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Archive for September, 2011

Fantasy Friday – Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Friday, September 16th, 2011


Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Review by Janice Y. (jai)


There has been much love online for Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch,Three Times and I’ve been chomping at the bit to read her writing. Because of this, I made sure I grabbed a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone when I saw it at BEA this summer. It was one of my Must Haves based on reputation alone. This is a review of an ARC copy.

The Premise: Karou seems like your typical art student. She’s a pretty girl with bright blue hair and a vivid imagination. Every day she shows the other students at the Art Lyceum of Bohemia her sketches of extraordinary characters – Brimstone with his ram’s horns and strange shop where he sells wishes for teeth, Issa, a snake goddess who mans the door, and others with similar part-human, part-animal shapes. To the other students it looks like Karou has a colorful inner world, full of fantastical stories, but the truth is that Karou draws from real life. She was raised by the creatures in her sketches, and when she’s not going to class or working on her art in a small studio apartment in Prague, Karou has a secondary life steeped in magic and a job fetching teeth for Brimstone’s shop. Karou doesn’t really know who she is and why she was raised by Brimstone, but she is content, if not a little lonely. Then one day, handprints are found, burned onto doors around the world. At the same time, sightings of angels begin.  Karou’s life is changed forever when she meets one of these winged beings and discovers the truth.

My Thoughts: The first thing to hit me about Daughter of Smoke and Bone was its setting. It is so refreshing to have a story that’s NOT set in the usual places, and Prague is described wonderfully. I’ve never been there, but I want to see its old streets that are “a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century […] it’s medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies”. Adding to its character are Karou’s beautiful school, housed in a castle with a macabre history, her acquaintances with street performers that dress up as vampires, and her local hang out, a cafe on church grounds known for its goulash and roman statues. I hugely enjoyed reading about Karou’s charming day to day life as an art student and Prague local. There’s the drama of dealing with her weasel ex-boyfriend, Kaz, the busyness of art classes, and a friendship with the understanding Zuzana, who does not ask questions. Even if Karou wishes she could trust someone with her secrets, her life is pretty full, but her association with a place she calls Elsewhere takes it one step further.

Non-Fiction Review – The CAT That Changed My LIFE

Thursday, September 15th, 2011


The CAT That Changed My LIFE by Bruce Eric Kaplan

Review by McGuffyAnn M. (nightprose)


This is a wonderful pet humor book written and illustrated by Bruce Eric Kaplan. He has been with The New Yorker and other major publications for many years. Mr. Kaplan is also a television writer, having worked on Seinfeld and Six Feet Under.


This very entertaining little book poses the question to cats around the country, “Who was the cat who had the most effect on their life and why?” Mr. Kaplan says that he conducted over forty thousand interviews with cats, sketching each cat as he did so.  The book consists of the fifty Mr. Kaplan felt were the most compelling. The book is full of stories told by cats, offering the “turning points” based on their relationships with other cats.


This simple yet deep question is asked of average house cats, offering revelations and some epiphanies. There are admissions and moments of honest confessions, even catharsis, all by cats. It seems that love is at the root of each story, though guilt seems to be a common thread, as well. However, the stories vary. Knickers is a young male who has a summer affair with an older female. Red attributes his insecurity to gossip by other cats. Francis ran away after going through territory marking issues, as a young cat. Upon meeting and being mentored by an older, wiser Wolfie, Francis settles down and is now a mentor to others.


The book is written in fun, with genuine humor that can be appreciated by anyone who has a cat, has had a cat, likes a cat, or even knows a cat. There have been many cats in my life and each has had an effect on me, changing me in some small way. I have also seen how they have changed each other, though they probably wouldn’t admit it.


Romance Review – The Peach Keeper

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen


Review by Susan R. (Sue-in-AZ)



This story focuses on two young women (Willa and Paxton) in a very small town in North Carolina.  Willa and Paxton have known each other all their lives, but up until now have avoided each other.  Their two families share a deep past that goes back for generations. The symbol of their shared past is an abandoned, haunted house.

