Thursday, July 31, 2008

Graphic Novels - where to start?

There are so many graphic novels available and like any other literary form, some are excellent but many are fairly silly or just plain boring. Am I the only person who has actually fallen asleep while reading a graphic novel? I'm obviously reading the wrong ones. But the Guardian has come to my rescue with a list of Top 10 Graphic Novels, picked by Danny Fingeroth, an author and editor at Marvel Comics and chosen for pure reading enjoyment. Out of the list, I've only read Maus and Persepolis, which were both great, and so I look forward to working my way through the rest of the list.

And I'm probably going to be shunned from any office watercooler talk if I don't read Alan Moore's Watchmen soon. The trailers for the spring 09 movie are already showing in theatres - it's going to be huge!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A New Mystery Author to Watch!

I try to read as many new authors as I can each season before I go out and sell to customers, but even as a fast reader, I can’t get to them all! So, I must admit to having to fish the galley of Singularity by Kathryn Casey out of the pile to read after the starred reviews starting coming in (PW and Booklist). I’m so glad that I did- the reviews were right, it is a fantastic book.

While Singularity is Casey’s first fiction novel, she already has five true crime titles to her credit. Singularity introduces Texas Ranger profiler Sarah Armstrong. She is called in to help the Galveston Police Department come up with a profile of a killer who has murdered a local businessman and his mistress, and then arranged the bodies in a creepy tableau. It quickly becomes apparent to her that this murder is the work of a very disturbed serial killer but the local police refuse to accept her profile, and instead arrest the businessman’s estranged wife. Sarah continues her investigation to the point of putting her career on the line and in doing so attracts the personal attention of the killer, who starts to focus in on Sarah- and her family.
The mystery is well crafted, the villain extremely creepy and the dynamics between the various levels of law enforcement is fascinating and rings true. But what struck me particularly was the very memorable character of Sarah. She actually reminds me of Linda Barnes’ Carlotta Carlyle in that she is tough-as-nails in her professional life but is dealing with a lot on the home front. Sarah’s husband (also a Texas Ranger) was killed in a car accident a year ago. She has moved back home to her mother’s ranch and is trying to juggle the demands of her career with the needs of her young daughter Maggie, who is having a hard time coping with the loss of her father. Sarah also has a rather unusual hobby- she is a former art major and lets off steam by sculpting facial reconstructions on unidentified human remains.

Singularity is a great read from start to finish, so get your hands on a copy of this book this summer. You won’t be disappointed! And, it looks like we won't have to wait long for more Sarah Armstrong books- according to Kathryn Casey's website, there are more Sarah Armstrong books coming in 2009 and 2010.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2008 Man Booker Longlist announced. . .

I love the Man Booker Prize - mostly because the debates in the British press are always so juicy to read. Even though I'm still mad that David Mitchell didn't win for Cloud Atlas. This year, I was really hoping for Steven Galloway's Cellist of Sarajevo to make the cut, but alas. Still, as always, it's an intriguing list though I'm embarrassed to say that I've not yet read any of them. I do have the manuscript of Philip Hensher's Northern Clemency though (it'll be available in Canada next spring, but will probably be moved up if he wins) and that's shot up to the top of my reading pile. You can read more about the prize, the judges etc. at the Man Booker website.

Here's the full longlist:

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress
by Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
From A to X by John Berger
The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Sea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
The judges promise this is a list full of large scale narratives and lots of humour (hooray!). I'd give early odds on Sebastian Barry - he should have won when his last novel A Long, Long Way was shortlisted. Beautiful writer. Let the literary debates begin.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Revisiting Brideshead. . .

Several summers ago, I spent a glorious three weeks living in an Oxford college and studying English literature in their International Summer Programme. It was an incredible experience, not least because we got reading cards to the Bodleian Library. Reading and studying there was truly one of the most inspiring and tingling experiences of my life. And while one is more likely to bump into a Japanese tourist rather than a fetching undergraduate in flannels on a bicycle, there is still enough history, architecture, culture and magic to ensure an unforgettable experience. Just don't let anyone tell you that punting is easy!
One of my fellow students was a lawyer from Atlanta, Georgia who had taken early retirement and was living his dream. He had been pushed into law by his parents even though his first love was British literature, and as a result had hated every minute of his professional life even though he had done quite well for himself financially. Now in his late fifites, he had gone back to school and was doing his Master's degree in English Lit. When I heard his story, I practically frog-marched him up the tower of the University Church of St. Mary's which offers one of the best views of Radcliffe Camera and the beautiful spires of all the colleges. When we climbed to the top and went out on the viewing platform, he took a deep appreciative breath and then started quoting from Brideshead Revisited. I still remember the passage he chose, one evoking all the beauty of Oxford, "her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days - such as that day - when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth."
He reminded me of how lucky I was - not only to be there drinking in the scene with him, but also to have been inexplicably able to find a way to live in the world of books while paying the rent.

