Wednesday, December 28, 2011

{Review} Redwall (Redwall #1) by Brian Jacques

Redwall (Redwall #1) by Brian Jacques
Published by Philomel, 2007 (originally published 1987)
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN 0399247947
Genres: adventure, animals, children's fiction, fantasy, science fiction, YA

Synopsis: Redwall Abbey is the home of a peaceful order of mice, dedicated to providing comfort, shelter and assistance to those less fortunate. Cluny the Scourge is a vicious and greedy rat determined to turn the Abbey into a castle for himself, as well as a headquarters from which to direct his future conquests. Enter Matthias, a young mouse raised at the Abbey who is training to join the order. While he dearly loves Redwall and the gentle creatures who raised him, he dreams of being a warrior, of battles and of glory. When Cluny and his army attack the Abbey, Matthias sets out to find an ancient sword once carried by Redwall's hero from ages past, Martin the Warrior. With this sword Matthias hopes to turn the tide of battle and save Redwall and his loved ones from slaughter at the hands of Cluny and his rats.

My review: I love this book. I know it's a children's book and almost 25 years old and everyone but me has probably already read it. But I just have to say how much I love it anyway. This series is one I've been meaning to read since I first discovered it on the library's shelves at age 8. How has it taken me this long to get around to reading it?? Oh well, better late than never, right?

First of all, I adore the characters. Matthias is lovable and you can't help but pull out your "Go Matthias!" banner every time he gets into trouble (which is quite frequently); Abbott Mortimer is the gentle and wise counselor we all wish we had (who I also refer to as "the original Dumbledore"); Constance is the feisty badger with a big mouth who always has her friends' backs; and Brother Methuselah is the oldest inhabitant of Redwall, a scholar and keeper of records, who defies his age by helping Matthias in his quest to find the sword of Martin the Warrior. These are just a few of the charming characters from Redwall Abbey and surrounding Mossflower forest who it's inevitable you'll be quite attached to by the end of the book. There are quite a few definitely-not-charming characters in this book as well, who add dimension and contrast with the defenders of Redwall. I was honestly surprised by how truly evil Cluny the Scourge is, feeding off of the pain and misery he inflicts on those around him. Being most often classified as Children's Fiction, I expected a nasty rat but not one who is so blatantly cruel. I'm glad he isn't a namby-pamby villain, though, because that would have annoyed me to no end as well as potentially ruined the book's flavor and plot. Also, this book does not represent a simplistic world composed of "good" and "evil"; instead, it consists of many shades of grey, and characters do not always make choices consistent with their assumed status of "good" or "bad". In addition, there are multiple villains, each being a "villain" for different reasons; one of them is such simply because his perspective and way of life is different, in conflict with that of the rest of the woodlanders'. I appreciated these subtleties, especially since children's literature tends to be full of rather worn out, overly moralistic and cliched perspectives on good and evil. This was refreshing and one reason, I believe, that this book can be enjoyed by such a wide range of readers.
This book is most certainly an adventure story with the reader frequently switching perspectives between Cluny and his army, Matthias and his quest, and the Abbey's defenders. I greatly enjoyed the style of narration; it keeps things moving, though doesn't switch perspectives too quickly, and gives enough detail to really be absorbed into the story and its environment, though not so much that a young reader will feel overwhelmed. Some people have remarked that they don't like the slightly meandering story line, but for me, it is reminiscent of The Hobbit and quite delicious. I love the little side adventures and details that are not strictly "relevant" to the plot because I feel they add to the overall mythology of Redwall, which is very important if you're going to go on and read the rest of the series. This is a book that can truly be enjoyed by readers of all ages, as well as the perfect selection for reading aloud. I hope to acquire these books sometime soon and enjoy them again in future, perhaps with my son, who I will make sure is acquainted with Redwall Abbey and the many adventures that concern it at a somewhat younger age than I am now.

