Friday, December 28, 2007

Tohru Honda's story continues in Fruits Basket, Volume 2

Tohru Honda has promised never to reveal the secret of the Sohma clan, which she discovered in Volume 1 of Fruits Basket: the Sohma family is cursed. They are possessed by vengeful spirits from the Chinese zodiac, so that whenever a member of the opposite sex embraces them, they turn into an animal from the zodiac! Tohru is sworn to secrecy, but even so, Hatori, one of the Sohma clan, has the ability to erase memories. He believes it would be risky to allow Tohru to continue to remain aware of their curse.

Tohru is trustworthy and intends to keep their secret, but when her two best friends show up at the house where she is now living with three of the Sohmas, doing housekeeping in return for room at board, it is a challenge to keep things looking normal. Especially when her friends insist on spending the night! Luckily Tohru is clever and resourceful, and most important of all, she has a good heart.

She has no idea that her presence in the lives of Yuki, Kyo and Shigure has made them happier than they've been in years. When New Year's Eve rolls around, Tohru understands that her friends must attend a private Sohma family event. Spending New Year's alone for the first time since her mother's death is a depressing prospect for her, but of course she would never admit to that. Will her new friends figure things out and manage to be as good friends to her as she's been to them?

I am looking forward to reading more about Tohru's further adventures in this delightful, lighthearted series.

Fruits Basket, Volume 2 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop, 1998)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Falling behind...

I guess it's typical to feel behind at this time of year, when everything's so busy, and so many things are going on. I have about a dozen books to talk about, I've been tagged for two memes, and I've sorely been neglecting my poor blog - and all those other blogs that I love to visit! I'm sorry! The one positive thing about it is all the good reading that awaits me when I do get around to visiting everyone again!

Molly Malone has tagged me for a meme, and it's my very first one. Apparently I am supposed to link to the person who tagged me (done), list 8 random facts about myself, and then link to 8 more victims, mwa-ha-ha, who will then link to me and repeat the above rules. This might even be a way of seeing who hasn't given up on me, even though I've been such a lackadaisical blogger lately. I will keep my random facts book-related, I think, just to stay with the theme of my blog.

1. When I'm reading I get so focused on my book that I can carry on entire conversations without even realizing it. This got me into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. I'd be utterly baffled when I got in trouble for something I'd evidently promised my parents I'd do, but I'd have no memory of actually making the promise!

2. My favorite book when I was a kid was called The Ghost in the Swing by Janet Patton Smith. Has anyone else read that? It's out of print now, and one year for Christmas my husband paid an appalling price for a used copy, so now I can reread it whenever I want!

3. I'd rather read than watch TV.

4. I carry a book with me most everywhere - it's insurance against having to wait. Whenever I don't have a book with me, I always end up stuck somewhere with nothing to do!

5. I have read Moby Dick three times. Unfortunately. It's not my favorite book!

6. When I was a kid (maybe 9 or 10 years old) I used to shelve the books for my beloved children's librarian whenever my parents brought me to the public library. I knew where most of them went by heart. Yes, I am a complete and utter geek. And why it took me such a long time to actually get a job in a library, I have no idea!

7. I regularly reread Madeleine L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet.

8. And here's a non-book-related fact: I love learning languages! I've studied French, Spanish and Greek (ancient), and I speak Italian pretty well.

Now, who to tag? I'm so far behind in my blog reading that I wouldn't know if anyone's already been tagged for this one. So, of the many people I'd like to know 8 random things about, I will randomly choose Valentina, Rhinoa, Ladytink (got you back!), Nymeth, Nicola, Heather, Bellezza, and Barbara. That is, if you have time and you feel like it. If not, no worries!

And Ladytink has tagged me for another fun meme! She says: Take the letters of your name and write out a title of a romance novel for it. It's that simple, see if you can actually do it. You can omit the words "A" and "The" from the title to suit your needs if you want. It's a lot harder than it looks but try for help.

Well, who could resist that challenge? So here goes:

Dream Man by Linda Howard
Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught
Ravished by Amanda Quick
Lord of the Storm by Justine Davis
Alinor by Roberta Gellis

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

As far as tagging anyone else - anyone who feels like it, give it a shot. But I must tag Virginia Gal, romance reader extraordinaire! Have fun with that one, VA Gal!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Book three in The Hollows series

Rachel Morgan (witch), Jenks (pixie) and their partner Ivy (living vampire), return in this third book of the Rachel Morgan series. The narrative begins almost immediately where the second book ended (you may want to skip this review if you plan on reading the series, which is definitely best enjoyed chronologically, so you won't ruin any plot surprises. See the link Dead Witch Walking below for a review of the first book).

In her own inimitable, impetuous way, Rachel made an agreement with a demon in order to get him to testify against a particularly horrible enemy she bagged in book two. She has agreed to be his familiar, which, if he pulls her into the "ever after," a sort of alternate realm where demons live, will mean a very, very long life of fear, pain and slavery. Rachel is counting on evading this fate through a technicality - only she's not sure if it will work or not. The demon turns out to be more powerful - and trickier - than she imagines.

To add to her difficulties, her boyfriend Nick has been keeping a wary distance from her. She inadvertently made him her familiar in the last book, and when she pulls on ley lines for magic, it affects him in frightening ways (as in causing seizures). As Nick maintains an emotional and physical distance from Rachel, she finds herself more and more attracted to Ivy's living vamp friend Kisten. She and Kisten had shared an intimate moment in the last book - an incident which occurred - at least Rachel tries to convince herself - only because she believed she was about to die. But every time she is with him, Rachel revisits that moment, and Kisten is clearly attracted to her, as well. If only that demon didn't show up to complicate matters further...

I am enjoying this series and am definitely hooked on the characters at this point. Jenks, Ivy and Rachel have an interesting dynamic that shifts and changes with each book, as characters develop and come to know each other on a more personal level. The books are more complex and serious than the whimsical titles imply; the world is a dark place, and there are no easy choices for the characters. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.

The Rachel Morgan (Hollows) series in order (so far):
  1. Dead Witch Walking
  2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
  3. Every Which Way but Dead
  4. A Fistful of Charms
  5. For a Few Demons More
  6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
Every Which Way but Dead by Kim Harrison (Eos, 2005)

Other blog reviews:
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog


Friday, December 14, 2007

Shopping for an ebook for the holidays?

The choices abound. Here is an article from Wednesday's L.A. Times comparing and contrasting several of them. Personally, I'm intrigued, but for now, I'm going to let the various companies, formats and devices battle it out. Then maybe I'll talk the plunge. What about you? Have you picked one up yet? What do you think? Are you planning to try one out, or are you passionately attached to your ink-and-paper versions?

I guess my opinion is that more books are a good thing, whatever the format!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's the word of the year for 2007?

