Jonathan Yardley's top ten books of the year, a formidable accolade. EO Wilson's memoir was another mesmerizing, unforgettable title for me.

Climate and Conservation consists of 19 case studies presented from many of the world's ecosystems: temperate, polar, equatorial, montane etc. The studies are presented by 'people on the ground' primarily academics and scientists, many working for the Nature Conservancy, WWW or similar NGOs (non-governmental organisations). Although this is published in 2012, it feels dated with much information from 2002-2006/9. At the very least some of the climate data from 2011, 2010 should have been included, especially updating the introductory chapters, which were otherwise excellent.

This book contains some very interesting habitat / ecosystem studies from Madrean Sky Islands to Albertine Rift (Africa) or closer to home with the Appalachians or Yellowstone. Each region has a detailed map of the area, with a few good quality photographs also illustrating some regions. The chapters have specific details to vast generalisations, with multiple authors reflecting different styles, although there is an overall message of providing recommendations to DO something in each local environment, which ultimately will have a global benefit. Some of the pictures painted are dire (the Amazon with illegal land appropriation and deforestation always comes to mind and is represented here).

Having worked in many of the areas represented here the overall portrayal of conditions, expectations and assessments are accurate. I felt confident that regions I knew little about were also presented well, and enjoyed learning more about Mongolian Grasslands and Arctic Alaska (ecosystems I know I will not study myself).

My initial impression on reading this is who is the audience: students? colleagues? professionals? general public? As this book does not just show problems of biodiversity and climate change, but also involves problem solving, de-emphasizing the doom and gloom of many popular presses, I think the book is intended to reach a broad audience, providing scientific facts to people on the ground, such as for planners and managers. I think it could have a much broader audience with this remit. I can't see many of my neighbors reading this book, but I would like to buy each of them a copy. It would also be an important reference for community and high school libraries which should provide accurate information on an important current topic. 2012 was the warmest year on record, when are we going to wake up?

My kindle copy had annoying grammatical errors, typos, weird hyphenation, lack of capital letters for author names, poor indexing, ... The Bios of contributors / authors were interesting, and provide reassuring credentials (scientists and academics with good experience). I confess I read that chapter first before assessing the case studies. The index, however, was basic and incomplete, not including the authors or all the locations. There is an impressive list of references or publications, but I feel these would have been more useful and appropriate at the end of each chapter/case study.

I do think this is a valuable reference book, and applaud the kindle format for additional accessibility, with potentially a wider audience. Anything that can get facts into people for educated and informed opinions as this is critical in determining our environmental future. This is a timely book in our current political climate but also before degraded ecosystems are the only habitats we can have. I applaud Island Press for partnering with EcoAdapt who launched CAKE - Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange website in 2010, an online community with database of case studies, literature and professionals.

3.5 stars
Read as an ARC

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Lists - Romance

February is I love to Read Month
A Good Book and Chocolate, flowers optional

Romantic Authors

Following the library's (and Facebook) alphabet lists of either books or authors, here is a list of authors that write romance fiction. I personally never knew that Jane Austen or Garrison Keillor were considered romance writers (searching Kindle selections). These are some of the authors I have enjoyed reading, especially classics and Regency or historical novels.

To quote Robertson Davies, 'It is dangerous to condemn stories as junk which satisfy the deep hunger of millions of people. These books are not literary art, but a great deal of what is acclaimed as literary art in our time offers no comfort or fulfillment to anybody.’  from For Your Eyes Alone; the Letters of Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant, Viking Press

A. Jane Austen, Jennifer Ashley, *Laurie Anderson

B. Mary Balogh, *Angela Benson

C. Gail Carriger, *Jennifer Crusie, Mary Chase Comstock

D. Christina Dodd

E. Suzanne Enoch

F. Jane Feather

G. *Diana Gabaldon, *Roberta Gellis

H. *Madeline Hunter, *Deborah Harkness

I. Iris Johansson

J. *Eliosa James

K. Lisa Kleypas, Susanna Kearsley, Lynn Kurland

L. Stephanie Laurens

M. Karen Marie Moning, *Lucy Muir

N. Brenda Novak

O. Constance O’Day Flannery

P. Mary Jo Putney, *Elizabeth Peters, * Nina Coombs PyKare,

Q. Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick

R. Karen Rose, Karen Ranney, Deanna Raybourn, *Pamela Regis

S. *Christina Skye

T. Adriana Trigiani

U.V. Joan Vincent

W. Susan Wiggs, Lauren Willig, Edith Wharton, Kathleen Woodiwiss

X,Y. *Jane Yardley, Rebecca York

Z. Mia Zachary

* Denote authors who have Phds in various subjects and take the romance novel to a new level.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book of the Moment

Dan Fesperman The Double Agent

I love discovering a new author to read: his list of awards for previously published novels is delightful. The Double Agent is an old-fashioned spy thriller, well researched (well read!) and well written. His style (descriptive, intrigue, pace) pays homage to Cold War espionage novels and made me quite nostalgic for those books. Especially with the multiple literary references from the masters of this genre: Le Carre, Deighton, but also recognising several of my personal favourites: Geoffrey Household, Helen McInnes, John Buchan and Alan Furst. The Appendix has a list of 222 books from 48 author, 18 of whom were in intelligence. 57 were published before 1957. All will provide hours of entertaining reading if you haven’t already perused this literature.

These spy novels provide literary clues throughout this book, which I relished discovering and remembering (yes, I got sidetracked into several books after reading this one). I loved the references to plots, international locations and historical events.

This story is narrated by Bill Gage, as he tries to uncover the truth behind an earlier incident in his career which decades later has left him a rather sad PR agent instead of journalist. The past, with his father, his son, a previous girlfriend, and the eastern European locations of his youth,  is unravelled with steady pace action, but thoughtful intelligence. This is less high tech/buff agents and more reality on the ground. It wasn’t as dark and dangerous as I remember many spy books, but it was also less desperate and more entertaining. A very good read.