I thought of him when I went to see the new film adaptation of Waugh's famous novel, which I approached with some hesitation as I'm a huge fan of the original 1981 mini-series which I own on DVD and can still watch for hours on end. But Brideshead fans can be very happy with this film revisitation which does a very good job of distilling all the main plots and themes. In this compressed form, the desperate hunger of Charles to belong to this family, is completely intensified and powers the pacing of the whole movie, and while his relationship with Julia starts far earlier than in the book, I think it's a minor quibble. It's certainly a cinematic feast for the eyes, beautifully filmed, again making familiar use of Castle Howard (which I highly recommend visiting if you are ever near York), with gorgeous costumes and sets, a haunting score, and a good ensemble cast. My mother and I actually disagreed over who made the better Charles Ryder with her unexpectedly championing Matthew Goode, while I still think Jeremy Irons' performance is the definitive one. We both concurred however, that Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain was magnificent - majestic in her steely, dominant convictions, with an icy stare that is absolutely withering. Ben Whishaw as Sebastian doesn't have quite the upper class hauteur that Anthony Andrews brought to the role, but he looks far more like the age the character is supposed to be, and his fragility and vulnerability are thus made more poignant. Aloysius by the way, is a smaller, sadder teddy in this version and plays his part stoically.
So soak up the spires, strawberries and champagne (with a wollop of Catholic guilt) and take yourself off to the cinema - this is my idea of the perfect summer movie. You can see the trailer here. And treat yourself to the book as well. I'm thrilled that Everyman Library has the movie tie-in edition, and they've issued it at a low price. Just $21.00 gets you a handsome hardcover with an introduction by Frank Kermode.

Friday, July 25, 2008

P.C. Cast News

I just heard from our publicity team that the authors of the bestselling House of Night series are going to be in Toronto to meet their Canadian fans and sign books on August 18th at the Indigo store in the Manulife Centre (55 Bloor St. West) at 7 PM.
The first three books in the series (Marked, Betrayed, & Chosen) are already in stores and the fourth, Untamed, is coming in September. For those unfamiliar with the series, the books chronicle the story of teenaged Zoey Redbird, who is Marked as fledgling vampyre and joins the House of Night, a private boarding school where fledglings train to become adult vampyres. What sets this series above the plethora of vampire fiction novels aimed at teens these days is the writing (which is quite often funny and always rings true to a teenager's perspective) and that the authors have created a totally new vampire mythology. In this world, vampyres have always existed. One becomes a vampyre by being 'Marked' by a Tracker, a process that involves some cermonial words, no bloodshed, and a sapphire blue crescent moon that appears on the 'marked' person's forehead. Once selected, the changes begin (paleness, sensitivity to sunlight etc). Not everyone survives the change process, and some fledglings develop greater powers than others. Mixing such issues as fitting in, friendship, romance, and self-discovery with larger, action-packed plotlines, it was no surprise to me that both Marked and Chosen were selected as 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers by YALSA. Just a word of warning- I'd recommend these books for readers ages 15+ as they contain swearing and sexual situations.
If you are in the Toronto area on August 18th, please do come downtown and meet these great authors!

Another use for your bookshelves....

I started laughing when I saw this and we all need a smile to head into the weekend with.

Roz - this one is for you!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chinese lit and myth. . .

I'm still undecided as to whether I'll be glued to the television watching the Olympics. I'm usually an Olympic junkie but I can't shake the feeling of impending doom I have about this year's Games. Regardless, all the media hype has gotten me interested in reading some Chinese fiction. The Guardian has some good suggestions here for books set in Beijing, including Ma Jian's Beijing Coma, which has received stellar reviews all over the world, Ha Jin's The Crazed and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li.