Words are fun, and of course I was interested when I found a link to this article about Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2007. I'll give you a hint: the word first became popular in competitive online gaming forums as part of l33t ("leet," or "elite") speak—a computer hacker language in which numbers and symbols are put together to look like letters. And another hint: the word is not "blamestorm," "sardoodledom" or "Pecksniffian." But if you read the article you will also find out what those and other runner-up words mean. I enjoy saying sardoodledom. It sounds like a word Winnie-the-Pooh would put into a poem. Tiddly pom!

Merriam-Webster's word of the year is chosen by site visitors who vote for their favorite. I'm unsure what the criteria are - it looks like the word and runner ups were just ones that people liked. Do you have a favorite word? A least favorite, one that bugs you for no apparent reason? The word "fruitful" has always kind of annoyed me. And I love the word "wombat." And "melancholy." What about you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The shapeshifting mechanic returns

Mercedes Thompson, coyote/mechanic, returns in her second riveting adventure. Her friend Stephen, the vampire who helped her out in the first novel, comes to her house asking for a favor. She owes him one, but even if she didn't, she would still be willing to help him out - he's a friend, after all (even if he is a vampire). He needs a second pair of eyes and ears to bear witness to a meeting, and if Mercy accompanies him in her coyote form, he's sure the other party won't think she's anything but an unusual pet. She'll watch and listen, then fill him in on her view of events after the meeting. In and out, easy and quick.

Of course, the meeting is anything but easy and quick, and the consequences drag Mercy into vampire politics, werewolf troubles, and demons up to no good. Mercy's unique shapechanging abilities single her out as the only one with the potential to defeat an immensely powerful adversary - only Mercy isn't too sure exactly what the ramifications of her powers are and why they are uniquely helpful to her in the first place. Those who know about her heritage are reluctant to tell her because it might give her power over them, never mind the fact that with out that knowledge, Mercy will be severely handicapped when she faces a foe that threatens them all.

Adding to the confusion of Mercy's life is her unwillingness to be subordinate to Adam, the handsome alpha werewolf she's very attracted to, combined with the presence of Seth, her old flame/new roommate. Mercy's troubles make for fast-paced, page-turning reading with characters who are believable, both human and nonhuman, especially a very engaging heroine.

Books (so far) in the Mercy Thompson series:
  1. Moon Called
  2. Blood Bound
  3. Iron Kissed (to be published in January 2008)
Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (Ace, 2007)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A witch, a cat, and a bowl of snoring clams

Once upon a time, there lived a witch. She used to be mean and feisty, but now that she’s older, she’s mellowed a little bit. In fact, she’s become one miserable witch. She lives alone with her cat, Toraji, and one night she brings home some shijimi clams to put in their miso soup for dinner. When she places them in a bowl of water to soak, she notices that they are asleep and even snoring a little bit. It occurs to her that perhaps it might be cruel to eat the cute little clams, but Toraji soon sets her straight: “They’re just clams. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them.” She thinks of how delicious the miso soup with clams will be, and she has to agree.

But when she goes to throw the clams into the boiling water, she looks into the bowl: the clams are still sleeping, still snoring, and still moving contentedly. It is "a little upsetting." Maybe they could wait until tomorrow night, she thinks. After all, there’s nothing wrong with miso soup without shijimi clams, right? Toraji is clearly annoyed.

The following night, the same thing happens – plain miso soup again. And then, in the middle of the night. Toraji comes into the bedroom to complain that the shijimi clams have woken him up. And sure enough, when the witch goes into the kitchen, the clams are wide awake and talking. These clams are far away from home, and they are very homesick! What are a poor witch and her cat to do?

I read this picture book to my daughters (7 & 9 years old), and we all enjoyed it. The story was fresh and original, and the clams were so darned cute! It was easy to see why the old witch – and even her cat – come to find them so endearing. The Japanese setting, a refreshing change from that of most picture books, is understated yet adds a certain sense of the exotic to the story. Whimsical yet simple black-and-white ink drawings complement the text nicely - I particularly enjoyed the hilarious expressions on the cat’s face. I highly recommend this sweet story of determination, ingenuity and friendship.

Singing Shijimi Clams by Naomi Kojima (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2006)

Other blog reviews: Here and There Japan

Friday, December 7, 2007

A funny, sweet manga series

A friend at work suggested this series to me a few weeks ago (we both happened to be in the YA manga section - I recommended xxxHOLIC, my favorite, and she recommended this one, and we are both happy with each other's recommendation). I don't know why, but I'd never gotten around to trying this one - there are just so many to choose from!

I love the premise: Tohru Honda is an orphan who, unwilling to impose on distant relatives, is living in a tent while her grandfather's house is being renovated. When her camp disappears in a mudslide, she is taken in by the Sohma family. She is slightly acquainted with Yuki Sohma, who goes to her school, but he is an enigmatic character who carefully maintains a distance from everyone at school (much to all the girls' dismay).

Tohru is an eternal optimist - even when things aren't going well, she tries to find something positive to take pleasure in. She is intrigued by the Sohmas - and also very surprised to discover their secret. The Sohma family have been cursed - they are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Whenever someone hugs them, they turn into an animal from the zodiac. In the first book we meet the cat, the dog, and the rat...and later on, another one (I'm not telling which). It is fun to meet the different characters and try to guess which animal they are, based on their personalities.

This is a lighthearted, humorous series, but it also covers more serious issues, such as Tohru's sense of loss in the wake of her mother's death, and while she is perky beyond belief, her enormous optimism is countered by her occasional moments of grief, and that, to me, makes her a more believable, sympathetic character. I look forward to reading about her further adventures!

Fruits Basket, Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop, 2004)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An ExtraOrdinary fantasy novel

Silas Heap, ordinary wizard, discovers an abandoned baby girl on his way home from getting medicine for his weak, newborn baby boy. Upon arriving home, he finds his son Septimus (so named because he is the seventh son of a seventh son) has died. He places the baby girl in his brokenhearted wife's arms, and they raise her as one of their children.

Any reader will be suspicious about Septimus's death, given that the series is named after him. Still, it is fun to watch events unfold. This is the first volume in the series (of which there are three books to date), and it is a fun-filled, suspenseful, enjoyable read. It contains elements typical of fantasy novels (a princess raised in hiding, an orphan unaware of his heritage, an evil overlord who usurps the throne, etc.), but the telling is fresh and creative, and the characters are delightful - definitely not stock fantasy characters. I particularly enjoyed the ExtraOrdinary Wizard with her pointy purple snakeskin boots and gruff exterior that hides a heart of gold, as well as the ghost of the previous ExtraOrdinary Wizard. He can only go to places he went when he was alive, which puts a crimp in his spying on the bad guys when they start meeting in the former ladies room, because, as a well-brought-up young man, he'd never set foot there in his life!