Let me know what you think of this book in the comments below; I love hearing other people's perspectives and insights! Happy reading!
Mary Beth

Thursday, December 22, 2011

{Review} The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum & Book Challenges

Since the New Year is almost upon us, I have had book challenges on the brain (how is it already almost the end of December, again...?). I've been looking about and have discovered a LOT of them, but I'm having a hard time deciding which ones to take part in, if I decide to take part in any. This past year I simply made a goal regarding the number of books to read in 2011, but that was it. I suppose my main problem with book challenges is that they are usually by genre, and I like to skip around between genres. A lot. I also enjoy randomly pulling books from my to-read list; it's a nice bit of spontaneity (or rather, spontaneity I can handle since it tends to freak me out, ha). So, how do you feel about book challenges? Do you usually take part in ones that are already organized? Do you create your own? Or do you just read what you want, when you want, and don't worry about them at all? This will obviously influence future blog posts, since if I take part in any book challenges I will discuss them a bit on bibliophyte throughout the year. So what do you think? Please let me know in the comments below :)
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
Originally published 1902
Paperback, 136 pages
Genres: children's fiction, fantasy, holiday, YA

I've been trying to read this tiny little book. It is ridiculously small and I should have whipped through it in a very short amount of time. But I just can't finish it. I always try to read books in their entirety on principle but I've granted myself a once-in-a-blue-moon exception. I love the story's premise, that Santa Claus was raised in a magical forest by fairies, nymphs and other magical creatures, who gave him his special gifts (and who are also all very delightful little characters). However, I can't get past L. Frank Baum's writing style. I find it stifling and looking back, I suppose I've always found it as such because I've never been able to get the whole way through one of his books. Every time I even think about finishing this book I cringe, so I think I'm just going to go read some more about Matthias the mouse at Redwall Abbey instead. You can never be too old for Redwall, right?
Mary Beth

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And the winner of the book giveaway is...

This giveaway has been so much fun and I greatly appreciate everyone's participation and enthusiasm. I hope to  be able to have a giveaway every month or so from now on just to say thanks for taking the time to stop by bibliophyte and read my ramblings :)

And now, without further ado from your epistle-loving host, the winner:

Congratulations! I will have your new copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in the mail to you in the morning. I hope you love this book as much as I do!

Mary Beth

Monday, December 19, 2011

{Review} Luka and the Fire of Life: A Novel by Salman Rushdie

Luka and the Fire of Life: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
Published by Random House, 2010
Hardcover, 218 pages
ISBN 0679463364
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, magical realism, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): With the same dazzling imagination and love of language that have made Salman Rushdie one of the great storytellers of our time, Luka and the Fire of Life revisits the magic-infused, intricate world he first brought to life in the modern classic Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This breathtaking new novel centers on Luka, Haroun’s younger brother, who must save his father from certain doom. For Rashid Khalifa, the legendary storyteller of Kahani, has fallen into deep sleep from which no one can wake him. To keep his father from slipping away entirely, Luka must travel to the Magic World and steal the ever-burning Fire of Life. Thus begins a quest replete with unlikely creatures, strange alliances, and seemingly insurmountable challenges as Luka and an assortment of enchanted companions race through peril after peril, pass through the land of the Badly Behaved Gods, and reach the Fire itself, where Luka’s fate, and that of his father, will be decided. Filled with mischievous wordplay and delving into themes as universal as the power of filial love and the meaning of mortality, Luka and the Fire of Life is a book of wonders for all ages.

My review: First of all, if you read the synopsis above you'll know that this is the sequel to an earlier work by Salman Rushdie entitled Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I would recommend that you read Haroun's adventures before picking up Luka's as there are many minor references in the sequel you may not understand otherwise. Plus, Haroun and the Sea of Stories is delightful in and of itself. However, if you don't get the chance to I wouldn't worry all that much as this book's plot and development is strong enough to be read independently. And now, on to the actual review...

