Friday, August 16, 2013

{Review} Roald Dahl doubleheader! Revolting Rhymes & George's Marvelous Medicine

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Published by Bantam Skylark (first published 1982)
Softcover, 54 pages
ISBN 0553153617
Genres: children's fiction, classics, fairy tales, fantasy, humor, magic, poetry, YA

3/5 stars: The little guy and I read this together in just a couple of sittings, the poetry being a nice change of pace from the prose we've been reading. Gabriel loved all of the big, full-color pictures, once again by the irresistible Quentin Blake. I had to do a little editing of... unpleasant words. Not as much as in The Twits, though there were a couple instances of the word "hag" and once of "slut". I certainly wasn't expecting the latter and am mildly irritated to have encountered it in a children's book, even one by Roald Dahl. All in all, though, nothing to get too worked up about. The stories themselves are amusing versions of the classic fairy tales Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. They have highly original twists (just wait til you meet Little Red) and were a fun and extra-bloodthirsty departure from the traditional stories. While the poems are entertaining and Gabriel and I enjoyed them, we both still prefer Dahl's entirely original books. There is a flair about the latter that any traditional tale is not going to be able to touch no matter how flamboyant the version. Revolting Rhymes is only fifty-some pages, so if you're a hardcore fan of Dahl or any of these tales, take an hour and read it! If you're not, skip it and go read The Witches instead.

Published by Puffin
Softcover, 96 pages
ISBN 0140346414
Genres: children's fiction, classics, fantasy, humor, magic, YA

4/5 stars: George Kranky is a young boy who lives on a nice but boring farm with his nice but boring parents. It seems nothing exciting ever happens and to make matters worse, his grandmother, who lives with them, is insufferable. Whenever George's parents are gone it's up to him to take care of her, and on this particular lonely Saturday morning, he has had enough. After being bossed around, instructed on how to grow down instead of up (as those who grow up become increasingly stupid) and on the merits of eating lots of slimy insects ("Caterpillars give you brains"), George begins to formulate a plan to get back at his grandmother. He will mix up the weirdest, most magical medicine he can muster and give it to her in place of her real medicine. The results are quite unexpected, though definitely magical, and have the added bonus of the Krankys quite possibly being rid of the old grouch forever (at least George hopes so after his parents swiftly help him resolve any ethical issues he has). This was so much fun to read and with all of the medicine mixing and stirring, there were lots of opportunities for miming the actions and keeping a small kid highly entertained. Gabriel is still talking about this story and really likes George, who is indeed a very sweet and imaginative character. As always, this book is complemented with the talents of Quentin Blake, though there are even more illustrations than usual. This made Gabriel extra happy because George is featured on almost every page. George's Marvelous Medicine is perfect for reading out loud because while the narration is already wonderful throughout, there are extra bits of humor tossed in specifically for the adult reader that make it hilarious. I'm sure Gabriel would agree that if you enjoy Roald Dahl, this is not a book to miss.

Mary Beth

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

{Review} The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #2) by Rex Stout

The League of Frightened Men (Nero Wolfe #2) by Rex Stout
Published by Crimeline (first published 1935)
Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN 0553259334
Genres: adult fiction, classics, detective fiction, mystery

4/5 stars: This is the second installment in the Nero Wolfe series and equals the first, Fer-de-Lance, in wit and charm. The plot is perhaps not as fast-paced and the ending feels a tad anti-climactic, but it is certainly original, clever and worth reading. Once again Rex Stout proves his skill in managing large numbers of characters as this story involves a group of thirty men convinced two of their number have been murdered, the rest are in mortal danger, and that they know who the man responsible is. Wolfe and Archie must investigate the two suspicious months-old deaths, keep tabs on their suspect, and attempt to minimize the inevitable hysteria. These seem like simple tasks compared with making sure no one else is mysteriously bumped off, and Archie, along with Fred, Orrie and Saul, part-time legmen of Wolfe's, are led on a wild goose chase when another of the men disappears. I am pleased to say the reader becomes much more acquainted with Archie in this volume, and perhaps the part I enjoyed the most is when he, proud as always of his independent and ultra-masculine attitude, unashamedly exposes some of his vulnerabilities. To see such an unusual and unexpected side of a character is always fascinating, but in this case it is truly heartwarming (read: I wanted to give Archie a giant hug). Wolfe's response is admirable and indicates a familial and touching relationship between them that is not often actively demonstrated. While the mystery itself is unique and interesting, the exploration into Archie and Wolfe's characters alone makes reading The League of Frightened Men worthwhile.