Although this is the first book, it is a stand-alone novel with a satisfying, conclusive ending. I am definitely looking forward to revisiting Sage's fantasy world in the next installment of the series. Many thanks to Deslily for the recommendation!

Books in the Septimus Heap series to date:
  1. Magyk (2005)
  2. Flyte (2006)
  3. Physik (2007)
Magyk (Septimus Heap, Book 1) by Angie Sage (Scholastic, 2005)

Monday, December 3, 2007

So, how much do book blurbs influence you?

Here is an interesting discussion about book blurbs - you know, those little quotes from other authors who either write books with similar themes (for fiction) or from authorities in the field (for nonfiction books).

I find that the synopses on jacket flaps and back covers give way too much away for my liking (for fiction, that is). If I'm considering reading a particular novel, I don't want to know very much about it at all, just very general descriptions: a supernatural murder mystery set in ancient Rome, for example (I'd give that one a try - anyone know a book that fits the description I just made up?). So I tend not to read much from the flap. But I have to admit, if an author I really enjoy writes a blurb for a book I'm considering, that does influence me in its favor.

For nonfiction, I think the blurbs are more important. If someone whose opinion I respect that's an expert in a given field writes a blurb for a book on that same subject matter, I definitely take notice.

What about you? Are you skeptical of blurbs, taking them with a handful of salt? How much do they influence your book choices? Have you ever been let down or misled by a blurb? Do you find them helpful? Or do you ignore them?

A murder mystery in a dark fantasy world

On the surface, Mercy Thomson is a reputable car mechanic, a single woman who lives on her own with a cat. But Mercy is far from ordinary - she is what the old legends call a skinwalker, a shapeshifter with Native American blood. In her animal form, she is a coyote, and she is able to shift back and forth from human to animal at will, swiftly and with none of the pain and limitations that werewolves experience. Of course, in size and strength she is no match for a werewolf; she counts on her speed and intelligence to keep herself out of trouble.

Even so, when a young man appears in her shop asking for work, looking as though he's barely survived an encounter with a wild beast, she gives him a job. Even though he's a werewolf. This sets in action a chain of events that gets Mercy into more trouble than she ever could have imagined - trouble that involves her ruggedly handsome alpha werewolf neighbor, the vampire whose "mystery machine" van is in her shop, an old flame from her teen years who broke her heart, and a dead body that shows up on her porch.

Mercy, a coyote raised among werewolves, has learned not only to survive as the underdog (sorry about the pun), but to stand up for herself and maintain control of difficult situations. She is politically savvy, tough, and wily, and these qualities are called to task as a little coyote finds herself up against some very big bad monsters. I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping novel - the writing was smooth, the pacing taut, and the characters were original and very sympathetic. I can tell from this first book that this is one series I am going to stick with. I only wish there were more of them to read!

Books (so far) in the Mercy Thompson series:
  1. Moon Called
  2. Blood Bound
  3. Iron Kissed (to be published in January 2008)
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Ace, 2006)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The challenges of new technology

After I wrote yesterday's post, I kept thinking about this hysterically funny video that my husband introduced me to a few months ago, and here it is. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is the ink-and-paper book on its way out?

There is much discussion about the future of books - will everything be digitized? Will books no longer exist in the beloved format we grew up with?

It wasn't until college that I made the shift to using a computer to write papers. Yep, that's how ancient I am. At first, I had to write everything out on paper and then type it into the computer. I didn't actually compose anything on the computer for a few years. It just felt, well, weird. Little by little I began writing drafts of things on the computer, which I would then print out, edit on the printout with colored pens, and then enter the edits on the computer. These days I don't even have a paper printout of most things I'm working on. I don't know what I'd do without word's "track changes" feature!

The same thing goes for reading things on the computer. It's kind of funny to notice that many people at work in the generation older than I am tend to print out their email and use lots of paper file folders to organize and store things. It was a revelation to some of them when I showed them how to make subfolders in Outlook to organize their email messages - they'd been printing everything that might be important and filing it away. And whenever something is longer than a few paragraphs, they print it out to read it. Reading from the computer screen feels hard on their eyes.

I laughed so hard the other day when I was reading a book. I was wondering what time it was, and instead of looking at my watch I glanced down at the right-hand corner of the book, and I was surprised when I didn't find a clock there, like I do on my computer screen! I read a lot straight from my computer, especially since I got a laptop a few years ago.

So it isn't much of a stretch to think that younger generations are not going to have that warm, fuzzy feeling from holding a paper-and-ink book in their hands. Maybe the thought of using a book someone else has read, complete with coffee stains and sticky spots will be revolting to them - they may well be used to reading books on their own personal devices. These "books" won't rip, warp, smell like secondhand smoke or get spots of mildew on them. They may well be waterproof and happily hang out in the bathtub or at the beach. Who knows?

Here is a review of the new Sony reader. Here is one on amazingly thin, flexible electronic paper. And for more information about the very cool item in the picture above, check out this article about Seiko Epson's UXGA e-paper display.

What about you? Do you think that one day you will curl up with a digital book? Or do you think our paper friends will be around for a long, long time?

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Skeleton Detective visits the Amazon

Gideon Oliver, hero of fourteen mystery novels all involving skeletons, is back. He is joined by his old friends John Lau (FBI agent) and Phil Boyajian (On the Cheap travel guides editor) on a boat trip down the Amazon river. Gideon thinks he'll be getting a nice, sunny vacation away from dreary, overcast Washington - but he is in for a surprise.

The book opens with a scene from years earlier, in which three graduate students have a harrowing encounter with Chayacuro headhunters, with only one escaping back to civilization. That young man eventually becomes world-renowned ethnobotanist Arden Scofield, who has booked the same boat as Gideon and his friends, along with several colleagues and acquaintances for a research trip.

It quickly becomes apparent that no one on the boat cares much for the bombastic, pompous Dr. Scofield, and the reader can be fairly certain who the victim of this murder mystery is going to be. Elkins gives a lot of information on the different boat passengers, and it isn't until over halfway through the book that a murder actually takes place. But I was so taken by the description of the Amazon and its inhabitants that I didn't mind one bit. The sensory images are so vivid that I felt as though I were there on that boat with the other characters.

Once again Gideon Oliver's skills as a forensic anthropologist are called into play, and as always I am fascinated by the many things bones can tell a careful observer about the person who once moved around in them. The mystery is fairly straightforward, without too many confusing twists and turns, so that an observant reader will be able to figure out whodunit. My only problem with this book is that it mentions that Gideon Oliver is in his 30s. I started reading this series in the 1980s, and so in my mind Gideon is at least 15 or 20 years older than I am. It's not fair that he gets to stay so young, and now I'm older than he is! How did that happen?

This is one of my all-time favorite mystery series. It combines engaging characters, realistic dialog, fascinating geographical locations, interesting biological facts, and gripping storytelling. It is not absolutely necessary to read them in order, I suppose, but I would suggest starting at the beginning if only for the sake of continuity. The first couple are pretty good, but they definitely get better, for the most part, as they go along.