      This is a deliciously written book with a story you can sink into and drift along on. It is rich with mythological figures and tales, as well as many original characters directly from the author's imagination. Luka and the Fire of Life is whimsical and dreamy, even recalling Alice in Wonderland at certain points. I loved it when a little "white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and looking worriedly at a clock" popped up on the bank of the River of Time, for instance.
      There are lots of issues broached that have a universal appeal as well, the main issue being the nature of time. In this book time is represented as a river flowing away from the mists of the past and toward the mists of the future. Luka wrestles with the idea of predestination: does the future already exist so that the course of the river follows a predetermined path? Or can our actions shape, even change, the river's flow? Luka is also told that "...if you want to travel up the River, Memory is the fuel you need." This is a very important concept to plant in the mind of a young reader to help him or her realize that memories are much more than the static remains of the past. Rather, they are the seeds of the future and memories are absolutely vital if a person is to grow and reap knowledge from prior experiences. Towards the end of Luka's journey he begins to reflect on something his father had said that before sounded like nonsense: time is not a constant marching forward, one precise second after another. Rather, it speeds up and slows down depending on what you are doing, and it does not mean the same thing to everybody as each person experiences life differently. There are several other issues presented to the reader for consideration, including whether tyranny is excusable or not if created and maintained in the name of respect, if exemption from consequences when following orders is acceptable or not, and how justifiable the sacrifice of innocents is, even if perceived as benefiting the greater good.
      I love how thought-provoking this novel is, particularly for young readers, and that the author brings issues to the forefront that are not usually discussed in Young Adult literature. I also appreciate that he does not neatly resolve each issue, but rather allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.
      The only problem a reader may run into is the fact that the story does move a little slowly. It is definitely a book you need to fully immerse yourself in and forget about the page numbers. Simply read it to enjoy the experience and the journey.
      Ah yes, one more thing I'd like to share: my favorite passage... "Man is the Storytelling Animal, Stories are his identity, his meaning, and his lifeblood. Do rats tell tales? Do porpoises have narrative purposes? Do elephants ele-phantasize? You know as well as I do that they do not. Man alone burns with books."

I hope you enjoy this work as much as I did. Whether you love it or hate it, though, I'm anxious to hear your thoughts! I love a good discussion :) In the meantime, happy reading!
Mary Beth

Sunday, December 18, 2011

{Review} The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Published by Random House Publishing Group, 2011
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN 034552554X
Genres: adult fiction, contemporary fiction, literary fiction, romance, women's fiction, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 My reviewThis is an interesting book and a fast read, though definitely not what I was expecting. I have an affection for the Victorian practice of using flowers to communicate (you can't get much more romantic than that - unless, of course, you're gifting thistles, but anyway...) but because I had been hearing the word "Victorian" so much in connection with this book, I was thinking it was going to be historical fiction. I know this was silly of me, but there it is. Confusion aside, it turns out this book does, in fact, have a potentially great story line, but I am disappointed in its execution and development. 

For one thing, I had a very hard time relating to the characters, mainly Victoria. Some of her experiences I can empathize with, like the postpartum depression (though, and here's my two cents' worth, that is still no excuse for leaving her baby all by herself for hours on end). However, she felt very inconsistent. I honestly couldn't keep up with her mood and personality changes. One moment she was remorseful, practically penitent, and the next hardened to the point of cruelty. And then back, and forth, and back again. I think if Victoria had been developed a little differently, explained a little sooner and more fully, or a third person narrator had been used, she may have seemed more believable. As she is, though, her character comes off as pretty two-dimensional, which is frustrating seeing as she's the main protagonist as well as the narrator.

There's also so much that isn't explained about Victoria and Grant's pasts. Victoria's is kind of glossed over after she leaves Elizabeth's care and Grant's is described as "lonely" and a couple similar adjectives, but there's never any real development in this regard. I also wanted to get to know more about the dynamics between Elizabeth and Catherine (and their mother), but I was left unsatisfied in this respect as well.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable (especially since this is the author's debut work), but these issues really got in the way of my fully enjoying the novel. I look forward to her next book but will probably never be interested in owning this one or reading it again.

Note: my mom is who recommended this book to me because she really enjoyed it. She was disappointed to hear I don't care for it and when I told her I hadn't given it a very good review, she told me to tell my readers that "she liked it and it's still worth reading". So you as my witness, I've passed along the message. Just in case she asks :)
Mary Beth

Friday, December 16, 2011

{Review} These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (Sarah Agnes Prine #1) by Nancy E. Turner
Published by ReganBooks, 1998
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN 0060392258
Genres: adult fiction, adventure, historical fiction, literary fiction, romance, western, women's fiction