Mary Beth

Sunday, August 11, 2013

{Review} The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches by Roald Dahl
Published by Scholastic, Inc. (first published 1983)
Softcover, 208 pages
ISBN 0590032496
Genres: children's fiction, classics, fantasy, humor, magic, YA

5/5 stars: As I've mentioned before, the wee one and I have started reading chapter books together before sleepytimes. I always give him the choice between 2 or 3 books and this is the very first one he chose. He has a long-standing fascination with witches, magic and all things deliciously "spooky". This was perfect. A little creepy, a little subversive, always wickedly good fun.

"A REAL WITCH gets the same pleasure from squelching a child as you get from eating a plateful of strawberries and thick cream.
"She reckons on doing away with one child a week. Anything less than that and she becomes grumpy.
"One child a week is fifty-two a year.
"Squish them and squiggle them and make them disappear.
"That is the motto of all witches."

After which comes a description of a typical child-entrapment with a helpful illustration by Quentin Blake. The characters are so much fun, my favorites, of course, being the little boy who narrates and his Grandmamma. They are spunky and charming and very memorable. While I don't want to give anything away, The Witches has perhaps the absolute sweetest ending I have ever encountered, and it made me just a little teary. I'm pretty sure Gabriel's favorite characters would be the witches themselves, and believe me, they were something. As it turns out, a witch has claws instead of fingernails, forcing her to always wear gloves. She is bald, meaning she must always wear a scritchy-scratchy wig (and oh! the things it does to her scalp!). She has extra-large nostrils with which to smell out children. The center of her eyes will change color and dance with fire and ice. She has no toes and has to force her squared feet into feminine pointy shoes. Her spit is "blue as a bilberry", Grandmamma explains. And The Grand High Witch? She can do powerful dark magic, frizzle witches whom she is annoyed with, transform her face with a flesh-like mask, and come up with a "giganticus plan for getting rrrid of every single child in the whole of Inkland!" Gabriel was in heaven the whole time we read this book, cuddling up even closer when the story got particularly spooky. We have been reading some fantastic children's literature, but none of it has quite measured up to The Witches. Both I and the wee one very highly recommend it!

Mary Beth

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy National Book Lovers' Day!

Happy National Book Lovers' Day, everyone!

First up, random bookish things I've found that I think are the cat's pajamas:

Princess Bride poster, 8x10 Art Print
by Happy Landings

Reading Astronauts Silkscreen Print
by Aquaboy

Vintage 1950s Cateye Reading Glasses
by seven devils

Art Deco Nude Bookend
by some space for me

Vintage 5' tall Revolving Bookcase
by plain and elegant antiques

Next up, just a few of my favorite books we own!

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Magyk (Septimus Heap #1) by Angie Sage

A few books from my wishlist:

Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1) by Anne Rice

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1)
by Maryrose Wood
Reading goals.
1. To read at least 50 books this year. I should be able to surpass this pretty easily but with as busy as this year has been, I'm playing it safe!
2. I want to read every book we own before moving onto library books or buying more books from our local awesome (and oh-so-tempting) used bookstores. There will probably be a few exceptions to the latter part of this due to rounding out series and our collection of certain authors' books (like Roald Dahl), but I plan to strictly stick to this plan for the most part.

I'm trying to keep things simple so that pretty much sums up my goals. I typically sabotage myself and my efforts when I get too detailed and fancy so simple is best. What are some awesome bookish things you've found recently? What are favorite books on your shelves and what is on your wishlist? I'd also love to hear about your reading goals! Thank you for dropping in and your thoughts are always welcome! :)

Mary Beth

Thursday, August 8, 2013

{Review} Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) by Rex Stout

Fer-de-Lance (Nero Wolfe #1) by Rex Stout
Published by Bantam, first published 1934
Paperback, 199 pages
ISBN 0553249185
Genres: adult fiction, classics, detective fiction, mystery