Once owned by Willa’s family, the house has now been bought by Paxton. Paxton plans to restore the house to its former glory and re-open it as a country inn.  But as the renovations proceed, a grisly discovery is when a body is unearthed from an unmarked grave.  The police get involved to solve what appears to be a decade’s old murder – and all the evidence points right back to Willa and Paxton’s grandmothers.  Willa and Paxton form an uneasy alliance to determine what really happened all those years ago and the story that emerges is full of intrigue and magic (all of Sarah Addison Allen’s stories have at least a little magic going on).

All of the mystery surrounding the house and the old murder are merely backdrop to the two ladies’ personal  lives.  Both Willa and Paxton have resigned themselves to living out their lives alone, in the shadow of their parents.  Paxton is living in her parent’s pool house and even though she is an adult, she’s living the life of a 17 year old, reporting all her coming and going to an over-controlling mother.  Willa is living in the small house her dead father left for her.  Both women feel trapped by expectations from their parents and neither feels free to leave town (or even their parents homes) to pursue their own dreams.

Love comes unexpectedly to both women – in both cases the man of their dreams was someone they knew all along.


My Review

For a Sarah Addison Allen story, I expected more magic.  That’s the only negative I have for this story.  It’s delightful!  As an adult daughter, I can sympathize with the struggle between my family and my personal life, so I found the plight of both women to be believable.

I loved the intermixing of the mystery with the on-going saga of Willa and Paxton’s personal dramas.  By the end of the story, I had fallen in love with the characters and the town.  I hope the author writes another story set in the same town.  She did have a cameo appearance from a character from an earlier book (I won’t describe here – I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for other Sarah Addison Allen fans!).

Author Spotlight – Roald Dahl

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

On what would have been Dahl’s 95 birthday, we are pleased to present this Author Spotlight by James L. (JimiJam)



Authors of children’s books are not necessarily few, nor far between.  One need only consider shorter works, comprised largely of illustrations, to arrive at a list of hundreds upon hundreds of authors writing for the youngest of readers.  There is certainly no shortage of authors writing lengthier tomes for children, although it seems that, of these, only a fraction find themselves elevated to an amount of noteworthy esteem.  For all the tremendous authors who have written for children in years past, precious few compare to the fanciful and absurd Roald Dahl.

Born to Norwegian parents on September 13th, 1916, in Cardiff, Wales, Dahl’s early years were marked by a pair of tragedies:  when he was but 3 years old, his 7 year old sister, Astri, died of appendicitis; only a few weeks later, his father also passed away, stricken with a fatal case of pneumonia.  Roald’s mother decided to remain in England, rather than return to her native Norway, in hopes that England’s excellent schools would instill in her son an education that would serve him well throughout his life.  Unfortunately, his time as a student was less than kind.  It is no wonder he found such strong validation in Dickens’ works, whose influence can easily be observed in Dahl’s own stories.  Experiences with a number of harsh headmasters, teachers, and other authority figures, would later provide inspiration for characters in his novels, such as Aunts Sponge and Spiker in James and the Giant Peach (1961), the parents of the bad children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1963), and, perhaps most directly, the headmistress in his later work Matilda (1988).

It’s a point of fact that Dahl often included biographical elements in his novels.  As a student of the Repton School in Derbyshire, for example, the Cadbury chocolate company would use the school as a testing grounds of sorts, sending boxes of chocolates for the students to try.  Perhaps as an escape from the difficulties of school life, Dahl would imagine himself a chocolatier, and dreamt of impressing Mr. Cadbury with new flavors and styles.  These flights of fancy would of course go on to fuel the creation of the great Willy Wonka.  Another example is his 1983 book, The Witches, in which the main character is a boy of Norwegian descent, living in England.

Before his vocation as an author could be realized, Dahl first had to contend with his calling as an airman.  Having enlisted with the Royal Air Force in 1939, by the time the war had ended he had reached the rank of Wing Commander, as well as having earned the title of Fighter Ace, for having scored 5 victories in aerial combat.  His experiences as an airman would inspire his first children’s book in 1943, titled The Gremlins, a story about the mischievous imps that would sabotage airplanes.  This work, first selected by Disney, and then later by Warner Brothers, was the basis for a few Bugs Bunny cartoons, as well as the general pop-cultural awareness of the superstition, which spread and continued for years after, not only in cartoons but the infamous Twilight Zone vignette and even the 1984 film Gremlins.