The book I'm reading now is Su Tong's Binu and the Great Wall. Tong is the author of Raise the Red Lantern and in this book, he recounts a story about a wife's search for her husband after he is forced to help build the Great Wall of China. It seems like perfect epic summer reading to me, although the novel isn't that long. It is part of the very interesting, international Myth Series that includes Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, Jeanette Winterson's Weight and Ali Smith's recent Girl Meets Boy, among others. Top writers from around the world re-imagine any myth of their choosing and the results are entertaining and thought-provoking. I've read about half of the books in the series which also includes Victor Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror, David Grossman's Lion's Honey and Alexander McCall Smith's Dream Angus, and enjoyed them all. I think they also make great books for teens, resplendent as they are in illustrating what great (and lasting) storytelling is all about. Look for Michel Faber to join this series this fall with his very funny take on the myth of Prometheus in The Fire Gospel. Bibliophiles will love it - there are lots of in-jokes about the industry, in this "be careful what you wish for" cautionary tale.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Duct, Duct, Duct. . . Purse!

At the end of a recent library show, a fellow vendor who sold library supplies was getting rid of his wares and gave me a very large, very red, roll of duct tape. I really haven't known what to do with it until I came across this delightful book. Yes, you can make an awesome looking bag out of duct tape. Simply Sublime Bags by Jodi Kahn contains 30 low or no sew projects - everything from tote bags to make-up cases. Several use duct tape, mostly as an inner lining, but there is also an evening bag project where coloured duct tape is first fringed and layered on in horizontal stripes to form the outside. It looks really good, honestly. Most of the projects use common objects - placemats, shower curtains, metallic postal envelopes - as inspiration for these unique purses. One of my favourite projects uses materials found in any hardware store - a cheery, waterproof tote made out of a rain slicker with yellow bungee cords for the handles. There's also a really cool picnic basket made out of astroturf. The instructions are very clear and easy to read. Great for weekend projects.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Summertime and the reading is easy. . .

Ah, it's the half-way point in the summer but hopefully everyone still has some vacation time or a few long weekends to look forward to. Here are some reading suggestions to take along.

A summer spent renting a house in the French countryside sounds idyllic, but not if you're in a novel by Adam Thorpe. He's one of a posse of favourite British writers I regularly enthuse about, and I love his writing because it always disturbs. It makes you uncomfortable. It challenges the smug morals and cozy idealism of normal people. It short, it's nothing less than brilliant. In The Standing Pool, two academics and their three young daughters spend a few months living in a farmhouse in the Languedoc region of France. But their peace of mind (and the reader's) is gradually gnawed away by their sinister surroundings. There are hunters who encroach on the property. Their handyman Jean-Luc is acting strangely, spying on the family. The nearby village is still engrossed in deaths of the past - the more recent fall of a worker from the farmhouse roof, and the older deaths by execution of French Resistance fighters from the last world war. And at the centre of it all, lies the swimming pool in the backyard. Jean-Luc struggles to get the chemical formulations correct so that the family can swim but the water often remains murky. The code for the drowning alarm has gone missing. And then there are wild boars who lap at the water at night but the solution of creating an electric fence to keep them out seems dangerous when there are young children running about. . . If you've been fighting the heat, this is a great novel to send a few shivers down your back. Also give some of his backlist a try; I highly recommend The Rules of Perspective.

You'll need a bit of humour after Thorpe, and David Lodge can always be relied upon to help. His latest novel Deaf Sentence, is a moving, but very funny look at being deaf and approaching death (deaf and death being interchangeable throughout in a series of amusing and ongoing puns). Professor Desmond Bates has taken early retirement but his life is about to get very stressful. He worries about his elderly father who increasingly can't look after himself but refuses to go into a nursing home. A beautiful but unstable graduate student keeps pestering him to give advice on her thesis - a linguistic examination of suicide notes - and then there are his ongoing frustrations (along with his wife's) over the problems caused by his deafness. His daily battles with the negative aspects of his hearing aids are quite poignant and insightful to those of us who take hearing for granted. But Lodge also mines this disability for full comic potential; a scene at a party describing Desmond's attempts to make conversation with his guests without letting them or his wife know that his hearing-aid batteries have run out is simply hilarious. Bates at heart is a lovable bloke and we cheer him on as he gets himself extricated out of some difficult situations. After all, we may laugh, but we all know we're going to have to deal with failing faculties ourselves at some stage in the future.

