Book Review: Curiosity by Gary Blackwood

curiosityCan you imagine a hoax so successful, that Napoleon Bonaparte, Benjamin Franklin and Empress Maria Theresa were all duped by it? That very thing actually happened, and the hoax revolved around an automaton named the Turk, that was said to be able to play a near-perfect game of chess. The public were amazed by the creation, until the day that it was revealed how the Turk really operated (hint – it wasn’t actually mechanical!). Curiosity by Gary Blackwood takes place in America, years after the truth about the chess-playing automaton has been revealed in Europe, and follows young Rufus Goodspeed, a chess prodigy forced to operate the Turk for a nasty and ruthless con man. This novel was a delight to read, and is sure to appeal to readers who like historical novels and adventure stories.

Rufus had a very easy life as a young boy. Despite have a slightly hunched back and being much smaller than the other children, he was well-looked after by his father and his nanny. He had a natural gift for the game of chess, which he discovered when he was 4 years old, and his father let him devote his days to playing the game and reading about it. This wonderful and idyllic life comes to a sudden end when Rufus’ father loses his position and winds up in debtors’ prison. Now, Rufus has to look after himself while also trying to find a way to make enough money to rent his father a bed in the prison. While in these dire straits, Rufus is offered a way out; he can work for Maelzel, the owner of a curiosity shop. Once Rufus arrives at the shop, he discovers the catch; Rufus won’t be getting paid for his work, and he can’t leave!

Maelzel has taken Rufus in order to use him to operate the Turk. He is a harsh task master, and Rufus becomes increasingly nervous. He isn’t the first person to operate the automaton, but what happened to the previous chess experts? Rufus begins to suspect that Maelzel is even more sinister and villainous than he could have imagined. As he tries to find a way to escape his fate, he must also attempt to keep the Turk’s secrets. After all, he has nowhere else to go!

Gary Blackwood created a very dynamic character and narrator in Rufus Goodspeed. Rufus opens the book with a direct address to the readers, assuring them that even though the book is about chess, he won’t go into too many technical details (a promise he delivers on). He vows that the reader will be engaged, and he does just that. Curiosity was a lot of fun to read, and has some nice historical touches that make it educational as well as entertaining. If you are looking for a good middle grade novel, consider trying out Gary Blackwood’s Curiosity.

Happy reading!


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New Arrivals in Children’s Music, Part II

This week’s new children’s CDs are wonderful albums featuring music from all parts of the world. Whether they’re re-imagined covers of traditional songs or folk songs from other places, we have a great selection of world music for every taste!

World travels : world music for kMusic World Travelsids / Music for Little People

Well-loved children’s and world music artists perform classics from many different cultures.

Blue clouMusic Blue Cloudsds/ by Elizabeth Mitchell & You Are My Flower

Elizabeth Mitchell and her family reinterpret a mix of Japanese songs and American music by artists like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Bill Withers, Ella Jenkins, Van Morrison, The Allman Brothers.

Music Choo ChooChoo choo boogaloo : Zydeco music for kids  / by Buckwheat Zydeco

Babies, toddlers, and adults will love dancing and singing along to this fun album, where kids can learn about traditional Cajun music and instruments. Look how much fun he’s having!

Music AfricanThe rough guide to African music for children

Variety abounds on this compilation of African songs, chosen by kids (and enjoyed by adults)!

Music Mighty SkyThe mighty sky / by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Rocky Alvey

This one’s a wild card! The duo sings some great songs in different folk music styles, all about the planets and our solar system. This one is a fun and educational listen!

We have tons of fun and enriching children’s music to discover: come check out our collection.


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Battle of the Covers Round 2

It’s time for another round of Battle of the Covers! These redesigns often occur when books go from hardcover to softcover, or a second book in the series comes out, or just because. Let us know what you think of these cover redesigns, and remember, the original cover is always the first option.

First up is The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, which got a cover redesign this year. I was a little shocked when I saw the new one, but what do you think?

sisterhood old    sisterhood 2014







Next, we have a cover battle for Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. I can see what they were trying to do with the redesign, but I kind of like the somewhat darker cover. What about you?

