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Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Girl of the Limberlost

A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.

I enjoyed this old-fashioned read immensely.  A Girl of the Limberlost was the best-selling companion novel to Freckles, and published in 1909.  I didn't realize that a few characters from Freckles would show up, and haven't read it yet, but this book is excellent in it's own right.

Such well developed characters! I loved them all!  Wesley Sinton cracked me up in the scene after they give gifts to Elnora.  He reminded me of my dad there.  And Elnora -- the main character -- has spunk and sass and skillz and sympathy.  The novel follows her from her first day of high school through two summers after her graduation.

One of my favorite things about the book was the moral fiber of the characters.  They're doing their level best to be good people.  A friend and I were recently talking about Twilight -- she had read and enjoyed it, and wanted some recommendations.  She had tried another vampire series (I honestly don't remember which) and been put off by the coarseness of its characters.  She said the books didn't have "objectionable material" in them, but the characters just lacked the moral fiber she had enjoyed. I knew just what she meant.

This book has moral fiber by the bushel.  (Also descriptions of fancy hats!) If you don't like strong people with good ethics, don't read it!  It has seriously been inspiring me all day today.  And that's when you know a book is a keeper -- when it sticks with you after you close it and you're glad for the company.  Or, you know, when it makes you talk funny.  I always speak with a British accent when after I've read Wodehouse, say "So." after reading McKay, and today I told my son that "One bar of soap is sufficient," when he wanted one for each hand in the bath.

Oh, also the romance is totally wonderful!  It doesn't consume the book, is never objectionable, and fulfills the "why do they even like each other" requirement.  Some books leave you wondering on that last one -- not here.  *contented sigh*

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Free and legal online here
Previously reviewed The Keeper of the Bees

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Flow-chart time!

After returning from my long vacation (which involved far too much driving), I discovered that I had fifteen (15!) books on my list of "books to review."  Well.  In an effort to quickly review all 15 books (because they all deserve attention), save time, and have a little fun, I decided to create a flowchart for you. (Flowcharts can be helpful for students, especially those taking online
classes.
)  Did this actually save me any time? I do not know.

Behold!

And here is the answer key: 