Following the war, Dahl’s personal life continued the tragic trends of his childhood.  He and his wife, Patricia, lost two of their children to illnesses, and in 1965 his wife herself suffered a series of aneurysms, though she did survive and manage to struggle back to good health.  Dahl himself lived on as well, contributing to enrich lives through his literature, as well as numerous charitable contributions which themselves remain a lasting legacy in England and abroad.  Dahl passed away on November 23rd, 1990, at the age of 74. One need not read the entirety of his bibliography to see how ever-present hardship was in his life; every one of his stories touches upon difficulties that seem insurmountable, and more often than not nearly crush the protagonists before something fanciful or surreal happens along and rescues them from their plight.  Yet one need also look no further than the nearest Dahl novel at hand to find that, in his life as well as his stories, the ultimate power of goodness triumphs in the end.

I have always found Dahl’s approach to have been most exceptional, in that his narratives come from the perspective of childlike wonderment, worded not so much as a child would speak, but rather as an adult who has not lost an inch of contact with his or her inner child; often these narratives involve a vocabulary beyond that of the average speaker, and yet the phrasing and emphasis enthralls and inspires near giddiness at the concepts presented.  The “storyteller” style of Dahl’s books evoke images of a wild-eyed and animated narrator, entertaining groups of children huddled ’round his feet, spinning fantastic fables with an eye for magic that only children can imagine or perceive.  Yet, behind all this childish wonder and abandon lie the themes Dahl so often employed, notions quite a bit more adult than one might expect to find in a simple children’s novel.  Perhaps it is that the boisterous delight is a sugar coating, and that these stories are by no means as simple as they appear.  Dahl’s works are filled to the brim with moral lessons, touching upon justice, fairness, morality, karma, classism, heartbreak, abuse, neglect, and even death.  To combine such mature themes with childlike wonder, and deliver them in a way that is entertaining and yet secretly contains such heartfelt and inspirational messages, elevates Dahl to the pinnacle of children’s literature.

Clearly, there is an amount of consensus on just how entertaining Dahl’s stories can be.  No less than six of his

Image courtesy of www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org

novels have been made into major motion pictures: The Witches, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  What’s more, dozens of his short stories have inspired productions in both the movie and television studios.  He was also hired to pen a fair few screenplays, including such notable films as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the James Bond picture You Only Live Twice.  These days, children’s stories being turned into movies is more prevalent than ever, and there are, of course, many fine children’s authors of worthy renown.  But there is something singularly exquisite about Dahl’s oeuvre, and as I read it I am compelled to recall numerous volumes, written by others after his time, that harken back to his style, tone, and childlike sensibilities.  From the Series of Unfortunate Events to Harry Potter, I find it difficult to think of a popular modern children’s story that doesn’t seem in some way a direct descendant of Dahl’s earlier works.  While the genre of children’s literature is centuries old, and will, one hopes, continue to extend far into the future, the genre – and we as its readers – owe a great debt to the likes of Roald Dahl.



Mystery Monday – Maigret and the Gangsters

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Maigret and the Gangsters aka Inspector Maigret and the Killers by Georges Simenon

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage


Georges Simenon wrote about 70 police procedural mysteries starring Inspector Maigret and set in France. Written in 1952, this installment features the excellent description of atmosphere, especially Paris and its shops, bars, restaurants, apartments, street scenes, and weather.

Inspector Lognon doesn’t work at the Quai des Orfèvres  so he’s not in Maigret’s inner circle of Janvier, Lapointe, and Lucas. Although self-pitying Lognon earns his nickname of Old Grouch, Maigret sympathizes with his situation because of Lognon’s wife, pathetic invalid and annoying complainer and decidedly unchic in “a dressing gown a hideous shade of mauve.” Lognon is also an obstinate bulldog of a cop.

On a routine stake-out, Lognon witnesses a body being dumped. Maigret bends the rules (the incident took place outside his turf) and gets on the trail of two American gangsters. The pace of this one seems quicker than in other Maigret novels, since M. and his team go from place to place, without much of a break for beer and sandwiches.

In various bars, Maigret is told that the French police are no match for American gangsters. This imputation gets Maigret’s dander up though sometimes Maigret seems unsure how to deal with American thugs, who act “like they’re at home” with impunity.

