Monday, 30 June 2008

Picture Book Monday: "Knuffle Bunny Too - a case of mistaken identity" by Mo Willems

This is my favourite picture book at the moment. There's something about the facial expressions of the characters that's irresistible. The first time I flicked through it it made me giggle immediately, even before having read the whole story. But this is Mo Willems I'm talking about, so it should not come as a surprise. The guy is a comedy genius.
Unfortunately I haven't read (yet!) the first installment in the Knuffle Bunny's saga but I couldn't resist to review this one first.

So, the book is about Trixie and her beloved Knuffle Bunny. She can't wait to bring him at school and show him off to all her friends. Because Kuffle Bunny is a one-of-a-kind bunny and she's sure all her classmates would be in awe of him. Imagine the shock and the disappointment when Tixie sees Sonja with her *own* Knuffle Bunny!
It's war at first sight. The teacher is not pleased either and puts both Knuffles away. At the end of the day the bunnies are returned but...a fatal mistake was made!

I don't know about children, but I find this so utterly hilarious that I want to read it over and over again, just to put a smile on my face (and few occasional giggles).
I just love Trixie's big happy/shocked/angry/determined eyes. I love how the parents, and especially the dad, get involved, unwillingly, in their daughter's little tragedy. It's actually the funniest part. Now that I think of it, that's probably what makes it appealing to adults as well: Mo Willems' ability to capture a child's AND a parent perspective, at the same time.
The mixed technique of black and white photographs for the background and cartoons for all the rest is really interesting. It's not something that I would generally love but it works perfectly well here, so I'm happy with it.
What else can I say? Read it! It's great.

other blog reviews:
Renee's corner
Katherine's children's Lit Blog
Seven impossible things before breakfast

Thursday, 19 June 2008

"Once upon a time" challenge completed! Whoo hoo!

I read them all, I read them all! I'm kind of sad now that it's ended, but I'll make myself believe that it still goes on so that I can read those books from the library which I never got around and read some more fantasy/fairy-taly stuff!

The books I chose were awesome. Well, most of them.
My quest was number 2: to read 4 books from the 4 categories.
In the end I actually read:

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
War for the oaks by Emma Bull
Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
Fairy tales:
Book of a thousand days by Shannon Hale
The book of lost things by John Connolly

Dream Aengus by Alexander McCall Smith
Percy Jackson and the lightning thief by Rick Riordan

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

I've just finished the latter, and though I really really enjoyed it, I'm still baffled by the ending. I think I'll have to read it again and underline everything that brings up questions and then try and discuss it with somebody who knows better.
I'm just proud that I actually managed to read it because it was so hard to find I almost had to give it up.

Except for Fire and Hemlock all the other books were in my to-be-read list, and that's really satisfying:P
They all carried me into other worlds and were all interesting (in the "not dull" sense) in lots of different ways.
I wished we had this kind of challenge all year around!

Monday, 16 June 2008

12th Edition of the Bookworms Carnival is up!

so the Bookworms Carnival is 1 year old as well!!!
This month is hosted by the wonderful Nymeth at Things mean a lot, and it's all about fairy-tales, so make sure to visit it! It's awesome.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire- Arundhati Roy

The time has come, the Walrus said. Perhaps things will get worse and then better. Perhaps there's a small god up in heaven readying herself for us. Another world is not only possible, she's on her way. Maybe many of us won't be there to greet her, but on a quiet day, if I listen carefully, I can hear her breathing.

This is a collection of essays, speeches and articles written by Arundhati Roy between 2002 and 2003.
Reading them has had a huge impact on me. I can’t call it exactly an eye-opener experience, because my eyes were already open, on a lot of the topics Roy talks about. I don’t claim to be an expert on international politics, neo-liberalism or imperialism. But her arguments on war, global injustices and world poverty are familiar grounds for me. My first anti-war protest was in 1991, when I was 10 or 11. I’ve attended three European Social Forum, I’ve been to countless demonstrations and meetings. I’ve always wanted to make the world a better place, and I believe that “another world is possible” is not just a nice slogan.
It’s just that recently I have withdrawn from all this. Now I want to start to read more, to be informed and have good arguments to use when confronted with someone who supports the war on terror, or neo-liberal agendas. It’s not enough to say “was is wrong”. You need facts and figures. And you need to know what you’re talking about.

Arundhati Roy definitely knows what to say and how to say it. She writes about Iraq and the Middle East, about Chomsky and Bush, about everyday people struggling for their right to exist. She writes about this and so much more, with confidence and passion, and even humour.
If you think politics talk is boring, think again.