Title, Author. descriptors. (Mini-summary) *My comments.
  1. Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Sherlock Holmes and Watson solve the murder.) *Tons of people in the book club said "it was better than I thought it was going to be." Also, if, like me, you saw the Wishbone as a kid and think it gave things away, you're wrong.
  2. Fat Cat, Robin Brande. little bit steamy, total girl book, realistic fiction (Girl lives like a Neanderthal for a science fair project.)  *The author actually did this! 
  3. Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn. little bit steamy, historical fiction, mystery (Young widowed Victorian woman solves a murder mystery.) *Very fun. Dark, but I didn't get nightmares. A friend said she was guessing until the end -- I knew the killer, but didn't know his motivation.
  4. Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater. little bit more steamy, fantasy, modern day (High school girl loves the wolves in her back yard.  However they may be dangerous.) *Love the cover art!  Also I couldn't put it down. Also I hate that [big fatty spoiler deleted].
  5. Fire, Kristin Cashore. little bit steamy, fantasy, adventure, has companion novel (Fire is a super-gorgeous girl who can control minds. But she's got a nasty heritage to overcome.) *I read Graceling first, but Fire stands very well alone. Also it won in it's Cybils category this year.
  6. The Magician's Elephant, Kate DiCamillo. could read aloud to a kid, fantastical, funny, set in the past (An elephant falls out of the sky and that comes with consequences.) *I like all of DiCamillo's stuff I've read.  This one begs to be read aloud.
  7. 11 Birthdays, Wendy Mass. could read aloud to a kid, fantastical, funny, modern day (Time stops on the 11th birthday of two former best friends.) *Thoroughly enjoyed it, easy for both boys and girls to like.
  8. How Do You Wokka Wokka, Elizabeth Bluemle. longer, more detailed illustrations, rhythm-and-rhyme text (Kids in the neighborhood wokka-wokka together.) *Whole fam loves this one.  We wokka wokka all the time.
  9. I Like it When... Mary Murphy. shorter, more spare illustrations, bold colors and heavy lines (A little penguin shares his favorite parts of the day.)  *Adorable.  I love Mary Murphy's stuff. Simple and sweet.
  10. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, Tony Lee, Sam Hart, Artur Fujita. adventure, comic book style, (Robin Hood outwits and outfights the nefarious Prince John and his cronies.) *One of my favorites!  Having only ever heard the Disney version of the legend, I found this one awesomely detailed and really action packed!
  11. Fashion Kitty; Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero, Cherise Mericle Harper.  adventure, cartoon style, girly, (The first tells how Fashion Kitty came to be. The other, tells about the fight against school uniforms!) *I liked Unlikely Hero better than the first volume, and especially enjoy little sister Lana.
  12. Calamity Jack, Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, Nathan Hale. cartoon style, adventure, fairy tale, humorous, has a companion graphic novel (Jack, of beanstalk fame, returns to his hometown to make things right.  Sequel to Rapunzel's Revenge, but stands alone.) *Ah, these two books are just so fun!  They're some of the best Graphic Novels out there.  Hail the Hales! :)
  13. Adventures in Cartooning, James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick-Frost. adventure, cartoon style, humorous, instructional (The knight must defeat the dragon to save the princess.  A helpful elf moves things along AND gives basic instruction on making your own cartoons.)  *I was snorting with laughter, need I say more?  Super cute and appropriate for all ages.
  14. Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales, Volume 1: Sanctuary, Melissa Marr, Xian Nu Studio.  fantasy, manga style, modern day, (A fairy girl has a crush on a mortal boy...) *At first it took me a bit to figure out which characters were boys, as everyone looked like girls to me. Once I got used to the style, I was hooked on the book.  I've got vol 2 on hold at the library now.  And I have not read the novel Wicked Lovely from which this is adapted.
  15. Tales from Outer Suburbia, Shaun Tan. Short stories, collage, painting. (I suggest you look for summaries elsewhere, just thinking about summarizing this book makes my brain hurt.) *I liked it a lot. It made me think. And laugh, and want to meet a water buffalo. None of the stories are very long at all.
I made the flowchart using Flowchart.com which is currently in beta-version.  It was pretty good.  Didn't take me too long to figure it out.  Unfortunately there was some discrepancy between what I had done (as viewed on my screen) and what was saved and exported (as a file).  So I ended up taking a screenshot of the beautiful, correct version.  Please, don't be stinting with your praise.

If you want more details on any of the titles, just ask!

Alysa

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Project Sweet Life


Short review today. I just had two cavities filled, and the aching jaw isn't inspiring my verbosity.

But this was a totally, totally fun book. I loved it. The premise just tickled my funny bone, and even before I read it, I knew I would love it. Three 15-year-old boys, best friends, are ordered by their fathers, also best friends, to get summer jobs. But what the heck? It's supposed to be their last summer of freedom, the summer before they have to start working. Everyone knows that once you start working, you will never stop---not until you turn 60 or die. So Dave, Victor, and Curtis have a plan: they will simply make the money all at once that they would've made by working all summer, and then spend the rest of the summer chilling---living the sweet life. All they have to do is fool their parents into thinking they're actually working, and then come up with some scheme to make $7000 for them to split three ways. Totally easy, right? As one foolproof plan after another falls hilariously to pieces, the boys realize that making money requires hard work no matter how you go about it, and that friendship, loyalty, and integrity are qualities that no amount of money can buy.

This book was squeaky clean. No language, and no raging male hormones, two things that are probably unrealistic in their non-presence. But what the hay. I for one appreciate them not being the focus or the delivery machine of a book's plot for once. Just good, clean fun. Definitely more of a plot-driven than character-driven story. Awesome book to get into the summer spirit with.