The books of the Gideon Oliver series in order so far:
  1. Fellowship of Fear
  2. The Dark Place
  3. Murder in the Queen's Armies
  4. Old Bones
  5. Curses
  6. Icy Clutches
  7. Make No Bones
  8. Dead Men's Hearts
  9. Twenty Blue Devils
  10. Skeleton Dance
  11. Good Blood
  12. Where There's a Will
  13. Unnatural Selection
  14. Little Tiny Teeth
Little Tiny Teeth by Aaron Elkins (Berkley Hardcover, 2007)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A sweet coming-of-age novella

Fifteen-year-old Tirza and her twin brother, Tracell, are the eldest children of Lord and Lady Eircelly. Lady Eircelly is much admired in the household as well as the surrounding village not only for her kind, resourceful ways, but also for her skills, enhanced by the crystals she wears, at foretelling the future - and being prepared for it.

At a time when Tirza thought she'd be getting ready for her long-awaited 16th birthday celebration, the country is suddenly beset by war. Her father leaves with every able-bodied man and horse, to join the other troops and fight the enemy attackers. When the village burns down, everyone comes to the manor house; with a house full of scores of wounded, homeless people, the importance of any sort of coming 0f age celebration recedes.

Tirza's brother, in the absence of his father, rides his outgrown pony around the area, helping fight the attackers and take care of the villagers. All he would like for his birthday is a horse, and Tirza is determined to get one for him, somehow - especially when he rides up to the house, battered and exhausted, and instead of dismounting he simply puts his feet on the ground and allows his little pony to walk out from beneath him! But where, at a time when every healthy horse is so desperately needed in the war, can she hope to find one for her brave, beloved brother? When she is given her own crystal the day before her 16th birthday arrives, she holds it in her hand and thinks the very words her mother is wont to say: "I'll just see what I can do about that."

This is a sweet story about faith and love during difficult times. My library shelves this among the adult books, but I think it is perfectly suited for teens as well. The only complaint I have is that it is such a small, short book - only 85 pages, but I was surprised to find that it is priced at $14.95 (my copy's hardbound). I got mine from the library, of course, but I'd certainly think twice about paying that much for a book I could read in an hour or so.

It has been a while since I've read anything by McCaffrey, and I enjoyed returning to her fictional world, which always has such interesting characters that I come to deeply care about.

Also - for any of you Pern fans out there, did you know that a Dragonriders of Pern movie is in the works? Click here for more information. According to IMDB, it should be out in 2008.

If Wishes Were Horses by Anne McCaffrey (Roc, 1998)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meredith Gentry's Sixth Adventure

Meredith is a half-human, half-faerie princess (as well as former private investigator) and heir apparent to the throne of the Unseelie Court. The only problem is that she will only gain the throne once she has proven herself to be fertile (it has been years since any sidhe have been born, in either court). The current Unseelie queen, Meredith's sadistic, questionably sane aunt, has given Meredith some of her incredibly handsome guards to serve as Meredith's lovers. Whichever of them gets her pregnant will become king. Even though they are all dear to her, she can't help but be terrified by the thought that that she will not end up with the one she truly loves.

I know I say this all the time, but it is crucial to read this series in order. Hamilton does some recapping, but if you haven't read previous books, you will be annoyed and confused.

The book opens with an intriguing situation: the King of the Seelie Court has accused two of Meredith's bodyguards of raping a woman in his court. The odd thing about this is that he has taken her to court in Los Angeles, where Meredith has fled after too many attempts on her life in the faerie realms. The sidhe do not lie - if they are forsworn, they are banished from faerie. Meredith swears one of her guards was with her at the time; King Taranis says otherwise. At the hearing, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to the situation than meets the eye.

I enjoy Laurell Hamilton's books for many reasons. She is a master of suspense - it is so hard to put her books down! Suspense is woven through the books in such a way that even when one plot thread comes to a head, there is something else waiting in the wings that has slowly been building tension in the background...and so on, throughout the course of the novel. Another reason is that she plays with what is commonly considered good and evil so that there is no black and white. What might appear to be horrific on the surface, once examined, turns out to be merely different, another way of thinking, a cultural difference, or something done for a noble reason. The Seelie Court, known for its beauty and glory, is not so wonderful (but it is not all bad, either). The Unseelie Court has its share of horrors, but it is not without its beauty and goodness, too. What matters most is personal choices, why they are made, how they are made, what is lost, what is gained.

The characters, too, are complex and fascinating. With each book Hamilton's characters change and grow; they never have it easy, but it is great fun to root for them. They are certainly worth rooting for! My only complaint about this book is that it was way too short. Past books in the series have easily been double the length of this one, so that was a big disappointment. Now I'm stuck waiting for the next book in the series. Sigh.

Books in the Meredith Gentry series:
1. A Kiss of Shadows
2. A Caress of Twilight
3. Seduced by Moonlight

4. A Stroke of Midnight

5. Mistral's Kiss
6. A Lick of Frost
7. Swallowing Darkness
8. Divine Misdemeanors

A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton (Ballantine Books, 2007)

Other blog reviews: The Movieholic & Bibliofile's Blog

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Which book you have reread the most?

Not surprisingly, according to a recent survey, the most reread book is - you guessed it - Harry Potter, at the top of the list.

The top ten reread books are, according to the survey:

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

6. 1984 by George Orwell

7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

8. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

10. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Of these books, I've reread seven of them least three times. Of the remaining three, I've read 1984 once and hope never to read it again (glad I read it once, but that was enough). And Catch-22 is on my list to read again some day. But - I'm sure this is a shocker - I've never read The Da Vinci Code. Am I the only one left who hasn't?

I never really thought about books in terms of "re-readability" before. But there are certainly some that I reread on a fairly regular basis. Some because I want to refresh my memory before continuing in a series (which may well be one of reasons HP was #1 on the list), and some because I just love to return to the characters and world in which the book is set (Jane Austen's books fit this category).

I have often reread books by Laurie R. King, Laurell Hamilton, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones, Charles de Lint, Charles Dickens, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Douglas Adams, Eva Ibbotson, Jane Yolen, Barbara Kingsolver, and Anne Lamott - that list is just off the top of my head. As I was writing down the authors, I realized that one of the criteria I use for categorizing writers in the "my favorite writer" category is that they absolutely must write re-readable books!

What about you? Do you have books or authors that you regularly reread? Are you like the people in the study and know within the the first chapter or 50 pages, etc., if you will reread the book? I don't think I know for sure till I finish the book. What is it about these books that makes you want to take the time to reread them when there are so many other books out there that you haven't read?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Rachel Morgan's second appearance - even better than the first!