Out of the easy 1

Out of the Easy 2








Next, let’s turn to YA super-author Sarah Dessen, who has written a great many books and has, in turn, had a great many cover redesigns. Let’s take a look at Someone Like You, one of her first. I have to say, I think the cover designs just keep getting better!

someone like you 1 Someone like you 29780142401774_SomeoneLikeY_CV.indd






Thanks for voting, and remember, you can share your thoughts in the comments!

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New Arrivals in Children’s Music, Part I

Music is a pretty amazing thing. For children, music and rhythm is a gateway to early literacy, language development, empathy, emotional growth, different cultures, movement, coordination, and even math! (Obviously, I could go on…) At the library, we love using music to help babies and adults bond, to share great energy, and to pave the way for early literacy and a love of words and books.

For older kids, I’ve been really delighted with the amount of great children’s artists there are to choose from these days. Today, I’d like to feature some of our new music here in the Children’s Department: original, fun, and well-reviewed albums that kids and adults can enjoy together.

My Best Friend is a Salamander by Peter Himmelman

“…A [Fred Koch] favourite…for its originality and child-like splendor,” Peter Himmelman’s first CD for children has been compared to Shel Silverstein in terms of its sometimes wacky wordplay.


TheyMightBeGiants-No!No!  by They Might Be Giants

All Music Guide gave the album a great review (among many other great reviews), calling it “one of the group’s most creative albums in years, and undoubtedly one of [the year's] best children’s releases, because it says yes to fun and individuality.”

Nora's RoomNora’s Room by Jessica Harper

A great album to dance to for preschool and up, in Nora’s Room, “Rhythms and rhymes play across the album in unpredictable, delightful ways.”
– Billboard Magazine

MeltdownMeltdown by Justin Roberts

Justin Roberts came up again and again in my search for music that both parents and kids can appreciate. “Roberts has been compared to James Taylor, a comparison earned mostly because their voices are similar. But Roberts’ musical strengths are his uptempo rockers…and this album shows off his guitar-based pop-rock to fine effect” (Zoogobble). Recommended for ages 5-10.

jennifer_gasoi_throw_a_penny_in_the_wishing_well_2012Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well by Jennifer Gasoi

Grammy-winner Jennifer Gasoi is a Canadian artist who “writes happy songs for happy kids.  In her orchestration and target audience, she’s like a jazzier Laurie Berkner” (Zoogobble), and is recommended for ages 3-7.

Stay tuned for Part II, featuring wonderful folk and world music for kids from toddler to ten!



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Online Teen Book Club Challenge

Online Teen book club Challenge poster 10x15 2014-09 (1)We love YA, and we know there are lots of devoted YA readers in our community. Most of the time, when you finish a book, you want to talk about it, but it’s sometimes hard to find time to get together. Our solution to this little dilemma was to create an online space to share our YA book thoughts, so for the past two years, we have been doing just that with our Online Teen Book Club – OTBC for short (and you can reach it here). Here’s how the club works: each month, three titles are posted and readers get to vote on which one they like best. Then, on the first of the following month, the chosen book gets discussed.We write about the novel, raise a few questions and have all sorts of polls for you to take. We have discussed some pretty amazing books since the blog first started, books like The Fault in our Stars, Graceling, We Were Liars, Between Shades of Gray, The Scorpio Races and so many more!

Now that we have so many selections, we are launching a new contest. Come to the library to pick up the Online Teen Book Club Reading Challenge booklet. Once you have the booklet, you can start working your way through the list of books we have blogged about, reading the novels, taking the polls and commenting. For each book that you do that for, you get any entry into our raffle for a Kobo Touch. The contest runs from October 1 to January 30, 2015, so you have a lot of time to get those raffle tickets. You can pick up your tickets all at once, or each time you complete a row; it’s up to you!

The motto for the Online Teen Book Club is “vote, read, share” and we hope this contest encourages you to do just that!

Happy reading!


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Book Review: Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin

KnightleyI haven’t read a good mystery in a while, but I was taken with the gorgeous cover of Knightley & Son, and was pleasantly surprised by the great characters and intriguing story inside. I’m a big fan of British mysteries and British humour, and this book is a great combination of both! The London setting and a cast of charming (and funny) characters drew me in from the first page. Rohan Gavin’s skill as a screenwriter is well translated to an exciting mystery full of twists and turns that I could see playing out in my head as I read.


A popular self-help book called The Code seems to be making people do (and see) very strange things. Meanwhile, 13-year-old Darkus Knightly has been visiting his father, once London’s “top private detective,” as he lies in a years-long coma. In an effort to understand what his father was working on before he mysteriously fell asleep, Darkus has painstakingly read and memorized much of his father’s top-secret case files. When Mr. Knightley finally awakes, he finds that his son might be his best asset in solving the sinister case of The Code. Along with a Scottish agent from the Department of the Unexplained and Darkus’s stepsister Tilly, Darkus and his father delve into a case full of conspiracy and danger.

Not only was the plot fast-paced and exciting, but the characters were fantastic! Darkus is a bit of a Holmes-ian genius, and Tilly is a brilliant and unlikely sidekick. Tilly’s bumbling father Clive (Darkus’s stepdad), provides great comic relief, as does Uncle Bill from the Department of the Unexplained. This well-written middle-grade book is a must-read for mystery lovers. Although this is the beginning of a series, the first book managed to have a satisfying conclusion while still making me want to read the next in the series.



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Teen Program: Our Little Infinity – Fault in our Stars on DVD

fault-posterThe Fault in our Stars is one of the biggest YA books to be published in the past few years, and the movie was also a huge hit, earning over $300,000,000 worldwide! Now, The Fault in our Stars is on DVD, and we’re celebrating by screening the movie at the library. On October 2 at 7 pm, we’ll be showing the film. One lucky participant in the room will walk away with a book/DVD combo of their very own.

If you’ve never heard of the book or the movie, now is the perfect chance to discover it and find out what the fuss is all about. The story surrounds Hazel, a whip-smart teenager who has been dealing with the fact that she has terminal cancer for a few years now. Her parents force to attend a support group to deal with her feelings, and while there, meets the  handsome and charming Augustus Waters. Their friendship develops, but Hazel remains reluctant to fall in love since she know she has never been anything else but terminal. This well-written and compelling story is one that begs to be to be re-read or re-watched. Luckily, you have the chance of having both the DVD and the book added to your personal collection just by coming to watch the movie on October 2.

If you’re interested in coming, just email us ( or give us a call (514-485-6900 ext 4111) to reserve your spot.

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Favourite: Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

I have a soft spot for monster stories, and find myself gravitating toward monster-themed storytimes as often as I can. Some monster books are the perfect way to be silly and to turn the scary monster into something nonthreatening and even kind. From the charming Larf to sweet The Monsters’ Monster, my favourite monster protagonists are generally big teddy bears, and Mo Willems’s Leonardo the Terrible Monster is no exception.

LeonardoLeonardo is a pretty terrible monster, in that he is not scary at all. He looks around him at what a monster is expected to be (gigantic, weird, or many-toothed) and is disappointed that he doesn’t measure up. He comes up with an “evil” plan to find the most anxious child he can and “scare the tuna salad out of him!”, and so he chooses Sam. Unfortunately, Sam is having a particularly terrible day and while Leonardo is sure that he has scared him into crying, it turns out that Sam is upset about something else. In a sweet turn, Leonardo decides to be a good person instead of a terrible monster, and comforts his new friend.

I first fell for Leonardo while reading to a first grade class that thought Sam’s bad day was quite hilarious (poor Sam). Willems has a sense of humour all right, and it definitely resonates with young elementary school students. Most people can relate to the themes here: Leonardo’s feeling of isolation as he looks around and doesn’t fit the mold, Sam’s unfortunate day, and the importance of being a friend to someone. Somehow although there is a nice message at the end, there isn’t a hint of saccharine sweetness to this one. Leonardo is still a little bit mischievous, and Sam still surely still feels angry or sad from time to time.

Some Monsters are Different, however: monster stories are told in many different ways for many different audiences. Leonardo is seven years old now, and he has been joined by some other great monster-related books in our collection, like Peter Brown’s My Teacher is a Monster (no, I am not)and Jonathan Emmett’s Here Be Monsters





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A Valerie Favourite: Anton and Cecil Cats at Sea by Lisa and Valerie Martin

Anton and CecilIt will probably come as no surprise at all to those who know me that I was drawn to Lisa and Valerie Martin’s novel Anton and Cecil Cats at Sea as soon as it arrived. As I read it, I was reminded of the film The Adventures of Milo and Otis, about two animal friends who are unexpectedly separated, and who must journey to find their way back to each other, encountering an interesting cast of animal characters along the way. In Anton and Cecil, our adventurers are two brothers: Cecil, a plump and fluffy black cat who is daring and wants to be a sailor, and Anton, a sleek grey cat who loves being at home and enjoys listening to the men singing in the seaside pubs. This book had me smiling and “awwww”-ing, and more than once, I forced those around me to look at the absolutely adorable illustrations (created by the wonderful Kelly Murphy) that pepper the book .

In this cute middle grade novel, we meet a fraternal duo living in a lovely coastal town. Cecil is fascinated by the lives the sailors lead, and he takes any and every opportunity to go out on day trips with the fishing schooners. Anton, on the other hand, is more reserved, and he is frightened by the ships, in no small part because of the horror stories of “impressment,” which is when sailors force the local cats to be mousers on their ships. Cats who have been impressed are never seen from again, so Anton worries that his brother will one day be taken away from him forever. ny antonImpressment does divide the two brothers, but it is Anton who the sailors capture and force into service as a mouser, and despite Cecil’s best attempts to join his brother, they are separated! Cecil boards the very next big ship he sees in order to go after his brother and try to bring him back.

Through alternating chapters, Cecil and Anton travel the sea, meeting other animals (not always nice) and trying to survive the perils of the ocean. It may seem odd to say that I liked the character growth given that the two main characters are cats, but I genuinely did! Their personalities were distinct and very well-formed, which made it easier to spot the changes as they grew through their adventures. Cecil encounters danger that helps temper his brash nature, and Anton becomes more confident as he not only survives being impressed, but flourishes!

This is a fun book to read, and I can imagine it being a great choice for shared family reading, because I couldn’t help but share it with those around me.

Happy reading!


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Focus on Film: Studio Ghibli Favourites

When rumours started that Studio Ghibli (the makers of some of my favourite anime films) was closing, I was pretty upset. I have been a fan of their work for a very long time, in no small part thanks to the imagination of studio’s founder, Hayao Miyazaki. A Miyazaki movie can tell a sweet and quiet story or a huge, lush fairytale, sometimes both at the same time.  Ghibli’s films are arrestingly creative, beautiful, and have stolen the hearts of children and adults alike. Although I was reassured to find that Ghibli may not be closing its doors just yet, I am more relieved that we have many of these movies at the library for everyone to enjoy. Here’s a selection of great Studio Ghibli films, from both our children’s and adult movie collections:


A mystical goldfish princess befriends a boy and becomes human to be with him, but her transformation unsettles the natural balance and she must decide whether to stay with her friend or return to the water.

AriettyThe secret world of Arrietty

In a secret world hidden beneath the floorboards, little people called Borrowers live quietly among us. But when tenacious and tiny Arrietty is discovered by Shawn, a human boy, their secret and forbidden friendship blossoms into an extraordinary adventure.

TotoroMy Neighbor Totoro

Children discover a new world in a tree trunk inhabited by magical creatures called Totoros, which can’t be seen by adults.


Cat ReturnsThe Cat Returns

In an imaginative and lighthearted tale, a young schoolgirl saves the life of a noble cat and is rewarded with a shocking proposal of marriage – to the Cat King’s son – and a fateful journey to the extraordinary Kingdom of Cats.

From Up on Poppy HillFrom Up on Poppy Hill

In the year 1963 in Yokohama, an innocent romance blossoms between two high school students, Umi and Shun. As Japan recovers from World War II and prepares to host the 1964 Olympics, the mood contains both optimism and conflict as the younger generation struggles to escape the shackles of the past. While trying to save a dilapidated Meiji-era club house from demolition, the relationship flourishes. But a buried secret from their past emerges to cast a shadow on the future and pull them apart.

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle

A marvelous, hugely-imaginative Japanese animated feature about a teenage hatmaker who runs afoul of a wicked witch and gets turned into a 90-year-old woman. She becomes housekeeper for a handsome, youthful magician named Howl, tending to the gigantic walking castle where he lives. Whenever she feels romantic stirrings for him, she becomes a teenager again.



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