5/5 stars: I was introduced to Nero Wolfe when A&E premiered its fantastic 2000-2002 television series starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin. It is fun, quirky, has great period costumes, makeup and sets, and (most importantly) employs intelligence and witty humor. It was only a few years later when I read my first Nero Wolfe mystery that I realized how perfectly the cast and scriptwriters have captured the spirit of the books. And what's more awesome? As great as the show is (if you haven't seen it, it's worth finding!) the books are even better. Fer-de-Lance, the first in a series of 47, does not feel like a debut in the least. The characters are fully realized and the plot is interesting, clever, and wrapped up with an original and unpredictable resolution. If mystery series are a regular part of your reading routine, you'll know this is pretty unusual. The first in a series has the responsibility of setting the scenes, establishing typical character behavior, habits and manners of thinking, as well as methodology in the solving of the crimes. Rex Stout does this seemingly effortlessly and while avoiding overloading the reader with information. Fer-de-Lance has an interesting array of characters, quite a few, in fact. With Rex Stout's great narration and descriptions, however, it's not difficult to keep everyone's identities sorted out and each one plays an essential role. Nero Wolfe and legman Archie Goodwin immediately take center stage and never leave it, their bantering, detecting and Wolfe's occasional philosophizing entertaining the reader from start to finish. They possess huge personalities, Wolfe so much larger than life that the reader finds it impossible not to be fascinated and more than a little jealous of his pertinacity and brimming repertoire of experiences and knowledge. Archie is full of life and energy and makes the perfect narrator, being the practical one, perhaps, whose often cynical approach to life balances Wolfe's unfailing confidence (which often awakens the urge in Archie to knock something heavy over Wolfe's very large head). In short, they complement each other perfectly, and each is indispensable. While it is perfectly believable that at one time they conducted their lives independently, as far as the reader is concerned there is no Wolfe without Archie and vice versa. It feels heretical to admit this, but honestly, I enjoy reading Rex Stout's mysteries even more than Agatha Christie's, and I've been a huge fan of hers since junior high. I adore Monsieur Poirot and Captain Hastings, Miss Marple and her various companions, but they really can't compare with the absolute uniqueness and perfection of Wolfe and Archie. If you are at all interested in reading a great detective novel, I highly recommend Fer-de-Lance or any other Nero Wolfe mystery, for that matter. While I haven't read the whole series (my goal!), I have read quite a few and have never been disappointed.

Mary Beth

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

{Review} The Color Purple by Alice Walker

"I think it pisses God off if you walk by
the color purple in a field somewhere
and don't notice it."
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Published by Pocket, first published 1982
Paperback, 295 pages
ISBN 0671727796
Genres: adult fiction, African-American literature, classics, feminism, historical fiction, literary fiction

5/5 stars: I read The Color Purple a few years ago and was stunned. I had never read a book quite like this one. It is brutal to the senses and brutally honest. The characters are so very human. There is both a universality regarding the human experience and human development, and yet a very specific message regarding the experiences of African-Americans and Africans in the 19th and 20th centuries. Recently I decided to clean out my tbr shelf and read my own book collection in its entirety before moving on to outside sources. The Color Purple was in the top left corner of my living room bookcase and seemed a logical place to start. I thought I remembered a lot but to be honest, it was like reading it for the first time. There is no preparing yourself for Celie's narration. You just start reading, frequently reread portions, and keep going. One of the most amazing aspects of Alice Walker's writing, and I have noticed this in The Color Purple, By The Light Of My Father's Smile, and Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart, is that it's apparent nothing in her books is intended for superficial shock effect. Honestly, I don't know how she does it. Perhaps it is because of the strong introspection that takes place throughout all of her narration, I'm not sure. But however this is achieved, the characters develop organically and, most importantly, honestly allowing the dark aspects of their lives and souls to be revealed to the reader without confusion as to intent. Additionally, if the reader feels horror at Celie's memories and experiences (and one often does), it is a mere echo of what Celie herself thinks and feels. From the start she takes on the aspect of a historical figure, not a fictional character. It is very apparent that even though Celie specifically is not "real", she, as well as Sophia, Shug, and Netty to name a few, directly represent entire generations who did live in similar circumstances. This realization makes the story even more poignant and worth reading and rereading. The Color Purple is most recognized for discussing race relations and equal civil rights and treatment, and rightfully so. Sophia's experiences perhaps illustrate this the most clearly. It also has very strong feminist, spiritualist, and imperialist themes as well as an emphasis on social reform, which create a richer narrative in less than 300 pages than most authors can squeeze into 600. This is one of the most fantastic, thought-provoking and ethically-significant books I have ever read, and if you haven't read The Color Purple at all or it's been a while, I strongly recommend sending it to the top of your to-read list.