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Inspired by the author's original family memoirs, this absorbing story introduces us to the questing, indomitable Sarah Prine, one of the most memorable women ever to survive and prevail in the Arizona Territory of the late 1800s. As a child, a fiery young woman, and finally a caring mother, Sarah forges a life as full and fascinating as our deepest needs, our most secret hopes, and our grandest dreams. She rides Indian-style and shoots with deadly aim, greedily devours a treasure trove of leatherbound books, dreams of scarlet velvet and pearls, falls uneasily in love, and faces down fire, flood, Comanche raids, and other mortal perils with the unique courage that forged the character of the American West. This action-packed novel is also the story of a powerful, enduring love between Sarah and the dashing cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot. Neither the vast distances traveled nor the harsh and killing terrains could quench the passion between them, and the loss and loneliness both suffer only strengthen their need for each other. While their love grows, the heartbreak and wonder of the frontier experience unfold in scene after scene: a wagon-train Sunday spent roasting quail on spits as Indians close in to attack; Sarah's silent encounter with an Indian brave, in which he shows her his way of respect; a dreadful discovery by a stream that changes Sarah forever; the hazards of a visit to Phoenix, a town as hot as the devil's frying pan; Sarah's joy in building a real home, sketching out rooms and wraparound porches. Sarah's story leads us into a vanished world that comes vividly to life again, while her struggles with work and home, love and responsibility resonate with those every woman faces today.

 My review: What a beautiful story - painfully beautiful and cathartic. The characters are entirely believable and enjoyable, so much so that I was hooked before I had even read fifteen pages. I adore Sarah: her spunk, honesty, sense of humor, the intensity of her love. She has a brimming personality and is someone I feel like I would want to be best friends with. And I think I fell a little in love with Captain Elliot. I cried when I finished the book (a couple times, so I'm extra glad I have a sympathetic husband :) because the ending is so bittersweet. I usually don't like endings like this one, but the entire book was written so well, so effectively (and unaffectedly), I won't dare to disagree with how the author chose to end her story. I will admit, though, that I was hoping it would have an "And they lived happily ever after" ending. Ah well, regardless of whether the story closed the way I wanted it to or not, These Is My Words is a poignant book well worth reading. I picked it up inexpensively at a book sale and was planning on trading it at the bookshop for credit, but after finishing it, I decided to hold on to it a while longer.

If you enjoy These Is My Words and would like to continue reading about Sarah, there are two more books in the series:

Sarah's Quilt
The Star Garden


I have not read the second two books so I can't tell you how they measure up to the first, but I am extremely interested in reading them. I just keep forgetting to put them on my book list when I go to the library...

What books have you been enjoying this week? Let me know below. Also, don't forget about the december book giveaway ending on 12/21!
Mary Beth

Thursday, December 15, 2011

{Giveaway} My first book giveaway!

to be given away to one lucky reader!

I am so excited to be having my first book giveaway! I was having a hard time deciding what book to use and finally settled on a hardback copy of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. I absolutely love this book with its great story, awesome cover art and lots of vintage photos.

The giveaway begins... now! and ends at 6pm (central time) on Wednesday, December 21st.

The rules to enter are simple:

a. you must be a follower of this blog
b. you must leave a comment at the bottom of my december book giveaway! page
c. you must live in the continental US to be eligible to win

Immediately after the giveaway ends, or as close to it as possible, one winner will be chosen by random number generator and his or her name will be announced, at which point they will need to email me their address so I can get their book in the mail to them and they can get to reading!

the fine print: I will cover all costs associated with this giveaway, including shipping fees. If you win and the address you wish the book to be sent to is not in the continental US, I will be forced to disqualify you and another winner will be chosen. Also, the winner will have 24 hours to acknowledge their win and email me their address. If more than 24 hours passes after the end of the giveaway and I have not heard from the winner, a new number will be drawn and a new winner announced.

That's it! I hope you're as excited about this as I am!
Mary Beth

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

{Review} The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket & A Trip to the Library

I began reading Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events several months ago, before I started consistently writing reviews. So, the first volume I have reviewed is #9, The Carnivorous Carnival. I could conceivably go back and write reviews of the first 8, but I don't feel right doing so since it's been quite some time since I read them. Therefore, as strange as it may seem, I will simply review the final 5 installments. Here is my review of...

carnivorous, indeed
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2002
Hardcover, 286 pages
ISBN 0064410129
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, humor, mystery, YA

My review: 5/5 stars. I have enjoyed all of the Snicket books, but this one is my favorite thus far. The plot really starts to pick up, questions begin to be answered, and, while all of them are good, this one is less repetitive than certain others (*cough* ...The Miserable Mill... *cough* *cough*). I love the cliff-hanger ending (ha), letting you dive right into the next book with less of a preamble from the author. Don't get me wrong, I love Lemony's cynical and often snarky ramblings, but not necessarily at the beginning of every volume. This was a nice change of pace. Something else I really like is Sunny's character development in this book. She starts developing her own interests and taking a more active, less passive part in the story. I must admit, I was starting to lose interest in this series, but it has certainly been revived by this episode. I can't wait to read #10!"