Rachel Morgan, bounty hunter witch, returns in this second book in the series. The death threat against her from the first novel appears to have been revoked, but Rachel can't rest easy. After all, someone sent a demon to kill her, and the mystery behind that attack still needs to be resolved. Still, the bills must be paid, and when she is called to consult on a serial killer case for the local (human) police, she agrees - even though (or perhaps because) her nemesis, Trent Kalamack, appears to be involved.

Someone is killing ley-line witches, and Rachel must go under cover as a student in order to catch the killer. To complicate matters, Rachel's living vampire roommate is having some serious "issues" that make Rachel fearful of Ivy and worried about her at the same time.

I enjoyed this installment in the series even more than the first. The mystery was solid and exciting, and while Rachel is impulsive and easily carried away by her emotions, she is beginning to learn to keep her cool - a little. The characters are more fully developed, and interesting shades of gray are being revealed. Rachel (and the reader) come to understand that things are not always what they seem, and characters may indeed be good in some ways and evil in others. Life is complex, and Rachel's life is insanely complicated (luckily for the reader). I look forward to her further adventures.

Books in The Hollows series:
1. Dead Witch Walking
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
3. Every Which Way but Dead
4. A Fistful of Charms
5. For a Few Demons More
6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
7. White Witch, Black Curse
8. Black Magic Sanction

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison (HarperTorch, 2005)

Harry Potter, Savior of Pakistan?

Thanks to Molly, who emailed me the link to this entertaining and informative article about schoolchildren in Pakistan likening their political situation to characters and situations in the Harry Potter novels. I enjoyed the way they were able to extend and explore the metaphor!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Librarian takes research out to the woods - and brings back a lost cat!

Last month Kristin Pietrowicz jumped more than 35 feet from a burning building with her little Persian cat, Phoebe, wrapped in a blanket in her arms. When she landed, she shattered her heels, and her cat ran off into the woods behind her apartment building. She was unable to search for Phoebe herself because of her injuries, but when Lynn Turner, a librarian at the Geological Sciences Library at UNC-Chapel Hill, heard about the missing cat, she added Phoebe the list of other cats that she was looking for. She set traps around the woods, catching some highly annoyed raccoons. Occasionally she'd see Phoebe running away, but the cat was so frightened that Turner wasn't able to get close enough to nab her. She found out that Phoebe loves peanut butter, and when she baited the traps with that - success! That little cat managed to survive for almost a month in the woods - with a broken leg. Kristin was delighted to get her brave little kitty back. Aren't librarians the best?

I'm a sucker for a happy ending animal story (but don't even talk to me about Old Yeller. Or Where the Red Fern Grows. Or Sounder. Or The Yearling. Or The Red Pony). Okay, I'll stop now. But if you'd like to read more about Phoebe's rescue, check out this article from The News Observer, and here is an article about events before the recovery of Kristin's cat.

The time change is a great time to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. Take a moment to do that!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Night School tale continues

In this second volume of Matsuri Hino's Vampire Knight manga, the plot is definitely thickening. The love triangle that began in the first book is gaining tension.

Our heroine, Yuki Cross, is the adopted daughter of Headmaster Cross, who runs Cross Academy. His pacifist philosophy is to educate the vampires (the night class) in order to form a bridge between them and humanity. Yuki and her childhood friend, Zero Kiryu, are the Guardians who protect the academy (particularly the day students from the night students).
If you plan to read this series, you might want to stop here to avoid any spoilers to Volume 1.

The night class president is Kaname Kuran. He saved Yuki from a terrifying vampire attack when she was a child, and she has adored him ever since. Plus he's a total hottie, so all the day school girls have massive crushes on him as well. In the first volume, it comes to light that Zero is, in fact, a vampire. There is a difference between vampires who are pureblood (like Kuran) and those who were once human (like Zero). Human-born vampires eventually become mad, completely losing their humanity. Yuki wants to try to help him - but how far is she willing to go? The arrival of an accomplished vampire slayer complicates matters - especially when it becomes clear that he knows exactly what Zero is and warns Yuki to stay away from him.

The story and characters of this series are gaining depth as the series progresses. I am looking forward to seeing how things develop in Volume 3.

There are three volumes of the Vampire Knight series available in the U.S. so far (according to Amazon, anyway). Volume 4 will be available in April, 2008. For a review of Volume 1, click here.

Vampire Knight, Volume 2 by Matsuri Hino (VIZ Media, 2007)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Secret passages, hidden tunnels, and an alluring sword

Araminta Spookie returns in her second adventure, The Sword in the Grotto, and she's as adventurous and impulsive as ever. Life at the Spookie house is definitely more exciting, now that the Wizzards - Araminta's friend Wanda and her parents - are living there. It is fun to have ghosts around, too, but there seems to be a problem with Sir Horace (the suit-of-armor ghost). He's been moping around the house for days, and no one knows why. Finally he disappears altogether, and it isn't until the girls go looking for him that they come across some old books and discover that Sir Horace is days away from his 500th birthday.

Immediately they decide that a surprise party is just the thing to cheer him up. When they accompany Wanda's father to the beach, they discover some caves, and from one of the caves they spy a sword, deep down in an inaccessible grotto. It would be just perfect for Sir Horace's birthday, the girls decide. But how to get it? Not to worry - Araminta has a Plan. Only the Plan doesn't take into account that Uncle Drac has taken up knitting - or that high tide in a cave can be lethal.

This is a fun addition to the Araminta Spookie series that addresses the questions that arise at the end of the first book. We see Araminta is no longer so lonely, now that she has Wanda to spend time with, even though she can be as exasperating as a sister. The writing is light and humorous, and Araminta is a likable, feisty character whose narration often makes me laugh out loud. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which the girls come across Edmund, Sir Horace's ghostly page: "Edmund was floating around us in a rather annoying fashion and was generally getting in the way. I could see what an irritating boy he must have once been."

To date, the books in the Araminta Spookie series are:
  1. My Haunted House
  2. The Sword in the Grotto
  3. Frognapped
  4. Vampire Brat
The Sword in the Grotto by Angie Sage, illustrated by Jimmy Pickering (Katherine Tegen Books, 2006)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More haunted libraries - just in time for Halloween!

Here's a great post about haunted libraries from National Geographic Traveler's Intelligent Travel blog. The library loo ghost is notably absent, but there are lots of other interesting ones.

Plus there's also this link to the "complete list" of haunted libraries around the world. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the library where I work is not among them. Does anyone out there have a ghost at their library?

A faery refuge in a modern world

Thirteen-year-old Kendra and her eleven-year-old brother, Seth, must stay at their grandparents' house for what they think will be a very dull two weeks while their parents go on a cruise. Their grandparents are a bit mysterious - they rarely visit, and Kendra and Seth have never been to their house before. Their grandfather sets out certain rules that must be followed during their stay, rules that include absolutely no going into the woods that surround the house, which is on an enormous, wooded estate.