(Hmmm ... I guess the aching jaw didn't dampen my verbosity after all!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hailey Twitch Is Not a Snitch

A new and promising beginning of a series for young readers from Lauren Barnholdt. I liked it so much, I've already loaned my copy to a friend for her young daughter to read. The author really got into the 7-year-old mentality with this one. I wish I still had the copy on hand to insert a few quotes here. Hailey Twitch is a fun and spunky heroine who's had the unfortunate bad luck of being paired with a rule-loving, boring-pencil-using (no sparkles!) classmate for a school project. Just as she's about to have a major tantrum on the subject, Maybelle, a magical sprite, appears in her bedroom. Maybelle's on probation with the Ministry of Magic, because she's not "fun" enough to be a sprite. Her mission is to prove her fun-ness and help Hailey in the process. Unfortunately, everything she does to "help" lands Hailey in trouble. Poor Hailey must take the blame, because Hailey Twitch is not a snitch!

The writing, the story, and the illustrations were all clever, very charming. I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments and even had to read some parts aloud to my husband. Definitely recommend this one to any young 1st- to 3rd-grade reader.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the turning


... what curiosity kills

I loved:
the conversation. It's fast and furious and flippant and fun.
the relationship that Mary and Octavia have with their parents.
the voice of it. Passages like:

Kathryn Ann was forty-four when she had Marjorie and Mags. Long story short: She built herself a career and then remembered she wanted kids. But her ovaries were like, What?

crack me up.

I didn't love:
the awkwardness of some of the story elements. It's just not very tidy. Several things about it feel too patched-together. Like when Nick suddenly leeches onto Mary. I thought that whole destined-for-you romance was too forced, too sudden, too weird. And Ling Ling's whole lip-syncing for Grandpa in a tank top ... what was that all about? There were just weird, sudden, patchy things about the story.

All in all, too teen-ish, trying-too-hard-to-be-the-next-Bella-and-Edward feeling in the romance department. Too fast and too unfinished. But some things I did like. That's my take.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Girly books

I've just finished two decidedly girly books: one, a new fairy tale by Lois Lowry, and the other, a belated sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Little Princess. My opinion of both books: cute. Not deep, not profound, not moving, not something you'll remember much about in a month, but still each a fun light read.

So first up, The Birthday Ball. Like I said, cute, but the whole time, I kept expecting ... more. I mean, it's Lois Lowry! Author of The Giver and The Willoughbys and Number the Stars! This was just a fluffy little fairy tale. I thought it'd be a fairy tale but funny, or profound, or, well mostly funny, given the cover. There definitely were funny things about it, don't get me wrong. Her word play is often amusing, and the three suitors for the princess Patricia couldn't be more horrifyingly atrocious if they tried. But still. I expected some twist or surprise. Sorry if I'm spoiling it, but there isn't one. It's quite predictable from start to finish. But still cute. I'd say that tween girls and probably older ones too would enjoy it. I guess every book can't be The Giver ... :) Fun to see Lowry experimenting with so many different styles.




And Wishing for Tomorrow. It's been a while since I last read A Little Princess, and I'm sure that many of my memories of it are a bit mixed up with the '90s movie rendering that I adored as a girl. But I do remember the major points of the story and the characters involved. I quite enjoyed this furthering of the story. It happily ties up the loose ends left over when Sara flew the boarding-school coop. The author stays true to the characters as they were in the original but still develops them further to their own happy endings. I agree that more than just Sara deserved their happiness. Ironically, it is the tidiness of it all that feels a little silly, though in reality, that's the kind of ending that such a book, had it been written by Frances herself, probably would have had. That was the way of things, way back when. So the book was fun. And Lavinia was my favorite character, this time 'round. Hilary McKay's understated humor is quite amusing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Picture the Dead

When Jennie loses her twin brother, a Civil War soldier in a distant camp, she immediately feels his presence and knows that he has died. When word comes soon after of the death of her fiance, Will, also a soldier, she wonders how she can go on. But it soon becomes apparent that there is more to Will's death than the simple military telegram would suggest. With the help of a spiritualist photographer and Jennie's own carefully detailed scrapbook, she is able to piece together the true story of the passing of her beloved.