If you've been following Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series since the first book, The Various Haunts of Men, you'll probably want to read her latest, The Vows of Silence. While I don't think this is the best book in the series (the body count seems to be a bit out of control), I have to give Hill props for constantly playing with and subverting the reader's normal expectations of what a crime novel should be. If you normally don't have a hanky nearby when you pick up a mystery, you'll have to remedy that for this story. Make it a large one. Oh, and the plot? A number of inhabitants of the small town of Lafferton have been murdered. The only thing connecting the victims is that they all seem to have been recently married. I can assure you the bridesmaids are not the killers.

And finally, though these next two books won't be out until the last week of July and first week of August respectively, get your name on the library holds list now! Trust me on this.
I've been getting tons of great feedback from librarians who have read the advance galleys I thrust into their hands of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This epistolary novel takes place just after WWII as Juliet Ashton, our intrepid and delightful heroine, is looking for a subject for her next book. Out of the blue she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a former pig farmer on the island of Guernsey - which was occupied by the Germans during the war. He informs her that he has a copy of selected essays by Charles Lamb with her name on the flyleaf. Believing her to be a fellow Lamb lover, he asks - since there are no bookshops on Guernsey - if she'd try to track down more of his work for him. He also mentions how a roast pig led to the forming of a unique book club during the war. Juliet's curiosity is piqued and thus begins a fun and fascinating correspondence between Juliet, Dawsey, other lovable members of the bookclub and Sydney, Juliet's long-suffering and cynical publisher. This is a pure, enjoyable, romantic romp of a read and will make you long to visit Guernsey. Think 84 Charing Cross Road meets Cold Comfort Farm and no other book this summer screams book club choice like this one.

The Gargoyle, the debut novel by Winnipeg author Andrew Davidson, has received a lot of pre-pub hype, mostly about the huge advances he has received and the number of countries which have snapped up rights. This usually sends me screaming for the hills, but I can't ignore the number of my colleagues who have been raving about this novel, so I took the galley home with me last weekend. And couldn't put it down. A severely burned man lies recuperating in a hospital room, thinking of nothing but wanting to die. Out of the blue, Marianne Engel, a beautiful woman who sculpts gargoyles for a living appears in his room and starts telling him stories about their ongoing love affair that has lasted for seven centuries. The story contains meticulous historical details, so is she suffering from schiztophrenia or could this somehow be the real deal? What makes this novel work is Davidson's talented and suspenseful pacing throughout the narrative, which is permeated with Dante references but also mythic storytelling of doomed love affairs from Japan to Iceland. It pubs the first week of August, so there's plenty of summer left to surrender to this very absorbing and enjoyable read.

Lahring and I have both posted more of our summer picks - you can click on the links on the right hand side of this blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oh, Boris!

Poor Boris – he’s trying very hard to fit in at his new school, but all of the other students are afraid of him because he’s so scary, hairy and grizzly (he’s a bear, after all). Even his teacher, Mrs. Cluck, is getting a little frustrated with Boris because he keeps breaking things. Boris’ classmates avoid him, and he feels lonely, until one day on the way home from school the students are surrounded by a group of bullies called the rat pack. Suddenly, being scary, hairy and grizzly isn’t so bad. Boris saves the day and the other little woodland creatures learn to accept and appreciate Boris for who he is. The illustrations are wonderful, particularly Boris’ funny facial expressions.

Oh, Boris! by Carrie Weston, illustrated by Tim Warnes.
For ages 3-7.

All things Coe. . .

The Guardian has a new interview with Jonathan Coe, which just gives me an excuse to once again plug one of my favourite writers and urge anyone who hasn't picked him up to give him a try (he's working on a new novel - hooray - and promises it will be comic). A good place to start is with The Rotters's Club and then follow-up with its sequel, The Closed Circle. This will give you the full scope of his brilliant talents for satire and his unique mix of comedy and tragedy. His last novel The Rain Before It Falls was very different to his usual style, but extraordinarily beautiful in its rendering of the complicated relationships between a group of female characters over several decades. I still haven't found the time yet to read Like a Fiery Elephant, his biography of the experimental writer B.S. Johnson, which won the Samuel Johnson award for non-fiction. But its success surely has led to the recent re-issue of one of Johnson's most interesting works, The Unfortunates, in which the chapters of the book are presented loose in a box, so they can be read in any order. It comes with an introduction by.... Jonathan Coe, of course.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Notes from a volcanic island or my Icelandic saga (with books of course) . . .