Mary Beth

Monday, August 5, 2013

{Review} Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins, 2002
Softcover, 162 pages
ISBN 0439576881
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, science fiction, YA

2/5: The movie Coraline has been a favorite of ours ever since it was in theaters. The Mr took me, pregnant at the time with Gabriel, to see it on Valentine's Day and it was great fun. Now the wee one loves it as well for its "spookiness", as he says, and awesomely quirky characters. It has just the right proportions of action, drama, dialogue and story progression, and the animation! Absolutely stunning and so very interesting you can't tear your eyes away. Needless to say, Gabriel and I were very excited to pick up a copy of Coraline at our favorite used bookstore and start reading it as soon as we finished Dahl's The Witches. We would have been disappointed anyway, but right on the heels of a hilarious and imaginative Roald Dahl book? With Quentin Blake illustrations?? I'm not sure it's possible to have moved on to a more anticlimactic selection than Gaiman's Coraline. It plods along, as flat and colorless as the Other Mother's misty landscape, with an awkward storyline in which developments feel haphazard, superficially planned, and make little sense. The characters promise a lot but, once again, lack any real uniqueness with which to interest the reader, much less charm or entertain. Coraline is well written, and therefore mechanically a very good piece. However, that cannot whatsoever make up for the tepid nature of the content. Gabriel and I were very glad to finish this book and return to the marvelous Dahl and Blake. While it wasn't a terrible reading experience, I can't recommend Coraline very highly. This is, in fact, a rare time I would suggest simply enjoying the movie.

Mary Beth

Sunday, August 4, 2013

{Update} A New Baby! & {Review} Roald Dahl's The Twits


Welcome back! So much has happened this year and it is unbelievable August is here yet again. First of all, after our losses and much grief I am currently 29 weeks pregnant! Baby Iris is due in October and we couldn't be happier. Gabriel, who has recently turned four (I'm still feeling flabbergasted by this), is thrilled at the prospect of a baby sister and can't wait for her arrival.

My wee devil and I have always read picture books together, though recently we have begun to enjoy chapter books before sleepy-times as well. The other day we finished Roald Dahl's The Twits and here is what we thought...

The Twits by Roald Dahl
Published by Puffin Books, 1980
Softcover, 76 pages
ISBN 0141318309
Genres: animals, children's fiction, classics, fantasy, humor, YA

4/5 stars: Wickedly funny. The kiddo, who just turned 4, and I read this together and, as always, Dahl's quirky and utterly original narration combined with Quentin Blake's whimsical illustrations were a hit. Between Mrs. Twit's balloon-fueled flight into the sky, the talking monkey Muggle-Wump and his family, and their delicious revenge on the Twits, culminating in lots of upside-downness and THE DREADED SHRINKS, we're going to be hearing about this book for a long, long time. I did do a little light editing throughout the book as Mr. Dahl has a certain affection for the word "hag", which I don't want my child adding to his vocabulary at any point, and a few other phrases that a 4 year old might find a little too tempting to use in a not-so-joking manner. This wasn't a big issue, though, and certainly didn't affect how awesomely fun The Twits was to read aloud. Highly recommended by both myself and my wee devil!

Roald Dahl has become a fast favorite of my son's and I expect to enjoy many more rather wicked stories with him (and Iris!) in future. I am looking forward to this so very much. I thank you heartily for dropping in and hope the rest of your weekend is fabulous!

Mary Beth

Sunday, December 2, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #6} ...on a Sunday.

Frabjous: adj. a word used to describe a happy day; ex., as read in Jabberwocky: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Frabjous Friday is a weekly feature in which I share the books I have recently won, been given, borrowed, or purchased.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I want to share some recent acquisitions with you and while I typically do this on Fridays, that was 2 months ago, school has been a jerk, and I didn't have time Friday but have time today, so to heck with technicalities. Now on to the good stuff!

One day this week my husband had to go out of town for work and just happened to run across a Barnes & Noble. When we finally got to see each other that night he had a surprise for me! *Cue angelic choir*

The five on the left are from the Mr., the fourth being a planner you'll see in a minute.
The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice includes the first three in the series: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned. I have only read the first two but loved them and foresee this being a series I want to own. This is an awesome start!
The second book is the first two volumes in Gregory Maguire's The Wicked Years series, Wicked & Son of a Witch. Hooray! I've wanted these books for ages, so I'm super-excited about making room for them on our shelves.
The third is a gorgeous edition of Jane Austen's works. It includes Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Narthanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Lady Susan. He doesn't realize I have a book similar to this with the same selections, but I don't mind in the least. It's a beautiful gift and you can never have too much Austen. Now I'll have an edition for the family room shelves and one for in our bedroom!
The fifth book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and I absolutely love it. The binding is dark and sinister and sets the mood perfectly for the mess of human emotions and relationships that lies within.