Part graphic novel, Picture the Dead is peppered with fabulous illustrations. The story itself is a puzzle, the ending of which is not obvious until the moment it is revealed. Loved the character development of Jennie---I felt like I was developing in my perception of the other characters right along with her. Enjoyed the story. Cool illustrations. Glad it wasn't predictable. Fun and informative read, both. Two thumbs up!

If you want a chance to win a copy of this book, or of another spiritualist-movement-themed YA novel, We Hear the Dead, leave a comment here answering one of the following questions: Do you believe that communication with the dead is possible? Have you ever felt the presence of someone who was not physically present?
Twenty-five copies of each book will be given away to fifty commenters. You can specify which one you want, or they'll pick for you. I haven't read the other, but I do recommend Picture the Dead. Contest ends June 15th. Fun read!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Shannon Hale visits Naperville, IL

When I figured out that Shannon Hale (pretty much my favorite living author) was going to be at a bookstore a mere 3 hours away from me, I started yelling "what!?" -- very quietly. Hey, the toddler was asleep.

Of course I shared the news with Ashley, and despite the fact that she had just spent way too much time in a car, she agreed to come with me.

In the meantime, two other exciting things happened. First, Shannon announced that she will be having twins, in September! I myself plan to give birth in that month. Secondly, on the afternoon of the signing, I received my prize! Remember that Book Trailer contest that all of you voted for me in? Well thanks a million! Look how happy this box of books from Bloomsbury made me:





We left the boys (husbands and toddlers) around 4:00 last Tuesday, and drove straight there. Ashley's baby was a sweet little trooper. Needless to say, upon our arrival my first concern was finding a restroom. Looking back, it was pretty comical that I had to find an employee and ask for toilet paper. In the meantime, Ashley got the little guy out of his carseat and started looking around for Shannon Hale, who was supposed to have been speaking for 15 minutes already.

Come to find out we were two doors down from Shannon, in the other part of the bookstore. This was quickly remedied, and at long last we settled in (on the floor, as it was standing room only) to hear the rest of the Q&A.

In this picture from Shannon Hale's blog post about the event, you can see us on the far left:

Shannon tackled some tough questions: (I had no recording devices, this is all just the gist)

How do you deal with writers' block? Stop believing in it, it's like the boogeyman. Also, give yourself permission to write poorly.

Do you ever overwrite? She always writes more than what ends up in the book. She said if your 200 page novel hasn't been 600 pages at some point... and the best way to get to know your characters is to get them in a conversation with each other.

How do you come up with your characters, like Razo? She loves writing Razo -- he just kept popping up and saying funny things and giving people nicknames. Her characters are much like toddlers ("can you tell I'm in mommy mode?") in that they need freedom to explore but she has to guide them and keep them on track.

Your settings (especially Princess Academy) seem so real, where do you draw them from? She said at the time she didn't feel like she had claim to write from places that she hadn't descended from -- mostly European countries for the Books of Bayern and Princess Academy. Later, writing Book of a Thousand Days, she felt that she could, as a human, draw features and references and names from Mongolia.

Anyway, there were several more questions, at least, and Shannon was charming and witty as ever.

Next came the signing. While we waited for our turn in line, Ashley changed her little guy into his pajamas. Sometimes babies need a change of clothes on short notice -- it's a fact.

When it was our turn, I mostly blabbed about pregnancy stuff with Shannon. I did also enthusiastically talk about the books I had gotten that afternoon (there were 27 in the box! Tons!). Then we took a picture together, and Shannon pronounced the baby "so squishable!"

We had a great time, and even the drive back wasn't too bad.  I haven't the foggiest idea of whether or not we traveled the farthest to be there, but some people were impressed when we told them we lived 3 hours away.

Any questions?

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