I'm back from my hiking holiday in Iceland and honestly, put a visit to this country on your "to-do" list. It is so incredibly beautiful - the landscape seems to change every ten minutes, you'll never breathe crisper, fresher air or drink more delicious tap water. This is an island that is completely alive; where else can you witness the earth spewing, spurting, steaming, bubbling, ripping itself apart - it's all quite sexy really. It never gets fully dark during the summer so we were taking walks in full daylight at 11pm which was an awesome experience. And it meant I didn't need to turn on a reading lamp the entire trip. I didn't sleep much, but who would want to? When I wasn't outside, I was immersed in the books I'd brought (and bought) - only Nordic literature, I decided, would do for this trip.

I began with a day in Reykjavik and took Iceland's most famous contemporary author with me to read by the sea (in the background is Mt. Esja which majestically looms above the capital city; on my last full day, I climbed it). Hallador Laxness's Independent People is the book that helped him win the Nobel Prize in 1955 and it's a moving look at the harsh and poverty-stricken lives of one farming family at the end of the 19th century and into the modern era. Bjartur of Summerhouses is so determined to be his own independent man, to own his own land and sheep, that he turns a blind eye to the needs of his family with tragic and heartbreaking results. It also turned out to be a novel that partly examined the effects of the First World War on the country. Iceland wasn't involved in a military aspect, but the war brought a period of huge prosperity to the island as the price and demand for lamb and wool rose. Alas, the economic boom didn't last forever and the last part of the novel follows the consequences of mis-timed greed. The book reminds me a little of the writing of Steinbeck and I'd also recommend it for fans of Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese for its portrayal of survival - the emotional isolation being as much of a challenge as the extreme weather conditions or the tough, physical work.

I can spend hours browsing in foreign bookstores. I love seeing which Canadian authors are stocked in other countries and it's also fun to compare the covers on different editions. In Iceland it was not a surprise to see Atwood, Munro and Ondaatje widely available, but quite nice to see Steven Galloway, Camilla Gibb, and Madeleine Thien displayed among them. There were three huge bookstores within a few blocks of each other near the downtown core of Rekyjavik. My favourite was Eymundsson which also had a cafe with delicious lattes and a lovely outside patio on its second floor (and open late!). There I picked up some more Icelandic literature - The Lodger and Other Stories by Svava Jakobsdottir and Trolls' Cathedral by Olafur Gunnarsson both of which don't seem to be available for sale in North America but a few copies are available in libraries. The Trolls' Cathedral, which was shortlisted for the IMPAC prize was a great follow-up to Independent People. Set in 1950s Rekyjavik, it is the story of a headstrong architect so determined to build his dream project - a large, modern department store complete with a "moving staircase" - that he exploits his friends, tears apart his family, particularly when his young son becomes the victim of violence, and spirals towards a second, devastating tragedy.

Next, for something a little different, I kept to a Nordic theme, but jumped countries to Finland. Tove Jansson's The Summer Book doesn't seem to be available for sale in Canada (though older editions are available in libraries), but if you are anywhere else in the world, you can probably pick up NYRB's lovely re-issue. This is a very special book. It's a series of vignettes that take place on a small island in the Gulf of Finland where six year old Sophia, who has recently lost her mother, spends her summers with her father and grandmother. The father is just a shadow character, only casually referred to, and always out fishing or working at his desk. The real relationships explored are between Sophia and her grandmother; the young child slowly discovering new life lessons and the elderly woman accepting her approaching death and reflecting on her life. However, this is definitely not a saccharine story - there are temper tantrums and grudges, pain and resentment, along with the love and learning. Jansson's beautiful prose and her minute descriptions of nature and weather as pointers towards contemplating the larger philosophical questions of life, make this great cottage reading, and is the perfect choice for a long, languorous, Scandinavian summer night.
Finally, I can't resist posting a few photos of the highlights of my trip (culled from 1200 photos taken in all - digital cameras have made snap-happy maniacs of us all). I both started and ended my trip with a visit to the Blue Lagoon, which uses natural geo-thermal heated water to create this incredibly relaxing soaking experience. That' s not chlorine that makes the water so blue, but natural minerals. You can give yourself a wonderful silicia mudmask facial.
My favourite day of hiking was in the Landmannalauger area. Stunning, surreal scenery. Honestly, why so many fans of Lord of the Rings are flocking to New Zealand is beyond me: this after all, was Tolkien's true inspiration. (And I kept expecting Viggo Mortensen or Orlando Bloom to show up on a horse). After hiking three hours in these hills and through snow at times, we got into our bathing suits and soaked in another hot spring stream. Soaking in water seems to be Iceland's national sport - an absolutely brilliant way to pass the time.
Then we did a hike to Thingvellir, the site of Icelandic gatherings for centuries (if you've read any of the sagas, the characters are always riding to it). What is incredible about the landscape around this magical place, is the rifts that you see in this picture. Our guide called them "Mother Earth's stretch marks". This is the only part of the world where the plate tectonics that separate Europe from North America are visible above the sea. These plates are still moving apart from each other a few millimetres every year, so one is literally crossing from one continent to another. Mind-boggling.
Then it was a beautiful walk along the coast on the Snaefellsnes Penisula. This photo can't convey how utterly blue and clear that water was.
I ended my trip with a few more days to explore Rekyjavik. One of the highlights was visiting The Culture House which nicely exhibited the country's past (with its display of medieval saga manuscripts - incredible how they've lasted this many centuries given the Icelandic weather), the recent present (an exhibit of Hallador Laxness's photographs), and the future (an amazing look at the continuing development of the island of Surtsey, created after a three year volcanic eruption in the 1960s).
Of course I had to check out the public library, shown here. It also houses the Museum of Photography - what should be on display, but an exhibit of photos by none other than Viggo Mortensen!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's All About the Cats