I must admit that even if I believe that people can always make a difference and that it’s better to do something than just sit and watch, my faith in the power of protests has had some ups and downs.
In February 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, millions of people, all over the world, got on the streets on the same day, and said no to war. All over the world. 800 cities. 60 countries. It was a global protest of unprecedented scale. And it still didn’t physically stop the war. Not that year, not the year after, and not the year after that. So, what’s the point?

Arundhati Roy, even before February 15, in her speech “confronting empire” in Porto Alegre, had said:
We may not have stopped [Empire] in its track – yet - but we have stripped it down. We have made it drop its mask. We have forced it into the open. It now stands before us on the world’s stage in all its brutish, iniquitous nakedness. Empire may well go to war, but it’s out in the open now – too ugly to behold its own reflection.

This is why I needed to read this book. With beautiful words, she urges everyone to have an opinion, and possibly do something to bring change, even a small one.
She is compelling and moving. She sent shivers down my spine more than once.
I can’t recommend this book enough.

We have the winners!

So, the wheel of fortune has spoken...or should I say the bowl of fortune? Anyway, I've picked the three extremely lucky winners who will be able to choose ANY book that I've reviewed in this past year. Roll of drums....

The winners are, in drawing order:

- Sondra

- Teamirc

- Melody

Congratulations!!! and thank you to all the people who commented and spread the word, I loved your kind and supporting words. Thanks so much:D

Friday, 13 June 2008

My first year of blogging!

Today last year I posted my first review here. Little I knew about the blogging world, I hardly knew what a blog was. I just wanted a place where to write my thoughts about my reading and possible share them with other book lovers...And that's exactly what I've done, although I would have never guessed I would sign up to reading challenges, giveways, blog carnivals, blog tours, etc... A new world has opened up for me! Now I barely visit websites anymore, and I rather jump from blog to blog to see what other people are saying everyday. I would have never thought to fall behind with my reviews either. At first I would just write my review right after finishing the book, but now life always come in between me and my reviews and I seriously need to catch up :P

I really love blogging and reviewing, and buying books for friends, and that's why I want to celebrate my first blogaversary with a fabulous giveway!
Since this is about me and my reviews, I've decided to give away 3 BOOKS THAT I'VE REVIEWED, to 3 lucky people, anywhere in the world. You just need to leave a comment and if your name is drawn you can pick any book from my list of reviewed books. Or you can choose it straight away in your comment, it doesn't matter.
To help me spread the word you can post about in your blog, and I'll throw in your name twice:)

You can see the list of reviews on my side bar, including the picture book reviews.
For last year's list look here. Only those with a link were reviewed, obviously :D
You have one week to play, the deadline is Friday June 13th at Midnight GMT +1 (Uk and Ireland Time). I will draw the winners the next day.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Art of P. J. Lynch

Especially for this month’s Bookworms Carnival hosted by Nymeth, this post is all about one of my favourite artist: P. J. Lynch.
Lynch is one of Ireland’s most accomplished and known illustrators. Probably *the* most. Ha has been honoured The Kate Greenaway medal twice, for When Jessie Came across the Sea (1997) and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (1995), which are part of his more “realistic” works and are without a doubt remarkable.
But what I love about him is how he represents the world of fairy tales, myths and folklore. He puts so much passion and care and love into them, you can almost feel it. His illustrations are so stunning and skilful that they instantly makes you feel they belong to a higher level. They are the stuff classics are made of. That’s why they go so well with subjects related to myths and legends.
Lynch has an extensive gallery on his website. If you want to have a better idea of what I'm talking about, take a look. I'm just going to post some examples of my favourites (click on them to enlarge).

From Melisande:

From The Names upon the harp:

His work is so easy to love, so easy to feel comfortable with. Probably because it evokes the feel of those loved (and feared) fairy tales of everyone’s childhood. Only, I think I would have loved those stories even more if they had his illustrations.

The first P. J. Lynch’s book I came across was Catkin. As always, I was attracted by its cover. It reminded me of an art nouveau painting, a style I’m very fond of. When I looked inside I knew I had found a new favourite. The more of his work I see, the more I fall in love with it. The story itself draws on British folklore and mythology, reinventing them to create a tale which reads as though it had been told for centuries.

The next one I came across was Ignis. A story of an adorable young dragon and his quest of self-discovery. Another instant favourite.