This evening my husband stayed home with our son, and I headed off to the library. I came home with a pretty good stack and I can't wait to start one all of them. Let's see, I picked up...

I know not all of these books are fresh off the presses (Redwall is 25 years old, for pete's sake). However, I hope that if I'm curious about them someone else will be too. If there is a book in the above list you are particularly interested in, let me know in the comments below and it will be one of the first ones I read. Otherwise, I'm going to simply grab one and start furiously reading. We don't keep things too scientific around here. I'll be back soon and in the meantime, happy reading!
Mary Beth

Monday, December 12, 2011

{Review} The Sherlockian: A Novel by Graham Moore

the novel in question
The Sherlockian: A Novel by Graham Moore
Published by Twelve, 2010
Hardcover, 350 pages
ISBN 0446572594
Genres: adult fiction, historical fiction, mystery, thriller

Synopsis: Harold White is a nervous, bumbling twenty-eight year old who has been in love with the stories of Sherlock Holmes since he was a child. He fancies himself a serious Sherlockian, though he is employed as a private consultant for certain film studios, employing his extensive knowledge of literature to help them when sued for plagiarism and such. He is thrilled to find out that he is being accepted into the Baker Street Irregulars, though his joy turns to shock when one of its most respected members appears to be murdered. The dead man is Alexander Cale, a Sherlockian who has dedicated his entire adult life to finding a diary written by Arthur Conan Doyle, missing for over a hundred years. Only a few months before his death, Mr. Cale had announced his having discovered the diary and his plan to unveil it to the Baker Street Irregulars. However, no such book is found upon his murder and Harold takes it upon himself to channel Sherlock Holmes and his theories to track down the diary and Cale's killer. A second story-line develops around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, which spans several years. It begins with his throwing Sherlock Holmes off of the Reichenbach Falls, though ultimately channeling his creation's techniques when he is pulled into investigating the sordid murders of several young girls.

 My review: I started this book two weeks ago and finished it this afternoon, after having pushed my way through the majority of it over the weekend. I had to get some momentum going, otherwise it was in danger of ending up on my re-re-re-renewed shelf on Goodreads. I'm sorry to say I'm pretty disappointed. To be fair, The Sherlockian isn't terrible, especially seeing as it's the author's debut novel, but it didn't hold my attention especially well nor did it have any tidbits that put me on the edge of my seat.

The characters are not particularly engaging or relatable, and I felt no emotional attachment to any of them; this is a particularly disappointing aspect of the book for someone who has been known to fall in love with a fictional character or two (*ahem*). In fact, at certain points during the story I felt such intense dislike for Harold I wanted to cause him bodily harm, and I'm pretty sure that is not what the author is going for. I expected him to become a geeky, unlikely hero- you know, the inept, bumbling, lovable genius with no common sense and zero social skills who suddenly appears on the scene and, against all odds, saves the day. Well, he is certainly bumbling but not lovable. All of the characters are also strangely two-dimensional, especially Sarah Lindsay, who accompanies Harold on his quest and should have developed dramatically throughout the book. Her becoming Harold's love interest was also sadly predictable as well as completely unbelievable.

To be honest, the chapters involving Arthur Conan Doyle are a little bizarre. Sir Conan Doyle did, in fact, assist Scotland Yard with some of their cases, but in the novel his experiences are portrayed as being melodramatic beyond belief. It also feels a little libelous to have a well-known historical figure be portrayed as a cross-dressing, gun-toting vigilante (who fires said gun directly at someone's head, no less). I understand the author is taking an "artistic liberty", but there must be a limit somewhere. In addition, the facts about Sir Conan Doyle's life are given in the tone of an almanac: dry and succinct, reminders to the reader that they are, in fact, reading about the real-life author of Sherlock Holmes.