I’m on vacation for the next two weeks and because I’ve done so much traveling this year already, I’ve decided to stay close to home, doing some day trips and working in my garden. Besides, I’ve finally convinced my cats to forgive me from ‘abandoning’ them for the ten days I spent in Vancouver recently for an academic conference, and as Arthur Miller so famously wrote in his play Death of a Salesman ‘attention must be paid’. I suspect he had cats. So in honour of the furry critters that allow me to share their house, here are a few of my favourite cat books coming out this fall. I adore Nick Bruel’s books. The original Bad Kitty picture book was one of my picks and is a favourite with many children (and librarians) across Canada. Bad Kitty Gets A Bath is an illustrated chapter book that captures all of the humour and bad behaviour of the original book and it’s follow-up Poor Puppy. The narrator takes readers through all of the steps needed to get Bad Kitty (or any cat for that matter) into the tub, including preparations (run the bath, have first aid supplies handy), where to begin the search for Kitty, what to do when you’ve got her trapped in the bathroom, a glossary of common cat sounds and their meanings and lots of fun and educational facts about cats.
The picture above is my cat Mo, who is not a bad kitty, and who humoured me by posing in the tub for this picture. My other cat, Delaney, is the one I can see reacting poorly (i.e. violently) to a bath. She was mysteriously nowhere to be found at the time the picture was taken.

It could be argued that Katie Love the Kittens is technically a ‘dog’ book, since Katie is a dog, but there are enough cats in the book that I am counting as a cat book for this posting. Katie is a little dog who is SOO excited when her owner brings home three kittens, she can’t help but howl. Unfortunately her howling scares the kittens and she is told to leave them alone.
Katie is crushed- she has the best of intentions, and just wants to play after all. John Himmelman is the author of one of my favourite picture books from last year, Chickens to the Rescue. He has the ability to write a story kids will love, and also create detailed illustrations that capture in the simplest lines the emotions of the characters- the kitten’s fear, Katie’s dejection, and (my favourite) the page that depicts Katie trying to fight the urge to howl. This urge starts as a tail wag, and then moves to a full body wag before breaking through Katie’s clenched teeth. All ends well and the last page is hilarious- showing Katie playing with the kittens, who are no longer afraid and are showing that they’ve picked up Katie’s enthusiasm for playing.
I am confident that Wabi Sabi, a stunning new picture book by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young is going to win awards. Written in a mix of haiku and short text, it tells the story of a cat named Wabi Sabi, who sets off on a journey to discover the meaning of his name. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese phrase describing a view of finding beauty in imperfection, the impermanent and incomplete. This is a difficult concept to understand or describe, but Reibstein does so beautifully and simply through his text. The collage illustrations by Ed Young are incredible- I found myself touching the paper as the images are so clear the book feels as though the pages should be three dimensional. The illustrations and text are complemented by haiku written by famous Japanese poets, and are translated and explained in the author’s note at the end of the book. The book is done in a calendar style layout (the binding is at the top of the book and you flip the pages up rather than side to side) and the cover and interior pages are done in rough paper. Gorgeous!
O.K.- now back to the vacation! The kitties have already started...