The book on the far right is one of the absolute best books I've read all year (read my full review here). The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a spectacular adventure and I was very excited yesterday when I went to Vintage Stock in Joplin, MO (a new & used bookstore that also carries video games, comics, movies, & geeky stuff galore) and found a used copy for $6. There was a special event going on that ended up getting me $5 off the transaction, so I only paid $1.07 for it! I couldn't believe my good luck!

Alright, the planner. My husband knows what nerdy tastes I have, so when he was at B&N he found this...




...and had to get it. So I shall boldly enter 2013 with space-adventuring captains and Trekalicious quotes at my back.

What books have you given, received, or borrowed over the last few weeks? I'd love to hear about them!
Mary Beth

Sunday, November 25, 2012

{Update} or Why bibliophyte has been orphaned. Again.

I had been settling into a consistent routine of read, write review, read, write review, when my entire semester got turned upside down. First, my son Gabriel got sick with bronchitis in September and has been ill every couple of weeks since then. After the 4th case of bronchitis last week, compounded by at least one virus, his pediatrician put him on a huge list of antibiotics, steroids and such that has hopefully finally kicked it. He's been feeling better, thank goodness, though we're not sure when he's going to be cleared to go back to daycare.

In addition to this, last Sunday was my due date for my husband and my fourth child. I made it into my second trimester but ultimately lost the baby anyway. This is the third time and I am incredibly frustrated, angry and sad all at the same time. I am so very grateful for Gabriel and love him very, very much, but I've still been feeling blue. I'm trying not to play the what-if game because it doesn't help, but sometimes it can be very hard. I'm doing my best and for the most part I think we're keeping everything together but there are some moments where I just want to fall apart.

Then during the 9th week of classes I received a phone call from the school I'm attending. It's complicated but basically we moved here in June and I have been planning since this past summer to go to this community college this one semester, earn my last 13 hours of Gen. Ed. classes, graduate with my Associate's in December, and transfer to KU for the Spring '13 semester  to complete the last few hours of my Bachelor's degree. This semester, less than two months before graduation, I'm told I won't be graduating because in order to do so I must have earned 18 credit hours of my degree from this institution and I will have earned only 13.

My reaction: "Why have you waited this long to tell me?! I have been planning on getting my last 13 hours here and graduating since this past summer! Is this a regulation everyone knows about?"

Business office: "Yes, it's in every rules and regulations book. It's right here [points to regulation]."

Me: "Is this book in every office on campus?"

"Yes."

"Is this book something handed out to each student who enrolls?"

"No, but you can find them somewhere online."

"So everyone here in the Business Office and my adviser have a copy of this book and know about this regulation?"

"Yes."

"I'm an extremely involved student and I've been active in every stage of my enrollment, in every stage of my education really. But, there's a reason we have advisers and a reason these books are in everyone's offices. This is something I should've been told the first time I came here and talked to my adviser and people here in the Business Office about my plan. What am I supposed to do now? We're over halfway through the semester!"

They decided they couldn't waive the regulation and instead in order for me to graduate I would need to complete another 5 credit hours by December 14th, giving me a total of 7 weeks. So, on top of my original 13 hours I am completing 2 additional courses: a 3 credit hour course over The Canterbury Tales completed in 4 weeks (I'm working on the final paper for it right now) and a 2 credit hour course over Women in Medieval Literature which I will be completing over the next 3 weeks. I also tutor at the middle school in the afternoons Monday-Friday and tutor another college student several days a week.

Maybe I was stupid to take all of this one, but these were my three choices:

>agree not to graduate and go to KU in the spring. This would potentially set me back in credit hours because without a block transfer KU could make me retake Gen. Ed. courses, which would be a waste of time and money.

>agree not to graduate and spend another semester at the community college. This would mean I'd spend an entire semester taking 5 hours of courses I don't need, as well as cause Federal Financial Aid problems that would result in me having to pay out-of-pocket for those 5 hours. Talk about frustrating, not to mention a huge waste of time and money.

>push through the bureaucratic bullshit and graduate in December.

For a variety of reasons, of which anger and a certain stubbornness are not the least, I decided to opt for number three. In the long run I will save time and money, and I must admit there will be a certain satisfaction in doing what they were sure I wouldn't be willing to take on in the first place.

Now, I understand educational institutions must have rules and regulations, but in this case there is no excuse for their having neglected to tell me of this one and I was expecting a slightly more proactive and understanding response (especially since they've waived this rule for students in the past). Plus, their attitudes irritated me because after the "oversight" was discovered they kept saying, "Well, this is a very basic regulation!" and suggesting that I should already have been aware of it. If it's such a basic regulation why didn't a single person in the Business Office or Financial Aid Department, one of the people who had supposedly audited my file (including my transcripts), or my adviser mention it?