Seth immediately breaks the rules, goes into the woods, and meets a frightening old woman. This experience leaves him shaken but still disinclined to comply with any rules. Kendra, on the other hand, takes her grandfather's advice and solves a series of small mysteries that lead to a huge revelation: her grandparents' estate is populated by faeries, pixies, and many other magical creatures. Kendra and Seth learn more about this magical refuge, which is not without its dangers - especially on Midsummer's Eve. Their grandfather sets out very specific rules for this night, which is one of the most dangerous of the year. If the children cannot follow these rules, disaster will ensue...

This is exactly the kind of book that appeals to me, and I wanted to love it. There were indeed many things about it that I enjoyed - the idea of a magical refuge, the realistic depiction of Seth and Kendra's relationship, and the many creative magical details. My main problem was Seth - I completely lost sympathy for him because he was selfish and annoying, and he never learned from his mistakes. Kendra was fairly wishy-washy, a very reactive character, never really taking control of things. The grandfather struck me as an incompetent caretaker - his grandson clearly is unable to handle responsibility, yet he is continually placed in situations in which he can (and does) do great harm. Who on earth would entrust something so precious to these people? I also had problems with the dialog - it was often unrealistic, sounding like something no real person would actually say. For example, the grandmother says things like, "In pursuit of endless carnage and unlawful dominion, they clashed anciently with good humans and creatures of light." All these things kept throwing me out of the story so often that I stopped caring what happened.

I know that many people love this book, so I may be the only one with these issues. While there were elements I enjoyed about it, with all the books in my pile and on my "to read" list, I think I will give the rest of this series a pass.

Books in the Fablehaven series:
  1. Fablehaven
  2. Rise of the Evening Star
  3. Grip of the Shadow Plague (due to be published in April 2008)
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (Aladdin Paperbacks, 2006)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Robert's Snow Schedule for this week

No, I'm not through pestering you all to check out these wonderful sites and think about possibly making a bid on a snowflake. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here for more information.

This snowflake is from the 2005 auction and was painted by Karen Lee.

Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things (who have spearheaded this whole multi-blog effort now have a special page with a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Kris Bordesss also has a post about snowflake-related contests to date at Paradise Found. Yes! Lots of fun contests! Check them out. And also, check out the following:

Monday, October 29

Tuesday, October 30

Wednesday, October 31

Thursday, November 1

Friday, November 2

Saturday, November 3

Sunday, November 4

Take a little break and have some Halloween fun!

Click here to carve your very own virtual pumpkin. It's easy, fast, and there's no goopy mess. Plus it's easy to change your mind, and you won't cut your finger off (although that might helps us all really get into the Halloween spirit).

This is one of our pumpkins from a past Halloween. It always makes me smile. Happy carving!

The ghost in the library...loo!

This is too funny - although, I suppose if I were working alone in the library, I might not find it all that funny. Especially that sound of footsteps - that would creep me out!

I once spent the summer in an apartment in a very old building in Italy. It had that kind of old-fashioned toilet with the pull-chain for flushing. Every so often the toilet would flush by itself. The first time it happened, I was all alone, it was about 11 o'clock at night, and I was reading - what else? - The Shining. Took a dozen years off my life, at least.

I will update you if I hear any more about the ghost in the library loo!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stephanie Plum meets Anita Blake?

Well, kind of. The humor isn't as over the top as Evanovich novels, and there isn't the dark sensuality of Hamilton, but Dead Witch Walking is a thoroughly enjoyable, funny, exciting read.

Rachel Morgan is a witch and a bounty hunter. The setting is a present-day-ish post-apocalyptic Cincinnati, and all across the country, a huge percentage of humans have been wiped out by a virus. The sudden lack of humans has made all the previously unnoticed supernatural residents of society very obvious, because they were immune to the virus and have all survived. Witches, werefolk, leprechauns, vampires, pixies and more all live (more or less) side by side with humans.

Although Rachel considers herself good at her job at the IS (Inderland Security), she's been plagued by bad luck lately, and her "runs" are becoming progressively more boring, even insulting. When she finally quits, her former partner Ivy, a living vampire (she has the virus because her mother was a vampire, but she won't be an undead vampire until she actually dies), decides to go with her. Their thoroughly despicable boss, Denon, could care less that Rachel wants to leave, but Ivy is one of the best, and her leaving is unforgivable.

Turns out that the nasty "accidents" that happen to IS employees who strike out on their own are not just rumors. Ivy can afford to buy out the contract on her life, but Denon holds Rachel responsible for Ivy's leaving and puts a contract out on her, instead. Rachel must find a way to earn enough money to buy out the contract on her life before Denon's assassins succeed in killing her. Rachel has a suspicion that a prominent citizen is involved in selling illegal drugs, and she hopes that nailing him will bring her enough money to buy off her contact. All she needs to do is sneak into his high-security estate and find some proof - and what could possibly go wrong with that?

There are many fun details and interesting elements that combined to make this book compelling - Jenks, the pixie who also leaves IS when Ivy and Rachel do, to go into private business with them, is fun comic relief to some darker moments in the novel. Ivy freaks Rachel out much of the time, even though for the most part she acts as a caring, supportive friend. But the fact that Ivy could lose self-control and rip her throat out is just a tad off-putting to Rachel. Although the writing was a little uneven in places, and at times I couldn't help but wonder why Rachel kept jumping into dangerous situations with very little planning or forethought, the story was so entertaining I didn't really mind. I am looking forward to reading the next in this series.

I'd like to thank Ladytink for recommending this series - be sure to check out her reviews of other Rachel Morgan novels.

The books in the Rachel Morgan (Hollows) series so far are:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rowling outs Dumbledore

So the fantasy world-building of Harry Potter continues, even after the series is officially over. Here's some more back story (so enticing to those of us who just can't get enough). Although I'm not, personally, given to speculating overmuch about the sexual orientation of characters in the books I read if it's not an issue in the novel, it is interesting. And a bit sad, to think that among all the other burdens Dumbledore has shouldered in the course of his life - his sister, his relationship with his brother, Harry, his responsibilities, etc. - he's also had to live with a broken heart. Rowling said that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down," and that his love for Grindelwald was his "great tragedy."

And here is a link to a silly, sweet article listing seven clues that Dumbledore was gay. I liked the part that said that "Even the most diligent 'Harry Potter' scholars found themselves caught unaware." And the anagram that can be made from the letters in Dumbledore's name. Too funny!

Here is the full transcript of her revelations, for anyone who's interested.

May Bird returns to the Ever After

This appears to be the final installment of the May Bird series (which would officially make it a trilogy). The book takes place several years after the conclusion of the last book. May is back in Briery Swamp with her mother, who is overwhelmed with happiness and relief that her daughter has returned after her mysterious three-month disappearance.