While I don't feel this book was a complete waste of time, and there are some semi-interesting plot points, I would recommend it only to those who (a) already have an intense love for Holmes and Doyle, (b) don't mind a fairly slow story, and (c) don't have high expectations of books belonging to the "historical fiction" genre. This was a fairly strong start to Graham Moore's writing career, and I look forward to his future works, though The Sherlockian is ultimately underdeveloped and forgettable.
Mary Beth

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

{Update} A little Lemony goodness

It is a nippy day here in Kansas, perfect if you're a coffee-drinking, blanket-snuggling, keyboard-tapping, book-devouring nut like myself. Now, I have something very specific on the brain at the moment, something I'm quite sure a few of you are familiar with, and that would be...
my eclectic collection of snicket books,
minus #3, unfortunately.
Lemony Snicket. Ahh, dear, cynical, disillusioned, and oftentimes snarky Lemony. Children's literature just wouldn't be the same without you. When A Series of Unfortunate Events came out several years ago I knew it was something I absolutely had to read, and yet it wasn't until this past summer (when I got my hands on the series via a yard sale, the Salvation Army, the library and my sis) that I actually started reading them. I didn't want to completely rush through the series so I have been reading them off and on since then, finishing the tenth book just a couple days ago. I was surprised by how much I adore Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, the unfortunate orphans, and how much I love to hate Count Olaf, the unkempt villain. I simply was not expecting to be so drawn to the characters. I've been trying to decide since I started the series what it is exactly that I like so much. This is what I've come up with so far...

The whimsicality and imagination present in this series is a feature of children's books that I have always loved. Yes, some adult books have an element of fantasy or creativity, but few ever achieve the level found in children's lit (take Pippi Longstocking, for example, or The Wind in the Willows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Borrowers series, the list goes on and on). Ironically, the books I just listed are all "old", the most recently published being Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it came out in 1962. So, I suppose another thing I love about them is that they are reminiscent of older children's books (I'm having a hard time explaining this one, even to myself, but there it is). So anyway, who cares if the Snicket stories aren't "realistic" like most adult books strive to be; they have a level of honesty about life and its problems that adult books could probably learn a thing or two from. They also promote intelligence, self-reliance, problem-solving, and vocabulary expansion. In a way, the Baudelaire orphans are the heroes of geeks and nerds everywhere. They tell the reader, "It's okay to be smart, cool even!" They are also humorously moralistic without beating you over head with the lesson learned. I also love how developed the characters are and that they continue to actively develop and grow throughout the series. This is something that can be a little lacking in children's literature resulting in disappointingly two-dimensional characters. It's almost as if Lemony Snicket has deciphered what is so wonderful about both children's books and adult fiction and combined them, endowing this series with the best of both worlds.

Now, I encountered only one obstacle while reading this series: a certain repetitiveness present in a few of the books, namely #4, The Miserable Mill, and #5, The Austere Academy. However, don't let this stop you and don't skip them! I thought they were a little weaker than some of the others but still definitely worth reading, plus you learn vital information in them, as in every volume. All things considered, the mild repetition is not that big of an issue in the first place (especially in a series of thirteen books!), so A Series of Unfortunate Events is in no danger of losing its status as one of my all-time favorite children's series.

Have you read any Snickets? What do you think, awesome or over-rated? What is your favorite or least favorite book in the series? I'd love to know your thoughts, so please, leave a comment below! Have a wonderful evening and happy reading!
Mary Beth

{Review} Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs & a somewhat minor identity crisis

My blog has been having an identity crisis over the past several months. I've been agonizing and today decided to DO something about it (resulting in my blog being revamped... Again). I really do promise that this is the last time for a long time. Scout's honor. I've decided to do with it what I darn well please, so it is now (officially) a book blog. This makes me very happy :)

You may have noticed the new widgets (I love that word, haha) to the left. Three to be exact because I went a little overboard, but I couldn't help myself. They are all from that amazing site goodreads, which I have so completely fallen in love with since April. One widget shows what I'm currently reading, another how I'm doing on my books-read goal for 2011, and a third that is representative of my favorite books shelf.