To be honest, I'm pretty angry about the whole debacle, BUT I'm trying to focus on two things: a) they didn't charge me any tuition or fees for the extra 5 credit hours & b) I'm graduating in December!! That's what I came here for and, through hell or high water, that's what I'm going to do.

Unfortunately, bibliophyte was first to get kicked off my priorities list when everything started snowballing. I greatly appreciate all of my readers who have stayed (thank you! thank you! thank you!) and I will hopefully be back mid-December. After I have awakened from my post-semester coma.

Friday, September 21, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #5}

Frabjous: adj. a word used to describe a happy day; ex., as read in Jabberwocky: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Frabjous Friday is a weekly feature in which I share the books I have recently won, been given, borrowed, or purchased.

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This week I have been reading a lot of science homework/textbooks/workbooks. Hooray! Okay, that was sarcastic. Despite my science class overload, however, I did get the chance to peruse the campus library's fiction shelves. Yay! (For real this time.) I picked up a book I have been planning on reading for years (about twelve, to be exact): Les Miserables. I remember my sister reading this book years ago; she loved it, and cried a lot, and I've been meaning to read it since but have never gotten around to it. I was really pumped about reading it but my excitement came to a screeching halt when I noticed in one of the many introductions that the edition I had borrowed is an abridgement. No, no, no. If I'm going to invest time in one of Victor Hugo's masterpieces I want the real deal. I marched the offending edition up to one of  the librarians and requested an UNabridged version. They don't have one (*gasp*) but there is a beautiful edition (an image of the cover is to the left) at my local public library. That was close! I'm picking it up on my way home and I plan to start it as soon as I'm finished with Kathy Reichs's first Bones novel: Deja Dead.

The other book I picked up at the campus library is the second volume in the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife. To be honest, I really don't want to read the rest of the series after not enjoying The Golden Compass and not giving it a favorable review (you can read it here), but it's on principle that I plan on finishing the series.

Hopefully reviews will be coming soon, though at 1,194 pages I have a feeling Les Miserables is going to take me a while to get through. I would love to know what you have purchased, borrowed, or been gifted so feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you so much for stopping by and I hope your Friday is frabjous!
Mary Beth

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

{Review} The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire

The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire
Published by Clarion books, 1983
Hardcover, 144 pages
ISBN 0618181881
Genres: children's fiction, fairy tales, folk tales, fantasy, YA 

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Once every generation or so, a great wolf called the Blood Prince, who not only devours bodies but also steals souls, stalks the northern forests of Russia. Rumor has it that he has set his sights on the forgettable little village of Miersk. The wolf’s evil runs so deep that past survivors refuse to believe in him, and so it is up to the newest generation, two children named Pasha and Lisette, to save the village. But how can a young boy and girl stop such a beast? This mesmerizing tale draws on Russian folk stories about Vasilissa the Beautiful, Baba Yaga, and the Firebird and is filled with quirky details and memorable characters that could spring only from the imagination of Gregory Maguire.

My review: This book was a pleasant surprise. Narrated in the style of a fairy tale with charming characters, bewitched creatures, and magic galore, it makes one feel like a six year old again, expecting Baba Yaga to pop out of the bushes or a house to sprout legs at any moment. While there are many humorous and fun passages, the story is also sobering as the reader is reminded that it is based on Russian fairy tales, and there is never enough to eat, not enough work, and no opportunities for betterment. This tale is as much about being grateful for the things you already have as it is about bravery, love and steadfastness.

The characters are surprisingly well developed with personal histories and unique problems. Pasha and Lisette, who are best friends, feel the worry emanating from the adults that the Blood Prince will come and eat every inhabitant of the village Miersk, and so they set out to find the frightening and powerful witch, Baba Yaga. An unlikely and tenuous relationship develops between witch and village and they formulate a plan to find and vanquish the vicious wolf. The characters evolve throughout the story, learning patience, self-sacrifice, and how to express the love one feels along the way.