Upon her return, May told the truth about where she was, only to be humiliated when no one believed her. She was a minor celebrity for a while (hence the fad for shirts reading "May Bird went to the land of the dead and all she brought me was this lousy t-shirt"). Even her mother doesn't believe her, and after several failed attempts to find out what "really" happened during those months, they have an unspoken agreement not to discuss it; instead, they make cookies together and enjoy each other's company.

May is now thirteen, and with the passing of the years she has become less enchanted with exploring the woods around her house and building innovative devices and odd inventions. Now, as with many young teens, it seems more important to try, somehow, to fit in. Pumpkin, Lucius, and her other friends from the Ever After all seem distant and unreal, as if they happened to someone else, long ago, in a dream. The lake that had been a portal into the Ever After is now dried up, and even though at times May wishes she could go back, she has no idea how she could possibly get there.

Then she gets a strange phone call - could it be Pumpkin's voice on the other end? Telling her that she must come back, that they desperately need her? Suddenly May and Somber Kitty (and he is as delightful a character as ever) find themselves back in the Ever After, and this time she is determined not to run away; this time she must face Bo Cleevil, and this time it's not just the fate of the Ever After that's at stake. Bo Cleevil has designs on other targets that are even more precious to May.

This book had the same sort of feel to me as The Last Battle, the last of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. The characters in that book are older, too, and they've lost a bit of the optimism and sense of wonder they had when they were younger. And because of that, the book was bittersweet. I was glad that May went back to finish what she started, fulfilling her destiny as warrior princess, doing all she can even though she knows it can't possibly be enough - and the story had a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending.

Books in the May Bird Trilogy:
  1. May Bird and the Ever After
  2. May Bird Among the Stars
  3. May Bird: Warrior Princess
May Bird: Warrior Princess by Jody Lynn Anderson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oops. Clemency Pogue has some work to do!

Clemency Pogue listens to the stories her parents tell her - luckily for her. When a very nasty little fairy attacks her, stinging her over and over again with her wicked little fairy wand, there is nothing she can do to protect herself. Finally she finds herself clinging for her life to the edge of a very high cliff. Desperation brings to mind the story of Peter Pan, and Clemency starts shouting, "I don't believe in fairies" over and over until, finally, the evil little fairy drops dead.

The only problem is that six other fairies died (one for every time she shouted out the words), too. She is informed of this by a hobgoblin who suddenly appears, scolding her for her actions, and even though some of those other fairies were wicked ones, too, the others were not. Clemency, a resourceful girl who has made herself a very stylish pair of burlap pants, realizes she must somehow atone for her actions. She and the hobgoblin dart around the globe, trying to figure out how to bring the dead fairies back to life.

My favorite fairy of the ones who were accidentally killed is the Fairy of Noninvasive Surgery. Unfortunately at the time of her demise she was removing a pea that had been inserted into the ear of "a little girl who should have known better." Now the little girl, who lives on the icy tundra in the heart of Siberia, has a pea in her ear as well as a dead fairy. Clemency clearly has her work cut out for her!

I loved the premise of this book, as well as the action-packed humor and details. Clemency makes mistakes, and sometimes she can't figure out what to do. But she's clever and persistent, she tries different approaches, and her heart is definitely in the right place. I will certainly be reading about Clemency's further adventures!

To date, the books in the Clemency Pogue series are:
  1. Fairy Killer
  2. The Hobgoblin Proxy
  3. The Scrivener Bees

Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by J.T. Petty; illustrated by Will Davis (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005)

Publisher recommends for ages 9 - 12

Monday, October 22, 2007

And the winner is...trick-or-treating!

Of course that's the best part of Halloween when you're a kid! I loved dressing up in my costume and traipsing all over creation with my friends. There was always such a feeling of excitement in the air, like anything could happen. Choosing costumes, making them, picking out the candy to hand out from our house - all these things were so much fun.

So it's not surprising that trick-or-treating came in #1 in the "What did you like best about Halloween when you were a kid" poll. It won with 6 votes. 2nd place was a tie, with 5 votes each for "choosing/making a costume" and "watching spooky movies and shows." "Candy," "haunted houses," and "spooky stories and books" tied for third place with 3 votes each. And in last place came "Halloween parties" and "decorations," with just one vote apiece.

Thanks for voting in the poll, and please share any special memories about your favorite Halloween things when you were a kid - I'd love to hear about them!

Araminta Spookie's debut

This first book in the Araminta Spookie series, My Haunted House, introduces Araminta, a young girl who lives with her Aunt Tabitha and her Uncle Drac in a wonderful, creepy old house. It's a wonderful house to Araminta and Uncle Drac, at any rate - even though Araminta has disappointingly never seen a ghost there, no matter how hard she tries. But Aunt Tabby is completely fed up with the boiler, which spews soot at her and refuses to cooperate. It's become an ongoing battle, which Aunt Tabby is losing. So the house goes up for sale.

Araminta realizes she must foil this dreadful plot. It would be horrible to have to live in a normal old apartment building, where nothing interesting could possibly ever happen. And ironically, it is only now, when the house is in danger of slipping out of her life, that Araminta finally does discover that it's really haunted. Not only that, but the ghosts are anxious to keep the Spookie family living there, and Araminta is able to enlist their help in scaring away prospective buyers. The plan works for a while, but unfortunately there are some house buyers who would like a real ghost to come with the house.

Araminta is a fun character, with guts, determination, and lots of imagination. She takes creative approaches to solving her problems, and, while her solutions don't always work out, she never gives up. Jimmy Pickering's black-and-white illustrations lend a delightfully spooky atmosphere to the book, with cobwebs hanging from the occasional corners of pages, along with partial and full-page illustrations that make the plot even more exciting. There is lots of comforting white space on the pages - the lines of text are separated slightly, and with many illustrations and graphics, the book will not be intimidating to readers who are moving up from transitional books into chapter books. My third grader is enjoying this series - I read it on her recommendation, and I'm glad I did! This is a particularly good read for this Halloween time of year, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Araminta's adventures.

To date, the books in the Araminta Spookie series are:
  1. My Haunted House
  2. The Sword in the Grotto
  3. Frognapped
  4. Vampire Brat
My Haunted House by Angie Sage - Araminta Spookie series, #1 (Katherine Tegen Books, 2006)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert's Snow Schedule for the upcoming week

Here is the Robert's Snow schedule for the upcoming week. These posts are so much fun - take time to check them out. You won't regret it!

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Robert's Snow: Maxwell Eaton III

The snowflake Maxwell Eaton III has illustrated for Robert's Snow this year features his delightful characters, Max and Pinky. Max, a little boy, and Pinky, a marshmallow-loving pig, are best friends. And what better way to spend a snow day than playing outside with your best bud? I particularly enjoy the fact that his snowflake tells a story - flip it over, and the mystery is solved. Plus, like everything that involves Max and Pinky, it makes me smile.