Maigret fans may recall that poor Lognon – who takes a round in this one – also got shot in Maigret and the Ghost aka Maigret and the Apparition (1964). Students of French may be interested to know that l’inspecteur Malgracieux has been translated as The Grouser, Inspector Grouch, Old Ungracious, and Inspector Grumpy.

We Wish You Peace

Sunday, September 11th, 2011


























The Places Where We Live – New Hampshire

Saturday, September 10th, 2011


New Hampshire by Robin K. (jubead)



New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die”. General John Stark, who is New Hampshire’s famous Revolutionary War solider, coined the phrase and in 1945 the state of New Hampshire officially adopted the motto.  In 2009, the state felt the motto portrayed the state as unfriendly and attempted to change the motto to “Be Courteous, Its The New Hampshire’s Way”.  I remember one spring morning a couple of years ago crossing from Massachusetts into New Hampshire and seeing the new motto.   My first thought was “Huh?”.  This was a short-term campaign and when you visit New Hampshire you will once again be greeted with “Live Free or Die”, though we are all very courteous.  Thank  You Please.

New Hampshire borders Canadian province of Quebec to its north, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to its east, Massachusetts to its south and Vermont to its west.  Forests make up 80% of New Hampshire’s landscape with 1,300 lakes or ponds and 40,000 miles of rivers and streams.  New Hampshire has 18 miles of beaches (sandy and rocky).

New Hampshire is 168 miles long and 90 miles across its widest point.  As of 2010 the population reached 1,316,470 million and there are 146.8 persons per square mile.

Sales and Income Tax doesn’t exist in New Hampshire (except on meals, motels, tobacco, timber, gravel, dividends, interest, self-employed, small companies, property tax, etc.).  Unfortunately, New Hampshire property tax is among the highest in country.


New Hampshire’s official drink is Apple Cider, but we do not have any official food.   We got nothing!  Maine has Lobsters, Massachusetts has Baked Beans, Vermont has Maple Syrup, the Atlantic Ocean has fish and Quebec has Meat Pies.  NH has nothing.  Since we are better with mottos, then food, you will have to visit another state if you want to eat!




New Hampshire’s Fun Facts

  • The “Old Man of the Mountain” was one of the most famous natural landmarks in the state. The head measured 40 feet from chin to forehead and was made up of five ledges. This profile was carved by nature thousands of years ago. The “Old Man of the Mountain” is 1,200 feet over Echo Lake. In 2003 the rocks making up the Old Man slid down the mountain. They are trying to raise money to restore this great old landmark.
  • Mt Washington at 6,288 feet tall and is the highest in the Northeast.
  • NH still has only a single area code for the entire state “603”.
  • Peterborough, NH built the first free public library in 1833.


Who hailed from New Hampshire:

  • Sara Hale was the first women’s magazine editor in the nation.
  • Dan Brown author of the DaVinci Code
  • Robert Frost who is a Pulitzer Prize poet.
  • Horace Greely, founder of the New York Tribune.
  • J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye
  • Joseph Hale, author of “Mary had a Little Lamb”.
  • Christa McAulifee was the first private citizen sent to space.

You may Live Free or Die but it is against the law to…

  • Tap your feet, nod your head, or in any way keep time to the music in a tavern, restaurant, or cafe.
  • You cannot sell the clothes you are wearing to pay off gambling debts.
  • It is considered an offense to check into a hotel under an assumed name.
  • If cattle cross state roads they must be fitted with a device to gather its feces.
  • In White Mountain National Forest – If a person is caught raking the beaches, picking up litter, hauling away trash, building a bench for the park, or many other kind things without a permit, he/she may be fined $150 for ”maintaining the national forest without a permit”.
  • Finally, on Sundays citizens may not relieve themselves while looking up.


New Hampshire is beautiful, friendly and steeped in history. In the fall the foliage is breath taking, in the winter, well, it is cold, but you can go skiing, in the spring it is the start of Friends of Library sales, and finally in the summer you can fish, hike, or float on a lake and relax.   It is where I live…


The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving


The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger


Robert Frost’s Poems


I touch the Future: The Story of Christa McAuliffe by Robert T Hohler


The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown