Sunday, September 30, 2007
As the novel opens, Roberta Dutreau hides in her isolated home, surrounded only by snowy hills. When she spies a stranger turning up her driveway, she panics, opening the door only when the man addresses her by her childhood nickname, Bobbie Lee. Despite his use of her nickname, Roberta has never met this man before. She recognizes his face only from a photograph her friend Cincy kept by her bedside, a "photograph from years ago, a young man in a uniform with the same black eyes - my best friend's missing father" (11). The man, Harley Jaines, has come with one purpose - to compell Roberta to tell the truth about a horrific event in her past that landed Cincy's mother in prison. Roberta, who has only recently climbed out of the pit of her own insanity, knows she can't revisit her past without risking another downward spiral. Yet, the door to her past has been opened and her mind won't let her close it.
Shaken from her encounter with Harley, Roberta climbs into her car and begins the long journey to Spokane, where Lenora Jaines - Harley's lover and Cincy's mother - resides in a women's prison. As she drives, Roberta's mind combs over her childhood in Shady River, Oregon, a small town on the Columbia River. When Roberta moves there as a child, her life is bleak and lonely. Her mother, Ruth, cleans hotel rooms by day and drinks herself into a coma by night. Roberta finds her salvation in Cincy Jaines, a vibrant girl who takes the new girl under her wing. When Roberta visits Cincy's home, she feels more at home there than anywhere. She is particularly attracted by the house's glassed-in porch, where plants and butterflies are cultivated by Cincy's scientist mother, Lenora. As Roberta and Cincy spend more and more time together, Lenora becomes Roberta's pseudo mother, a relationship which deepens as Roberta shows increasing interest in Lenora's scientific projects. Not only does Cincy become envious of their relationship, but Ruth is so jealous she accuses Roberta and Lenora of being lesbians. The anger that blossoms between the women erupts in a violent act that leaves Ruth dead, Roberta in a mental hospital, Lenora in prison and Cincy on the run. When Roberta emerges from the facility, she marries, moves to Canada and tries to put the entire situation behind her. She has done so with relative success until Harley Jaines shows up on her doorstep.
When Roberta finally arrives in Spokane, Lenora warns her to keep quiet about their past. Roberta is only too glad to comply, until she realizes that even she doesn't know what really happened that night. As she searches for her own answers, Roberta must confront her demons and decide if she can save Lenora and, ultimately, herself.
Marcia Preston delivers a major punch in the first chapter, then weaves the past and present together expertly throughout the rest of the book to create a compelling, suspenseful story. It's a bit predictable - I guessed several of the "secrets" long before Roberta did - but I still found the book engrossing. It's not warm and fuzzy by any means; in fact, it's downright bleak, but the story is ultimately about truth and redemption. I can't say I loved it, but I did find The Butterfly House an engrossing read.
Now, you know I always have weird issues with the books I read. Like I said, a lot of this novel takes place in a small, fictional town on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. The story describes Cincy and Roberta biking across a bridge to the Washington side to pick up groceries. This detail bugged me because I grew up in this exact sort of town (although it was real and on the Washington side), and the idea of two little girls biking across a bridge to Oregon is a little unrealistic. All the bridges I've crossed in this part of Washington/Oregon are very high and very narrow. Although people do bike across them occasionally, I have NEVER seen children doing it. Furthermore, I would NEVER allow any child to make such a dangerous trip. So, yeah, that detail bugged me through the whole book. I told you it was a small, weird thing.
So, anyway, I'm giving this book a B+ because it's a little predictable and some of the situations seem unrealistic. Overall, though, it's a well-written and interesting story.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The year is 1840. At least, that's what the children in Clifton, Indiana, believe. They have grown up wearing homemade clothing, riding in horse-drawn wagons, and writing on slates with chalk. For 14-year-old Jessie Keyser, it's all part of her normal, everyday life. Then, an epidemic breaks out in Clifton, a mysterious sickness that's affecting kids all over town, including Katie, Jessie's younger sister. Panicked, Jessie's mother takes her aside and delivers the shocking news: It is really 1996. She explains that the people of Clifton are actually part of a living history museum, where tourists can observe life as it was lived in 1840. When the Keysers agreed to live as authentic 19th Century villagers, the agreement had included access to modern medicine. But now, there is a diptheria breakout and no medicine has come into the village. Without it, children will die. Jessie's mother warns her that the founders of Clifton don't want to help, so someone will have to sneak out of the community and find aid. Fearing her disappearance would attract too much attention, Jessie's mother asks Jessie to go. Although she is scared, Jessie slips into the jeans and T-shirt her mom offers her and sneaks into the terrifying world of 1996. With little more than a name and a phone number, she begins her dangerous quest to find help. When she finally reaches the man who is supposed to help her, Jessie realizes just how dangerous her mission really is. With Clifton's founders desperate to find her, Jessie must use all her strength and wit to avoid captureand save the people and town she loves.
This is the ingenious plot behind Margaret Peterson Haddix's fascinating novel, Running Out of Time. The story's premise intrigued me, but the suspense kept me turning the pages. It's a fast-paced, thrilling adventure that is absolutely unputdownable. I loved it. There were aspects that confused me (How come no planes ever flew over Clifton? Why was Jessie instructed to contact a stranger on the outside instead of her grandparents or other relatives?), but overall, it's an awesome read.
Although Haddix excels at writing taut, exciting plots, it's the questions behind her books that really give me pause. This one pits the old world against the new and begs to know which is better, safer? It asks which parents should do - shelter their children against evil or thrust them into the world and teach them how to cope? It also demands to know when children are old enough to learn the harsh truths of their worlds? As a parent, I find these questions endlessly fascinating.
If you liked the ideas behind City of Ember and the movie The Village, check this one out. You're sure to enjoy it.
- Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
- Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
- Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
- Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
- Austenland - Shannon Hale
- The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler
- Becoming Jane - Jon Spence
- Me and Mr. Darcy - Alexandra Potter
Classics I Need to Read or Re-read
- Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
- Emma - Jane Austen
- Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
- In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
- Last of the Mohicans - James Fennimore Cooper
- Little Men - Louisa May Alcott
- Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
- A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Books by LDS Authors
- The Yearbook - Allyson Braithwaite Condie
- I Am A Mother - Jane Clayson Johnson
- Running With Angels - Pamela H. Hansen
- Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card (also reading for Cardathon Challenge)
- Rachel and Leah - Orson Scott Card (also reading for Cardathon Challenge)
- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - Richard Lyman Bushman (also reading for Unread Authors Challenge)
- Alone, Together - Jack Weyland
- No Doubt About It - Sheri Dew
- Lemony Snicket: The Unofficial Autobiography - Lemony Snicket
- The Lives and Loves of Violet and Daisy Hilton - Dean Jensen (also reading for In Their Shoes Challenge)
- The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom (also reading for In Their Shoes Challenge)
- Color Me Butterfly - L.Y. Marlow
- Fat Girl - Judith Moore
- The Wounded Spirit - Frank Peretti
- Porch Tales - Jewell Parker Rhodes
- A Girl Named Zippy - Haven Kimmel (also reading for In Their Shoes Challenge)
First In A Series
- Uglies - Scott Westerfield (also reading for Fall Into Reading Challenge)
- The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman
- The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan (also reading for Fall Into Reading Challenge)
- Flamingo Fatale - Jimmie Ruth Evans
- On What Grounds - Cleo Coyle (overlap book/books about food)
- Catering to Nobody - Diane Mott Davidson (overlap book/books about food)
- To the Edge - Cindy Gerard
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay
- American Gods - Neil Gaiman
- Coraline - Neil Gaiman
- M Is For Magic - Neil Gaiman
- Interworld - Neil Gaiman
- Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
- Smoke & Mirrors - Neil Gaiman
- Good Omens - Neil Gaiman
- The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish - Neil Gaiman
Random Picks From My (Never-Ending) TBR Pile
- Empire Falls - Richard Russo
- Whistling in the Dark - Lesley Kegan
- I Am the Messenger - Markus Zusak
- Saving Fish From Drowning - Amy Tan
- Peony in Love - Lisa See
- Summer Reading - Hilma Wolitzer
- Midnight Sea - Colleen Coble
- Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
Books About Food
- Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
- Something From the Oven - Laura Shapiro
- Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen - Julie Powell
- Cooking With My Sisters: One Hundred Years of Family Recipes, From Bari to Big Stone Gap - Adriana Trigiani
- Murder on the Rocks - Karen McInerny
- Dead and Berried - Karen McInerny
- On What Grounds - Cleo Coyle (overlap book/First In A Series)
- Catering to Nobody - Diane Mott Davidson (overlap book/First in A Series)
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I have decided to start grading the books I review with a simple A-F system that will be familiar to anyone educated in an American public school. I don't think I really need to explain what the grades mean, but I will probably post an explanation on the sidebar anyway. This will occur when I have the time and energy (so around 2009). My latest review (below) contains this new feature, and I will try to go back and grade the books in my previous reviews. Again, this should be accomplished sometime in the next 2 years. Just kidding - I'll probably get to it in the next week or so. I will also include the grades in the tags at the bottom of this blog so you can skip all the flunkees and find the A plussers more easily.
Also, Camy Tang is having a huge book giveaway on her site. Who is Camy? Well, I was wondering that same thing yesterday when I read about this giveaway on Mommy of 3's blog. Then, I thought, "Who cares who she is - she's giving away a ton of free stuff." After surfing around her website, I found out that she is an Asian woman who writes Christian fiction. If you're interested in entering her giveaway, go to her website and read all about it. If you enter, please mention that Susan at Bloggin' 'Bout Books sent you. I love contests and free stuff!
Okay, that's all I've got. Now, back to my book...
Carbs & Cadavers tells the story of James Henry. At the moment, James' future is looking pretty dim: he's newly divorced; his mother has just died, leaving him to care for his cantakerous father; he's had to resign his professorship at William & Mary and hire on at the library, earning a much lower salary; he's back in his hometown, where he felt awkward even as a child; and, he's 50 pounds overweight. He finds his silver lining in the plus-size form of Lindy Perez, who bustles into the library with a notice to post on the community bulletin board. The poster announces the formation of a Supper Club for people interested in forming friendships and losing weight - "like a dieter's club but more fun," enthuses Lindy. James immediately decides to join the club. Along with Lindy and three others - a statistics-loving postman; a hippie pet groomer; and a sherriff's assistant longing for a promotion - James becomes a member of the Flab Five. With the support of the group, James fully intends to be able to drop some weight. What he doesn't count on is falling for Lucy, whose presence leads directly to his involvement in a murder investigation. The victim is Brinkley Myers, whose only real accomplishments occurred a few years back on the high school football field. No one's all that sorry he's dead, but many are outraged when Whitney, a sweet, young waitress is jailed for the crime. Lucy determines to find the true killer, drawing her dieting friends into her unofficial investigation. As the Flab Five gets closer to the truth, certain members find themselves in increasing danger. Can they prove Whitney's innocence and find the real killer? And, most importantly, can they manage to stay away from Cheese Puffs and peanut butter cups long enough to shed some pounds?
I agree, the plot sounds like a lot of fun. In the hands of a better writer, it could have been a decent mystery. But, J.B. Stanley would have flunked a freshman writing course. Her characters are cliched, her writing is sloppy, and the plot she's created is so predictable that I identified the killer as soon as the character was introduced. I had to sit on my hands to stop myself from picking up a red pen and making the book bleed with corrections. If only someone had edited all the clumsy sentences, erased all the extraneous information (the reader really doesn't need a description of every float in the Halloween parade), and encouraged Stanley to flesh out her characters, this book could have worked. As it is, Carbs & Cadavers is nothing more than a rough draft.
Perhaps the book could have been redeemed by some interesting recipes, but nope. It includes only two, and if you've ever tried to lose weight, you've seen them both - "Phony" Mashed Potatoes made with cauliflower; and crustless pumpkin pie. Neither look that great.
Needless to say, my search for the perfect murder mystery with recipes continues...and no longer includes J.B. Stanley
Grade: D (and that's only because it wasn't horrible enough to make me abandon it)
Friday, September 21, 2007
This Newbery Award winner gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into the bleak world of 14th Century England; its old-fashioned, formal tone just adds to the period detail. I think younger readers may be put off by the tone of the novel, but they will certainly be pulled in by the non-stop action. It's truly a grand adventure with a brave and admirable hero on a quest to find the most important thing in the world - his true identity.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The story revolves around Tomikazu "Tomi" Nakaji, a Japanese-American eighth-grader living on Oahu in 1941. Tomi lives with his father, a fisherman; his mother, a maid; his ornery grandpa; and his little sister, Kimi. While the Nakaji's shack is less than luxurious, life is pretty good for Tomi. Beating the Kaka'ako Boys in baseball is his biggest worry. Until December 7, when Tomi and his friend Billy spot smoke billowing up from Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the far-off war has hit Hawaii, and the Nakaji's friends and neighbors are eyeing them with suspicion. As Tomi describes it: "It felt strange, like people were sneaking glances at us ... I realized that what that lady saw wasn't just a boy and his mother...What she saw was a Japanese boy, and his Japanese mother" (131). It doesn't help that Tomi's grandpa still clings desperately to the souveniers of his life in Japan - a flag, their family's katana (an heirloom sword), and an altar for his dead wife. Burying the items makes the Nakajis feel safer...for a time. Then, they receive news they have feared since the attack at Pearl Harbor - Tomi's father, Taro, has been shot and jailed. Without Taro's income to support the family, the Nakajis have little food or kerosene. Tomi wants only to go back to life as it was - school and baseball - but his world has changed forever. When his grandpa is also arrested, Tomi becomes the man of the house, a position that requires him to be strong despite the fact that his whole life is falling apart...The story ends at this point, continuing in the sequel, House of the Red Fish.
The beginning of the book drags a little, although Salisbury does a fine job of introducing readers to life on Oahu. The characters' accents ring true, as do the descriptions of scenery and daily life. Once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the story picks up pace and races to a heartbreaking finale. Although packed with action, the book is really about a friendship - between Japanese-American Tomi and his haole friend Billy - and how the war changes the boys and their relationship with each other. Salisbury also describes the plight of Japanese-Americans in this period with honesty and compassion. It's an authentic, touching story and I'm not just saying that because I know the author...well, okay, sort of know. It really is a great story - I can't wait to read the sequel.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Heart-Shaped Box concerns Jude Coyne, a 54-year-old rock star with no music left in him. He's got plenty of money, a competent assistant to handle his business affairs, and a pretty Goth girl to warm his bed. He's also got a macabre collection of sinister items - a confession signed by a witch, a skull of a dead peasant, and other bizarre objects. So, when his assistant laughingly shows him a ghost for sale on an auction site, Jude can't resist. He buys it. When UPS delivers a heart-shaped box with a black suit inside, Jude's amused. According to the seller, the suit belonged to her recently deceased stepfather, and is haunted by his restless spirit. Jude thinks little of his new acquisition until strange things begin happening - the suit mysteriously leaps from its place in the closet; radios play when they're unplugged; the air is unnaturally cold; and, worst of all, Jude sees the dead man everywhere.
Jude, along with his current girlfriend Georgia (her name is actually Marybeth, but Jude is too callous to remember his girls' names, so calls them by their home state; his last girlfriend was Florida), do everything they can think of to rid themselves of the sinister ghost. Nothing works. The only beings capable of stopping the ghost seem to be Jude's dogs. By now, Jude has realized that he doesn't own a random ghost; in fact, he was tricked into buying the ghost of Florida's stepfather. The haunt blames Jude for Florida (real name: Anna)'s suicide, and he won't stop plaguing Jude until he's dead. Terrified, Jude and Marybeth take the dogs for protection and head to Florida, intent on making Anna's family help them destroy the ghost. Instead, they are confronted with the terrible secrets Anna was forced to keep. Finally, the pair head for Louisiana, where Jude's own tortured past awaits. In a bloody showdown, Jude and Marybeth finally face the sinister ghost in a last, desperate attempt to rid the world of his evil presence.
Okay, I love ghost stories, but this one was bloody, crude and full of profanity. I should have put it down immediately, but I was so drawn into the story that I couldn't stop reading. It was absolutely absorbing. The action started almost immediately and didn't let up until the last page. I thought the idea of buying a ghost was inventive, although the rest of the story was somewhat standard horror fare. Still, I couldn't stop turning pages. The novel's most redeeming quality is that, at its heart, it's about a man searching for goodness within himself. Jude's life has been so crammed with filth that it takes an evil ghost to make him fight for the few precious things in it. Like I said, it's a horrifying, mesmerizing story, but you won't be able to put it down. If you're a Stephen King fan, you will probably love this tale penned by his son.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
1. The Hiding Place - Corrie Ten Boom
2. The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton - Dean Jensen
3. A Woman in Berlin: 3 Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary - Anonymous
4. Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women - Cornelia Meigs (also reading for Newbery Challenge)
5. The Glass Castle - Jeanette Walls
6. Beatrix Potter: A Life In Nature - Lida Lear
7. Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone With the Wind - Marianne Walker
8. The Liars Club: A Memoir - Mary Karr
9. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School At a Time - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
10. The Education of Little Tree - Forest Carter
11. Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood - Alexandra Fuller
12. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee - Charles J. Shields
13. A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana - Haven Kimmel
1. Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Donald Zochert
2. Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father - John Matteson
3. A Mind in Prison: The Memoir of a Son and Soldier of the 3rd Reich - Bruno Manz
4. The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith - R. Virnon Ingleton
So, here's my list:
The Giver - Lois Lowry
The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan
The Zookeeper's Wife - Diane Ackerman
Uglies - Scott Westerfield
Sarah's Quilt - Nancy E. Turner
Woman In Red - Eileen Goudge
You can't sign up for this one until the 21st, I think, but if it sounds interesting, check out Callapidder's site - it's really fun!
What book are you currently reading? Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. Since all of my reading for the R.I.P. II Challenge has been more fantastical than scary, I thought I needed something more Halloween-ish. This book, written by Stephen King's son, fits the bill perfectly.
How do you decide what book to read next? Since I've also become an obsessive book buyer, I have tons of choices on my bookshelf. I also make frequent trips to the library. Okay, here's a peek into my OCD - I keep a list (alphabetized by author) on my computer of all the books I want to read. When I hear about a good book, I add it. Then, before I go to the library or the bookstore, I peruse the list for interesting titles. Despite this, my list never seems to get any shorter; at least, I'll never run out of things to read!
Do you always finish books, or do you give up on them? If you give up on them, how many pages does it usually take? I don't give up on books often, but sometimes I do. I have WAY too many books in my TBR pile to waste time on those I don't like. It usually takes me a couple of chapters to decide.
Do you ever re-read books you love? If so, how often? Give examples, if possible. I rarely re-read books, even if I adore them. I also can't stand watching reruns on tv. Like I said, I'm weird.
Can you read books in noisy places (e.g. trains, buses, crowded rooms)? I can't read while I'm in the car because I get really carsick. Planes are a different story - usually I can read in the air without any problem. When I read - especially if the book is really good - I tune everything else out, so I can read with the t.v. on, my kids screaming, tornadoes raging outside, etc. I prefer to read in silence, but I take what I can get.
Where do you acquire most of your books? If you are a library user or borrower, how many books do you borrow at once? If a buyer, how many books do you usually buy at once? I get books any way I can. Lately, I have been buying more because I can't seem to get my library books back on time. But, when I do go to the library, I usually get at least 4 books, sometimes more. Yesterday, I checked out 12, but most of them were YA novels. Likewise, when I buy books, I can't purchase just one. I'm a huge sucker for Borders' 3 for 2 table. I try to shop wisely, taking advantage of coupons and free shipping (when I buy online). New books just make me happy. What can I say?
Do you use bookmarks, or dog-ear the pages of your books? Do you make marginal notes? If so, do you use pencil or pen? Dog-ear pages?? Gasp! No, I would never do that. I use bookmarks - pretty ones if I have them, scraps of paper otherwise. I don't make marginal notes ever. I had an English teacher in high school who wrote copious notes in books she owned. Her spidery handwriting filled every blank space on the page. I thought this was very intellectual of her, but I don't read that way. Also, I find it hugely irritating to read a book that's filled with someone else's notes.
Do you have any unusual tendencies while you read? Did I mention my OCD? I have to read books in a series in order. I absolutely will not start in the middle. Also, I have a hard time with non-fiction. My husband has several books he's been urging me to read for years, but I've put them off because they're not fiction. In addition, I've discovered that I'm not big on reading the classics. I wish I was, but I find a lot of them incredibly boring. Of course, there are exceptions - Little Women, Gone With the Wind (more of a modern classic), Anne of Green Gables, poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, etc. and there are lots of classics I haven't read, but, in general, I'm not big on the classics. I know - you're stunned! Reading is also an addiction of mine (almost as bad as the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups one) - I get so swept up in exciting plots that I forget about everything else. My husband and kids often have to pull me back up to the surface.
Do you read through pages at top speed, or do you stop to savor the sentences along the way? It depends on what I'm reading. If the writer uses language masterfully, I will pause to savor sentences here and there before I continue at top speed. In general, I read very quickly.
We know most of us can read just about anywhere, but specifically where and when do you do your best reading? Let's see, I love reading outside in serene places, but that doesn't happen a lot. So, I'd have to say my favorite reading spot is in my room. I have an adjustable bed that lets me achieve the perfect reading position (head elevated, feet elevated,). Then, I turn on a lamp so I have nice, soft light. A glass of ice water completes my perfect reading environment. Ahh...
Okay, there you have it. Remember your part in this? Nice, understanding comments that let me know I'm not too obsessive and weird! I'd love to hear other book lovers' answers to these questions as well - so feel free to steal - I mean, borrow - the survey I stole - I mean, borrowed, from Becky.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Turnabout tells the story of Melly and Anny Beth, two teenagers with a big secret. You see, for years they have been "unaging" - or aging backwards over the course of the last 85 years. It began when they were elderly women living in a nursing home. The pair, along with 48 other residents, were talked into signing papers allowing their bodies to be used for scientific purposes. Only their bodies were used before they died. All 50 were moved to a private facility owned by "The Agency" and injected with PT-1, an agent that reverses aging. The participants were all promised an anti-drug (termed "The Cure") that would pause their aging/unaging process at around 30 years old. The only problem is "The Cure," which worked on rats does not exactly work on humans. Every patient who takes it dies. No longer trusting the agency, Melly and Anny Beth reenter life on the outside. Although The Agency tracks the pair, it reluctantly allows them their freedom since they've kept mum about the whole PT-1 disaster. Their peaceful lives come to a screeching halt when Melly receives a mass e-mail asking for help locating herself. The computer identifies the sender as a reporter. Frightened of an impending expose, Melly and Anny Beth flee, desperate to find a place where they can live safely and anonymously. They end up back where they started - in rural Kentucky - only to find danger close on their heels. Melly and Anny Beth only want to stay out of the spotlight, away from doctors and scientists, but can they keep running? Is there anywhere safe in a world where cameras follow people's every moves? Worse, will Melly and Anny Beth be exposed as the freaks they feel themselves to be? In a frantic race against time, the women must find safety in a world of increasing dangers.
I enjoyed the fast pace of the story as well as the characterization of the two heroines. I thought they were understated and believable. However, it's the central concept of the book that kept me most interested. Aging seems an odd choice of topic for a young adult novel, but I found it truly fascinating. Would I choose to stop my own aging process if I had the chance? Or would I grow old gracefully, without any regrets? If I had a second life, would I be able to live it up or would I be hopelessly lost in the past? Very thought-provoking. I also think the book made some excellent points about how progress both helps and hurts civilization. In the end, Haddix preaches the importance of family and heritage.
I don't know if this was Haddix's best book or not, but I plan to find out :)
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
In general, I'm not a big fan of short stories. Why? I don't know. I've been analyzing my psyche to figure it out. I think it goes back to the whole old friends v. new friends thing - I'd rather keep old, established relationships than try to create new, possibly superficial ones. Thus, I enjoy reading series' and big, thick novels that delve deeply into the characters. Anyway, the point I am very slowly getting to is that I don't usually read short stories. In fact, I chose Avi's Strange Happenings for the R.I.P. Challenge thinking it was a novel. Nope. Short stories. But, since the volume is short (it's intended for 8-12 year olds), I decided to give it a shot...and the short stories were not bad, not bad at all...
They weren't, however, exceptional. I felt most of the stories lacked imagination and carried over-simplified morals (i.e. always keep your word; you can't trick a trickster; physical beauty does not necessarily equal happiness, etc.). Yes, I realize that they are written for children, but I would have liked more intricate tales. I did think "Curious" was funny, especially since my husband and I were just at an Arizona Diamondbacks game musing about what kind of people dress up like tacos and burritos and act like idiots during the 7th inning stretch. Anyway, "Curious" is about Jeff, a young boy who loves the mascot - dubbed The Alien - of his hometown baseball team. He desperately wants to meet the person inside the costume, so he lurks around the field, questioning players and staff about the identity of The Alien. Oddly, no one knows, or really cares. Most people consider The Alien's actions rude and even offensive. Not Jeff, who is now even more curious about the mascot. Finally, he decides to hide under the bleachers and wait for The Alien to reveal himself. Jeff ends up getting a lot more than he bargained for, which proves that curiousity can get you into a whole lot of trouble.
My favorite story in this collection was "Babette the Beautiful," a tale in which a beautiful queen makes a deal with a sorceress to ensure she bears a princess who is equally as fetching as herself. So obsessed is the queen with beauty that she wants her child to be wholly without blemish. The sorceress, an ugly hag, assures the vain queen that her daughter will "appear flawless." Satisfied, the queen leaves, but banishes the hag to an outer forest, just so she doesn't make trouble. When Princess Babette is born, her mother stares at her in confusion. At first, the infant's features are curiously invisible. Luckily, the queen has an image in her head of what she wanted her child to look like, and that image replaces the one before her. In fact, she orders all mirrors removed from the kingdom. She then has artists paint Babette according to her description; thus, everyone in the land comes to recognize the princess based on the pictures that have been drawn. This is all well and good until Babette, travelling in the outer forests, encounters an ugly old woman who tells the princess she is invisible. Outraged, she orders her guards to stow the hag in the castle's prison. The furious Babette then questions her subjects about her appearance - no one can give her a credible answer. Finally, she demands a mirror. When she peers into it, she can see nothing. Astounded, Babette sends for the old woman, who gives her mysterious instructions as to how to fix the problem. I won't spoil the story for you, but let's just say that Babette learns her lesson about prizing physical beauty over all else.
Avi's stories were quick and amusing, if not brilliant. They're really not scary at all, but magical and fun. Kids will certainly enjoy them, probably without even realizing they are cautionary tales with time-tested morals.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
The book stars Tristran Thorn, a young man living in the walled city of Wall. At one end of his city is a hole, through which lies the land of Fairie. This opening in the wall is guarded every night by men who are charged with allowing no one passage through the hole. Like all residents of Wall, Tristran has observed strange shadows lurking on the Fairie side, but he has never had any real desire to cross the boundary. At least, not until one fateful night, when he accompanies the beautiful Victoria Forester home and the pair see a falling star. Teasingly, Victoria promises that she will marry Tristran if he brings her the star that has fallen. Hopeful, the boy sets out on a journey that takes him beyond his home to the strange land of Fairie, a place where magic abounds and nothing is as it seems. Here, a fallen star does not resemble a "diamond or a rock"(109) like Tristran expects; instead, he finds himself dragging an ethereal young lady back to his city. Soon, Tristran discovers that he is not the only one seeking the star - there's a power-hungry lord searching for its power; an evil hag intent on removing its heart and any number of creatures willing to do harm to Tristran and his prize. Confronting the many dangers in the strange - but oddly familiar - land requires all of Tristan's strength and wit. It also forces him to face the truth of his birth, his heritage and his heart.
This "fairy tale for adults" is simple and enchanting. It lacks the depth of some classic stories, but it captures the imagination as aptly as anything written by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. Gaiman writes exceptionally well - his word choice is always apt, always laced with his trademark wit. He sculpts his characters with care, creating a memorable cast of various creatures. Tristran makes a likable, if unlikely, hero, who captured my heart with his humility and goodness. I loved Yvain - the fallen star - as well, and thought her character unique and interesting. Mostly, I loved this story because it is saturated with heart. Despite dark spots, Stardust is essentially a warm tale about one boy's quest to find adventure, love and, ultimately, himself.
Note: I stuck this book on my list for the R.I.P. Challenge, knowing only that it had something to do with magic. It probably wasn't the best read (theme-wise) for this challenge, but I'm not apologizing since I loved the book so much and I wouldn't have gotten to it this year if I hadn't put it on my R.I.P. list. So there!
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Meg Mabry has spent her life trying to ignore her family legacy - a set of journals penned by her great-grandmother, Hannah Bass. The volumes describe her life on the Southwestern frontier as she arrives in Las Vegas, New Mexico, works as a Harvey Girl at the famous Montezuma Hotel, marries, and becomes an early preservationist of Pecos ruins. So detailed are the diaries that they have become Southwest treasures, read and studied by school children and university students alike. Meg, however, wants nothing to do with them. She has spent her childhood crammed into her grandmother, Bassie's, spare room with the journals, vying with them for Bassie's attention. And losing. As Bassie's caretaker, an adult Meg puts up with her cranky, critical ways, but she will not bow to her grandmother's constant plea to read the journals.
Now, Bassie has learned that a team of archaeologists plans to build a new addition to the visitor's center that sits near Hannah's original homesite, an addition that would encroach upon land her parents used as a cemetery for their precious dogs. Immediately, Bassie demands to be taken to New Mexico to protest the excavation. Although Meg is busy with her own life, she knows there is no way to get out of the trip, so she reluctantly travels with her grandmother. Once in Las Vegas, the power of the past seems unavoidable. Drawn to the journals she previously shunned, Meg finds herself riveted by Hannah's story. Meanwhile, Jim, a handsome archaeologist unearths disturbing artifacts at the home site, discoveries that signal something much more sinister than a dog's grave. The elusive answers to Hannah's mysteries seem to lie in a missing volume of her famous journals. As Meg and Jim probe the depths of the past, Meg finally starts to come to terms with her grandmother and her whole, sordid, incredible family legacy.
While The Night Journal starts out slowly, it picks up as soon as Meg begins reading Hannah's story. Once that happens, the book becomes an exciting adventure into a past full of secrets and lies. Hannah's story about life on the frontier is riveting, with enough period detail to make it interesting and believable. The story does tend to drag in places, but all in all, it's an engrossing read. You may find yourself slogging through the beginning, but stick with it. You'll be glad you did.
Friday, September 07, 2007
One night, while shooing away a spider, Charlie jokingly asks the creature to send his brother to him. Much to his shock, the arachnid delivers. Charlie's brother, Spider, is suddenly standing on his doorstep. Spider explains that he, not Charlie, got all of the magic in the family and is, in fact, half god. Like the mens' father, Spider is looking for three things: wine, women and song. Basically, all he wants is a good time and he soon sets about getting it, dragging a sputtering Charlie along with him. After one whirlwind evening with his brother, Charlie awakes to find a woman in his bed who is not Rosie; Spider impersonating him at the office; and himself a stranger in his own home which Spider has magically transformed into a rockin' bachelor pad. In short, Spider has taken over his life. Charlie finds himself on the outside while Spider seduces Rosie, intimidates his boss, and generally makes a mess of his careful life. Desperate, Charlie flies back to Florida to beg Mrs. Higgler's help in being rid of his brother. His request propels him into a strange world where a host of animal/human beings offer him little help. As a trickster, Anansi made a whole lot of enemies, not too many friends. Finally, Charlie begs a sinister Bird Woman to help him get rid of Spider. In exchange for the ruination of Anansi's bloodline, the creature agrees.
Returning to England once again, Charlie is hoping for a quick, quiet resolution to his problem. That is not to be. The Bird Woman has sent her minions - in the form of pigeons, larks, even penguins - to deal with Spider. Aghast, Charlie realizes that he has formed an alliance with a dangerous being. Now, the brothers must run for their lives from their father's ancient enemies. With the help of a pretty policewoman, four withered old ladies, a duppy, and a lime (yes, a lime), Charlie must save himself and his brother, the last of Anansi's line. To do so, Charlie must find his inner strength, confront a bloodthirsty tiger and come to terms with a father he never really knew or understood.
It's difficult to describe this book in all its complexity. On the surface, it's a fun, magical story about a man taking on enemies as old as time. At its heart, however, Anansi Boys is the story of a man and his father, two men who refuse to see eye-to-eye until it's too late. Its moral is one of loving despite differences and, most of all, about embracing what is unique in each of us.
Despite the story's common father v. son theme, this book is anything but ordinary. The writing is spectacular - fun, sarcastic and hilarious - as are the characters. The plot moves quickly, with enough wacky stories to keep you reading. In short, it's just a fun romp, although a romp with a timeless, endearing message about brothers, fathers, humans and the hidden strengths in all of us.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky - Susan Patron
2006: Criss Cross - Lynn Rae Perkins
2005: Kira-Kira - Cynthia Kadohata
2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread - Kate DiCamillo
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead - Avi
2002: A Single Shard - Linda Sue Park
2001: A Year Down Yonder - Richard Peck
2000: Bud, Not Buddy - Christopher Paul Curtis
1999: Holes - Louis Sachar
1998: Out of the Dust - Karen Hesse
1997: The View From Saturday - E.L. Konisburg
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice - Karen Cushman
1995: Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech
1994: The Giver - Lois Lowry
1993: Missing May - Cynthia Rylant
1992: Shiloh - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
1991: Maniac Magee - Jerry Spinelli
1990: Number the Stars - Lois Lowry
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices - Paul Fleischman
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography - Russell Freedman
1987: The Whipping Boy - Sid Fleischman
1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan
1985: The Hero and the Crown - Robin McKinley
1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw - Beverly Cleary
1983: Dicey's Song - Cynthia Voigt
1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers - Nancy Willard
1981: Jacob Have I Loved - Katherine Paterson
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 - Joan W. Blos
1979: The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin
1978: Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Mildred D. Taylor
1976: The Grey King - Susan Cooper
1975: M.C. Higgins, the Great - Virginia Hamilton
1974: The Slave Dancer - Paula Fox
1973: Julie of the Wolves - Jean Craighead George
1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Robert C. O'Brien