For more information about bidding on this or the many other marvelous snowflakes featured in the 2007 Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure benefit, click here. Proceeds benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Maxwell Eaton III writes that he "grew up in Vermont where he spent his childhood building forts, damming streams, exploring woods and spying on unsuspecting cows. He still enjoys all of these activities but is told that 'it’s not that cute anymore.' So Maxwell now spends his days in Saranac Lake, New York creating children’s books and figuring out what to do when he grows up. Hopefully something that involves bulldozers and dinosaurs. We’ll see."

So far, he's published two books about Max and Pinky:
The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds (Alfred A. Knopf, December 2006 )
The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes (Alfred A. Knopf, October 2007)

In Best Buds, Max becomes alarmed when he can't find Pinky anywhere. He searches all over the place, but it isn't until he finally stops to think about what truly motivates his best bud that he realizes exactly where to look.

In Superheroes, there's some tension between the best buds when Max is hogging the glory in their superhero battles, but poor Pinky gets the short end of the stick. Friendship (and hero skills) are tested in this book, but we know that truly best buds always help each other out.

A new Max and Pinky book (The Adventures of Max and Pinky: The Mystery) will be published by Knopf in fall of 2008, and another book, Little Boogers, is also forthcoming. Here is a sneak preview of the cover of The Mystery:

In addition to supplying me with all this great artwork from the books, Maxwell also agreed to answer some questions about himself, writing and illustrating.

How did you get involved with writing and illustrating?

I had just graduated from college and was living in the mountains of Colorado and pursuing a lucrative career in ski instruction. Anyone who has ever worked in this field or any of the ski related service industries knows the deal. Get rich quick, and get out. But despite this early success I was still exploring my creative options figuring I’d need something to occupy my time during my early retirement. I’d been doodling a little hairless, earless character named Max and began writing him into stories where he gets ready to go skiing or skating or drag racing or something. He had a little sidekick named Pinky that resembled a pig only he didn’t have legs… or a body… or a neck. Just a tail out of the back of his head. A shuffling pig head? Adorable! Now that I think about it, my characters always seem to be missing significant body parts and facial features, because it was another year before Pinky had legs and Max had ears. And they still don’t have more than dots for eyes! Where am I? Anyway, Pinky started working his way into the stories and pretty soon they were a pair. And blah, blah, blah, they’re published!

What do you enjoy most about it?

Getting to sit down every day to write and draw and entertain myself. You can’t beat it with a stick!

What other books are you interested in writing?

I’ve just started working with my editor, Cecile, on my first non-Max and Pinky project, LITTLE BOOGERS, which is a lot of fun so far because there are so many new options. It’s pretty refreshing. We’ll see how Pinky takes it.

When you were a kid, what did you want to
be when you grew up?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a drifter living about a hundred and fifty years ago. Not a hobo, because I didn’t want to clutter my mind with train schedules, but a guy wandering the woods and plains and playing a jaw harp. Maybe with a wolf that tags along. And I think I would have a slight ability to communicate with animals. Mainly owls. And I’d either have a sweet facial scar, a limp with a story behind it, or maybe a missing eye or finger. I was serious, but unfortunately so was my high school guidance counselor when he told me that most colleges don’t offer Drifting as a major.

What were your favorite books when you were
a child?

My favorite book as a child continues to be my favorite book today. It’s THE AMERICAN BOYS HANDY BOOK and I suggest you check it out. It shows you how to do everything from building rafts, war kites and wilderness structures to rearing birds and slinging rocks. It still gets me excited! Although, I’m pretty sure half of it has become illegal in the hundred and twenty-five years since its first publication. Nonetheless, Christmas is coming…

Any advice for kids who would like to do what you do?

My only advice would be to actively pursue whatever it is that you love to do, and when people tell you that you can’t, or it won’t happen, or that the odds are against you, then just remember that somebody has to be a writer. And somebody has to be an artist. And somebody has be a one-eyed drifter that talks to animals and plays the jaw harp. So, why can’t it be you? Basically, don’t give two thoughts as to what other people think. Now that’s good advice for anyone. Also, don’t ride a bike or run downstairs with your hands in your pockets. That’s even more good advice. No charge!

My children (first and third graders) are big fans of Max and Pinky, and when they heard I was writing down interview questions for "Mister Eaton" to answer, they wanted to join in on the fun. I asked them what they wanted to know, and I could barely keep up with them as I madly typed it all down. I think their questions are actually more interesting than the ones I thought up, and Maxwell kindly answered them all as well:

How did you come up with the idea of a pig loving marshmallows so much?

It’s basic pig biology. I just read up on pigs and learned that marshmallows are one part of their nutritional requirements. One part. So don’t go feeding your family pig all marshmallows. It’s not natural. As you can see, research is ninety percent of the children’s book writing process.

Do you like marshmallows as much as Pinky

Not by a long shot, and I’ve got twenty-eight healthy adult teeth to prove it (That’s right, I just put my finger in my mouth and felt how many teeth I have. I suggest you do the same to make sure you don’t have any missing).

How did you get the idea of a boy and a pig being best friends?

At first Pinky was almost like a stuffed animal that belonged to Max. But I wanted him to think and talk and show sarcasm (which pigs do so well), so they became full blown best buds.

Will you ever write a chapter book?

You girls sure are nosy! I think every picture book author thinks of writing a chapter book. For some reason I think we need it to prove ourselves. “See. I can write more than thirty-two pages.” It’s not right around the corner, but I think I’ll definitely be trying my hand at it at some point in the near future.

Will you write a Max and Pinky Hallowe
en book?

I would love to write a Max and Pinky Halloween book.

Did you like writing and illustrating books when you were a child?

Writing stories and illustrating them was the best. But I think you’ll find that as you get older (so wise… so wise…) the drawing and the writing seem to drift further and further apart until they become English and Fine Arts. I don’t know why it has to be this way. Heck, it doesn’t! Forget it! Just keep doing your own thing. For me they went wide, but now they’ve finally come slamming back together and I get to spend my days writing funny stories with pictures again. Whoa. Close one.

And finally, here is a photo of Maxwell Eaton III - it looks like he's in a canoe - possibly on his way to dam a stream or spy on some unsuspecting cows? I'd like to offer my thanks to him, not only for taking so much time to answer all my questions, but also for donating his talents to the Robert's Snow effort to raise money for cancer research.

Just think how fun it would be to have an original Max and Pinky looking back at you from their snowflake this holiday season. Don't forget to stop by the auction site and place a bid on this or any of the other stunning snowflakes you will find there. Also, be sure to check out Maxwell Eaton very cool website - it has coloring pages, a monthly drawing to win the "sketch of the month" (it's a drawing drawing, get it?), and other fun activities.

And (this is a p.s. to this post, added later that day) - I just discovered Maxwell has a blog, too!