The I discovered East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, the Bee-man of Orn and the Name upon the Harp… All masterpieces.

I was lucky enough to be able to hear P.J. Lynch himself talking about his work and how every illustrations came to be, when he came into our shop for a public event. He had a projector and I assure you that those paintings shown on a wide screen are even more breathtaking. He told us that he doesn’t just love doing portraits of beautiful ladies, or cats or cute dragons. He has a great sense of horrid and creepy, which he likes to express in his images of witches, globlins and the like.

We got the sense of how much work and time goes into the creation of just one book. And of how much his work is revered and sought for. He is already booked in for years.
Even though I said I love his fantastical works more, I do appreciate the more realistic subjects, as well. They all have a sort of fairytale touch anyway.
The gift of the Magi, his upcoming work which should be out by next Christmas, looks like it's going to be just wonderful. The story is a sad and touching one, and I’m sure the book will be a great hit with everyone.

I just found out he has a blog, so I think I’m going to visit it regularly now! There’s lots of interesting entries, including a video that shows the process in the creation of cover for The Bee-man of Orn. Enjoy!

Finally, I want to share some more of some of my favourite paintings:

From Melisande:

From The Snow Queen:

and from The Names Upon the Harp:

That's it! I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly did :)

Monday, 9 June 2008

Picture Book Monday: "The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum" by Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli

I’m very excited about this week’s book. I couldn’t wait to put my hands on it since the day I saw the cover on the internet and immediately order a copy. And it took ages to come in! Now, finally I have it and I have to say I’m not the slightest disappointed. On the contrary, I’m stunned but the beauty of it. I wish I had a poster of every single page of it so I could decorate my room with them.
If you love Nicoletta Ceccoli’s art, of just simply beautiful, dream-like illustrations, this book will leave you breathless.

The story is about a little girl, who lives in a castle inside a glass globe, in a toy museum. People says she has lived inside the castle forever, and children visiting the museum try hard to take a peek of her. What they don’t know is that she feels very lonely when they go home, and she is left in the castle with no one to play with. So, at night, she dreams of boys and girls who come to visit her, and keep her happy. Sometimes the girl in the castle even dreams about you. But there’s something you can do to help her. You can place a picture of you on her wall, so that she won’t miss you at all!

The magic of these illustrations is extraordinary. You can find it in the faces of the children, like porcelain dolls, so ethereal and yet so palpable. In the little girl’s hair, which looks like golden candy floss. In the choice of dresses, accessories, decorations. They belong in the world of dreams and fairy tales.
The toys and the little creatures that live in the castle have a surreal quality, that could be creepy but it’s not: a wind-up flying dice-doll, a button-eyed cuckoo clock, a winged doll hanging from the ceiling. They are all part of this incredibly imaginative dimension. It’s made of colourful buttons, stars, skittles, toy windmills, balls and spinning tops, and so much more.
I love the pins on the girls’ hair. I love the warm colours, the children’s dresses, and the fact that there’s buttons everywhere.
I could talk about this for ever, but I will never be able to convey what you need to see with your own eyes.
I really hope this will get all the recognitions it deserves.

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings payed a tribute to Nicoletta Ceccoli in one of his Friday favourite posts. If you haven't seen it yet, go and take a look! You'll know what I mean.

other blog reviews:
Jill at the well-read child
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Cheryl Rainfield

Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

The world of the old tales existed parallel to ours, as David’s mother had once told him, but sometimes the wall separating the two became so thin that the two worlds started to blend into each other.

At the start of WWII David’s life couldn’t be worse. His beloved mother, who used to read him stories and taught him the power of books, has died. His father soon finds another woman, Rose, whom David hates instantly. All he can do is take refuge into the comforts of books. Until one day his father marries Rose and move into her family’s country house. Once again David is drawn to books to forget about his miserable faith. The books in his new bedroom are different, though. First of all, the fairy tales that they tell are much darker and crueler than the one he is used to. They are twisted, macabre versions of the popular tales. And they never end well. But most disturbingly, books start whispering to him, while a crooked man begins to haunt his dreams every night. Until the day David is lured into the world of fairy tales by his mother’s voice and his adventure starts.