This is not a long book nor is it difficult to read, though it is thoughtful and, I think, one of Gregory Maguire's better narratives. I would recommend The Dream Stealer to anyone who has ever had a passion for traditional fairy tales or folktales or enjoys magic and wishes to mix their reading list up a bit.
Mary Beth

Monday, September 17, 2012

{Review} The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Published by Scholastic, 2007
Hardcover, 534 pages
ISBN 0439813786
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, historical fiction, mystery, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): ORPHAN, CLOCK KEEPER, AND THIEF, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo's undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo's dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

 My review: This was a fantastic introduction into the world of the author, Brian Selznick. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is highly imaginative and well executed, with a plethora of haunting illustrations to boot. The characters are very relatable and complex enough to allow the reader to get to know them better and better throughout the story's evolution, and yet simple enough that the story can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Hugo, the main protagonist, is very likable: intelligent and loyal to the friends he makes as well as to the memory of his father. He is the kind of character who brings out the strongest maternal instincts in me, and I wanted to wrap him up in my arms and bring him home through the whole story. I particularly like Isabelle, the spunky little girl he meets early on in the narrative. She has the makings of a heroine about her and I can't say I would turn down the opportunity to read more of her adventures if the author feels so inclined to write them.

The truly unique feature about this book is, of course, the illustrations, the The Invention of Hugo Cabret being a true traditional prose/graphic novel hybrid. Each element complements the other and enhances the story in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. The fact that Mr. Selznick both wrote the narrative and drew the illustrations himself also adds a new, and wonderful, facet to the story as it is rare, outside of some picture books, for the author to convey to his audience exactly how he has envisioned the characters and their surroundings.

This book looks big at 534 relatively thick pages, but it can be read very quickly because a large proportion of those are illustrations. I would recommend this book to readers of all ages who enjoy adventure stories and graphic novels with a touch of mystery.
Mary Beth

Friday, September 14, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #4}


Frabjous: adj. a word used to describe a happy day; ex., as read in Jabberwocky: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Frabjous Friday is a weekly feature in which I share the books I have recently won, been given, borrowed, or purchased.

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I cannot believe it has been a whole week since I last posted. My apologies, dear readers! There have been a multitude of things going on in my non-virtual life, and this has been a rather rough week for us. School has been keeping me very busy as well. I should have taken my required science courses at the beginning of my college career and instead I'm taking all ten hours (plus the required 3 hour computer class) this semester. I've had various projects going on and last evening I had a science test worth 17.5% of that class's overall grade. I did my best but I'm not sure if I want to know my score or not. At least it's over now, though, and until the next horrid test one of my instructors has lined up I should be able to focus more on bibliophyte.

This past weekend I went to my local library and borrowed a stack of books (I was feeling optimistic about my week then, ha) and I actually got a couple of them read. One is a book I never would have chosen for myself but went ahead and read anyway, Just Desserts: A Savannah Reid Mystery by G. A. McKevett. I'm not going to post my review here, but if you'd like to know the whole story of my reading it and take a peek at my review, you can see it here.

One of the books I chose caught my eye as I was walking by the new books display. I had never seen or heard of it before:

The Time Keeper: A Novel by Mitch Albom
It was a thoughtful read and I quite enjoyed it. I should be getting my review posted soon (keep those fingers crossed! :)

I chose my first audio book this week as well!

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
It's a bit of a monster seeing as it has 16 discs and is around 20 hours long. I'll let you know how it is!

What books have you come across lately? I'd love to hear about them! Have a great weekend!
Mary Beth

Friday, September 7, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #3}


This week I'm excited about reading The Hidden Gallery, the second in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. Miss Lumley is sweet and charming and the children, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia, are an absolute riot. I'll post a review soon telling you what I think!

I haven't decided what else I'm going to read yet. I've been a) a little wrapped up in science homework, and b) feeling a little overwhelmed by my 1,155 book long Goodreads to-be-read list. I'm not even sure where to start with that one.

Recently, I have been thinking about trying out an audio book for the first time. I've always avoided them because I like the feel of a book in my hands and the sound of the narrator in my head. I've begun to think that maybe I'm being close-minded, though, and being read to while on my elliptical machine or doing dishes or any number of other (excruciatingly) boring tasks would be pretty nice. While I'm easy-going regarding content when I'm reading to myself, I would need audio books that are child appropriate since my three-year-old son will most likely be listening as well. Have a suggestion? Or two? Or five? I'd love to hear them!
Mary Beth

Thursday, September 6, 2012

{Review} Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Published by Putnam Adult, 1995
Hardcover, 244 pages
ISBN 0399140557
Genres: adult fiction, chick lit, contemporary fiction, fantasy, magic, magical realism, paranormal, romance, women's fiction


Synopsis (via Goodreads): For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic...