1971: Summer of the Swans - Betsy Byars
1970: Sounder - William H. Armstrong
1969: The High King - Lloyd Alexander
1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg
1967: Up A Road Slowly - Irene Hunt
1966: I, Juan de Pareja - Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
1965: Shadow of A Bull - Maia Wojciechowska
1964: It's Like This, Cat - Emily Neville
1963: A Wrinkle in Time - Madeliene L'Engle
1962: The Bronze Bow - Elizabeth George Speare
1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell
1960: Onion John - Joseph Krumgold
1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare
1958: Rifles for Watie - Harold Keith
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill - Virginia Sorenson
1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch - Jean Lee Latham
1955: The Wheel on the School - Meindert DeJong
1954: ...And Now Miguel - Joseph Krumgold
1953: Secret of the Andes - Ann Nolan Clark
1952: Ginger Pye - Eleanor Estes
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man - Elizabeth Yates
1950: The Door in the Wall - Marguerite de Angeli
1949: King of the Wind - Marguerite Henry
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons - William Pene du Bois
1947: Miss Hickory - Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1946: Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski
1945: Rabbit Hill - Robert Lawson
1944: Johnny Tremain - Esther Forbes
1943: Adam of the Road - Elizabeth Janet Grey
1942: The Matchlock Gun - Walter Edmonds
1941: Call It Courage - Armstrong Sperry
1940: Daniel Boone - James Dougherty
1939: Thimble Summer - Elizabeth Enright
1938: The White Stag - Kate Seredy
1937: Roller Skates - Ruth Sawyer
1936: Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink
1935: Dobry - Monica Shannon
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women - Cornelia Meigs
1933: Young Foo of the Upper Yangtze - Elizabeth Lewis
1932: Waterless Mountain - Laura Adams Armer
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven - Elizabeth Coatsworth
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years - Rachel Field
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow - Eric P. Kelly
1928: Gay Neck, The Story of a Pigeon - Dhan Gopal Mukerji
1927: Smoky, The Cowhorse - Will James
1926: Shen of the Sea - Arthur Bowie Chrisman
1925: Tales from Silver Lands - Charles Finger
1924: The Dark Frigate - Charles Hawes
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle - Hugh Lofting
1922: The Story of Mankind - Hendrik Willem van Loon
Wow, it's amazing how many of these I haven't read. I've got my work cut out for me!
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Picture this. The year is 1171. The place: Cambridge, England. The problem: Children are disappearing from the town. When one of the children's corpse is found on the lawn of a wealthy Jewish usurer, all Hell breaks loose. A mob murders the homeowners, forcing the town Prior to herd all Jews into the castle for their own protection. This causes problems for Henry II, King of England, whose purse suffers every day the Jews are confined. The solution: Clearly, a master of death (the 12th Century equivalent of a medical examiner) is needed to study the body for clues and find the responsible party. The problem with the solution: An expert is sent from Salerno, Italy - a town renowned for its medical school - only the doctor is not a master of death, but a mistress of death, in the form of Adelia Aguilar. While Adelia has been schooled in medicine, her real expertise lies not in treating the living, but in examining the dead. Thus, the King of Sicily orders her to investigate the deaths in England, a country where women healers are routinely burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. Thus, Adelia and her two companions - her Saracen servant Mansur and the king's investigator, Simon of Naples - are forced into a charade where Mansur is the physician and Adelia is but an assistant. Although they are determined not to call attention to themselves, the three gain notoriety on the journey to Cambridge when Adelia deftly cures the Prior of a bladder infection. When word spreads, Adelia and Mansur find themselves inundated with patients. Adelia tries desperately to keep up the charade while helping the sick and investigating the children's murders. Another problem with the solution: Although Adelia is sadly lacking in bedside manner and femininity, she is not invisible to men. In fact, she has attracted the attention of tax collector Sir Rowley Picot, a jolly man who shows an unusual interest in the murdered children. His presence disconcerts Adelia, who increasingly suspects him to be the killer. The rest of the story: As Adelia and her companions come closer to finding the murderer, they find themselves in increasing danger. Adelia fears, in particular, for her young friend, Ulf. When he disappears from town one day, desperation overcomes her. Can Adelia save him as she couldn't save the other kids? Can she trust Sir Rowley with her secrets? Her life? Her heart? And, most importantly, can she find the killer, absolve the Jews, and return to her beloved Salerno? Or will she find herself the victim of a lunatic bent on terrorizing women and children?
One reviewer described Mistress of the Art of Death as "CSI meets The Canterbury Tales," and it is exactly that. The atmosphere is all Canterbury Tales, with vivid period detail and a cast of quirky knights, nuns and clergymen; but the plot is as taut and suspenseful as an episode with Gil Grissom and friends. It took me a chapter or two to get used to Franklin's style (I considered reading with a dictionary next to me, since she employed words I had never even seen before), but once I did, I was hooked. I literally could not put this book down until I finished it. Although I had the guilty party (or is it parties?) figured out long before Adelia did, there were plenty of other plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat.
A warning: This book is not for the squeamish. It's also not for those who want to get something done, because trust me, you won't be able to complete anything until you finish this book.