This book had all the premises to become a big hit and possibly a favourite. It started well for me, then towards half of the story I realised I was going to be disappointed. I know a lot of people loved it, so I was prepared to love it too. And I really tried to give it a fair chance till the end, but I can’t say I was completely impressed. There was something missing, and I can’t quite define what it was. Probably the writing wasn’t great. I thought the style was rather ordinary, so maybe it didn’t do much for the story. But then again, I didn’t like the story much either. It felt flat, somehow. It didn’t grab me emotionally, though the plot was dense of events and fast-pacing. I don’t share the same love for gory scenes as John Connolly, and all that blood was too much for me.
Also it didn’t help that most of the women’s characters in the fairy tale's world were evil (the woman in the fortress) or stupid (Snow-white) or mad ( the hunter) or just guilty of something (creating the Loups for example). Even the big monster thingy ends up to be female! You know, I’m very sensitive about these matters… I know that the ultimate bad guy was the Crooked Man, but it still doesn’t change that David only encounters positive male heroes, and only negative female characters, with the exception of Rose, who doesn’t appear much in the story, and Anna, who is only a little girl.
I usually like the idea of a twisted fairy tale, of re-interpreting the well-known stories and finding a hidden side of it, but not in this case.
In order not to add spoilers to this review I can’t discuss the ending much here, but even there I have my objections.
This said, I didn’t completely hate it. I thought the first part was engaging. The Crooked Man is actually scary in a good way. No need to spill litres of blood to give me the creeps. The episode of Snow White and the seven dwarfs was funny, and light-hearted. The final part with the little girl in the jar was moving. And I appreciated how David’s attitude changed and matured in the course of his journey.
All I can say is read and judge for yourself. To those who loved it, please don’t take it personally, I can see why you liked it, it just didn’t do it for me.

ps: this was my 100th post! another reason to celebrate!:D

other blog reviews:
Nymeth at things mean a lot
Presenting Lenore
Dewey at The hidden side of a leaf
Renay at Bottle of shine
Kay's bookshelf
Stephanie's confessions of a book-a-holic
melody's reading corner
Stuff as dreams are made on
Stephanie at The written world

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Dream Angus - Alexander McCall Smith

When I started reading I thought this was going to be just a book about Angus the god of dreams. Then as I was reading, I realise that this wasn’t just that. This is also collection of short stories, set in the real world, that show all the different faces of the god Angus.
Probably because I wasn’t prepared for this, I found that some of the stories didn’t leave a great impression on me. They are all beautifully written, and I admire the inventiveness of finding a way of showing the god present within different kind of men in different places and time. It’s just that they didn’t stick with me at all. The only story that left an impression was the last one. About the kind-hearted pig keeper of a research centre, who tries to save one of the pigs from his deadly fate, and unexpectedly touches the heart of a young secretary. I thought it was a very moving and tender story.
I also liked reading about Angus the god, about his conception, his childhood, and about his love sickness. The writing really managed to evoke a mythological atmosphere, and it was truly beautiful.
It was a very quick and pleasant read, and it certainly made me want to read more about this author, but just the fact that after few weeks I can hardly remember what some of the stories were about, gives you the idea of why it wasn’t a great hit for me. So, I won't try and find some insightful things to say about it and I'll just leave it at this!

other blog reviews:
Marg at Reading Adventures
Nymeth at Things mean a lot

Monday, 2 June 2008

Picture Book Monday: "Zen Shorts" by Jon J. Muth

Pandas, watercolours and Zen. How could I resist this book?
It’s also beautifully presented from every angles you watch it. It’s in a large format with a lovely cover and an even better back cover.
But what makes it really special is its stories.

One day three children find a panda in their backyard:

“I’m sorry for arriving unannounced,” said the bear. “The wind carried my umbrella all the way from my backyard to your backyard. I thought I would retrieve it before it became a nuisance.” He spoke with a slight panda accent.

And that’s how Addy, Michael and Karl meet Stillwater.
To each of them Stillwater has a story to tell, that will teach them to look at life in a new way. All the zen shorts are illustrated with black ink, in stark contrast with the delicate watercolours of Stillwater and his friends. They are famous Zen stories, about generosity and unpredictability of life, about tolerance and patience. My favourite is the last one. About the rude lady and the old monks. It teaches that it’s useless to bear grudges, because they are heavy burden belonging to the past. I should think about it every time a rude or patronising customers manages in five minutes to ruin my entire day.
Even though these are educational stories, they don’t feel preachy. They are gentle and calm like the peaceful panda bear. They instil a sense of serenity and quiet wisdom, enhanced by the illustrations and the inside graphics, featuring delicate cherry blossoms on purple and blue backgrounds.
It would make a perfect gift, and hopefully it will become a children’s classics in the years to come.

More informations about the author and his work can be found here.