My review: I got acquainted with Alice Hoffman early this year when I read her newest novel The Dovekeepers (which is fabulous). For some reason I was thinking it was her debut novel (don't ask me where I picked that up from, ha) so I was surprised when I looked her up on Goodreads and discovered she has been an established author for quite a long time. I have heard good things about the movie adaptation of Practical Magic and decided I would watch it... but only after reading the novel. School started so I finally got around to it last week, finishing it on Labor Day. I greatly enjoyed it and plan to continue reading everything by Alice Hoffman I can get my hands on. The story is much better than the synopsis above makes it sound and well worth the short amount of time it takes to read.

Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned when they are ages five and three and taken in by two aunts who have a local reputation for witchery and spells, usually of the love variety. The little girls grow up knowing they're different, the other children at school and their parents making sure they never forget. The older the sisters get, though, the more they understand the magic their aunts wield is not imagined or exaggerated: it is very real and powerful. While the girls become used to the stream of women finding their way to the aunts' back door every evening in hopes of obtaining a cure for their less-than-satisfactory love lives, they are disturbed by it all the same. Gillian in particular, who during high school becomes a beauty and heart-breaker, is dissatisfied with what their guardians have to offer and takes solace in romance and rebellion. Sally is much more prudent and less selfish than her younger sister and eventually finds love with a young local. Bad choices and tragedy break the family apart, though, eventually reuniting them once again many years later.

The story is quite involved with many characters coming and going, though instead of confusing the plot this simply adds dimension to it. Sally and Gillian evolve throughout the novel, making promises and breaking them; alternately turning into the people they said they'd never be and striving towards who they need to be; having dreams and becoming disillusioned and yet against all odds finding hope once again. These experiences are common to every person and make the characters very easy to relate to and empathize with. This book also stirs up complex emotions because just like in real life, you can love someone, identify with them, and still want to smack them silly. Practical Magic has excellent pacing and development: you thoroughly get to know the characters and the lives they lead without getting tired of them. My only complaint is a minor one and it would be that closer to the end of the book Gillian's bedroom experiences with her boyfriend Ben are described, and it got a little cheesy. Okay, it was really cheesy. But just keep reading, don't dwell on it and you'll find this book to be extremely enjoyable and meaningful.

While this book has mainly female protagonists and is frequently labeled chick-lit, I think it is a book any adult could enjoy, especially if they already have a fondness for magical realism and contemporary fiction. It is not lengthy either, so a great deal of patience is not necessary. I'd love to hear your thoughts regarding Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman, the chick-lit label, and/or how the movie adaptation compares to the novel, as I haven't gotten around to watching it yet.
Mary Beth

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

{Review} The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1) by Maryrose Wood

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1) by Maryrose Wood
Published by HarperCollins, 2010
Hardcover, 267 pages
ISBN 0061791059
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, humor, mystery, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children. Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. But mysteries abound at Ashton Place.

My review: Maryrose Wood has a charming writing style, similar to that of Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), though not so close that it seems... suspicious, if you know what I mean. She has created an awesome heroine in Miss Penelope Lumley, a no-nonsense yet kindly young lady who takes a position as governess to the "Incorrigibles", three children the master of Ashton Place found in the forest on one of his frequent hunting trips. While the children, around 10, 8 and 5 years of age, are obviously siblings nothing more is known about them, and if their manners and language skills (or lack thereof) are any indication they have been living in the forest for a very long time. Lady Constance Ashton, the mistress of Ashton Place, is a self-centered and spoiled young woman of around 20 who recently married Lord Ashton. While she tolerates the presence of Miss Lumley and the Incorrigibles she would be more than happy for them to go straight back from where they came. Miss Lumley has other plans, however, planning on keeping the children safe in her care for as long as possible, even if it means getting put on Lady Ashton's least-favorite-persons list. She frequently bolsters her fortitude with the pithy sayings of the headmistress at the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, where she received an excellent education and much practical training. She frequently gives herself serious little pep talks worthy of L.M. Montgomery's heroine Anne Shirley, and I'm sure they would have found each other to be kindred spirits. The children, dubbed Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia by Lord Ashton, adore Penelope and have great dramatic flair, reveling in reciting and performing such literary pieces as Longfellow's "The Wreck of the Hesperus".

This was an extremely fast read and I'm looking forward to reading The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #2 and #3: The Hidden Gallery and The Unseen Guest respectively. A fourth in the series is slated for publication in 2013 as well! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley, Skellig by David Almond, or simply likes quirky writing with lots of literary references, precocious children, and fun illustrations. Thank you so much for dropping in & I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Incorrigibles below!
Mary Beth