One of the books I read this year that actually ended up on my favorites shelf is to the left - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Here's my review:

A fantastic new YA book
by Ransom Riggs
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine #1) by Ransom Riggs
Published by Quirk, 2011
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN 1594744769
Genres: fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, paranormal, science fiction, YA

My review: 5/5 stars. Fantastic. A well-written and suspenseful adventure story, about which I have only one complaint: that it wasn't written sooner. Considering how engrossed I became in it at age 22, I can only imagine how my imagination would have taken flight when reading it ten or twelve years ago. It is not a book that will appeal to everyone, but I adore it and am eagerly awaiting more adventures with Jacob, Emma, Miss Peregrine, and the rest of the peculiars.

I'm still a little fuzzy on writing reviews, since I want to say what I like/dislike about the book but I also don't want to give too much away. I mean, goodreads has a little box you can check that will warn the reader the review contains spoilers, but I still don't like to give too much away, haha. So I'm still working on it. Have you read Miss Peregrine? Or another great YA book this year? I'm getting re-interested in YA books, strangely enough, mainly thanks to the peculiars and... Lemony Snicket, who I will probably talk about next time.

Toodeloo... good grief, my spell check tagged this word and wants me to replace it with "toothily," so toothily for now and have a great evening! Happy reading!!
Mary Beth

Friday, October 21, 2011

the sweetest dress, a helpful site, and the perfect hoops

florecitas embroidered baby dress by elizabethpalmer
As you may have already suspected, a lot of my future posts will be concerned with embroidery - supplies, stitches, experimental pieces, items for my (future) shop, interesting embroidered pieces I run across, and so on. I do so love embroidery :) Possibly my favorite thing about it is its versatility. The possibilities really are limitless. A beautiful piece I discovered earlier today is the florecitas embroidered baby dress from elizabethpalmer on Etsy. I love the bright colors, perky flowers and detailing. How perfect for a little girl on a warm summer's day or in early fall with a little pair of leggings. And this is only one example from an extensive collection, creative needlework embellishing every piece.

If you're interested in learning how to embroider or in expanding your practical knowledge of embroidery, I highly recommend you visit Mary Corbet's extremely helpful site: Needle 'N Thread. It has free patterns, tips, pictures, an Ask & Share section, how-to videos (my personal favorite) for stitches and various projects, and lots more. Honestly, if it were not for the how-to videos I probably wouldn't be able to do much more than a running stitch, seeing as I can't decipher stitch instructions from illustrations and pictures worth a darn. If you really like her site, Mary Corbet also has a Facebook page where she will keep you updated on current projects, new articles, reviews, videos, and great giveaways.

In my own little neck o' the woods I am in dire need of embroidery supplies, specifically wooden hoops and a greater variety of fabric. I have quite a bit of floss, I guess, but is there really such a thing as having too much floss? I think not. So we'll add it to the list as well :)

Frank A. Edmunds & Co. embroidery hoops,
available from 12" in diameter down to 3"
My quest for the perfect hoop began several weeks ago. I was looking for a company who makes hoops out of solid wood with quality metal hardware but with not too high of a price tag. Easy peasy, right? Ha. I searched from one end of Google to the other and found a lot of wonderful hoops along the way; the problem is that hardly any of them are within my budget and if they are, they tend to be produced in places like England, meaning shipping and handling charges at least double the initial cost. After a week or two of searching I recalled having seen a solid wood hoop at Hobby Lobby hanging on a hook all by its lonesome, but I couldn't remember the brand. I went back to Hobby Lobby as soon as I could and discovered Frank A. Edmunds & Co. I inquired about HL's in-store stock of Edmunds hoops, as I had seen only one on display, but the department manager told me she's only allowed to keep one on hand at a time. So I decided to order directly from the company.

I found the Edmunds & Co. website and discovered it is a small business in Chicago that has been manufacturing embroidery and sewing supplies (among quite a few other things) for over fifty years. I had a couple questions about their hoops, and while the website is functional it is a little slim on detailed descriptions, so I called the number at the bottom of the page. I was immediately on the phone with a very nice lady who told me the gentleman who could answer my questions was out, but she would take a message and have him call me back within half an hour. And he did! He was extremely friendly and helpful, answering all of my questions and telling me that if I ever had any more to please call back and he would be happy to help me. I don't care that much about a company's level of techy-ness, but the quality of the customer service will always be very important to me, and in this case it was so outstanding I wanted to place an order then and there. Reality being what it is I had to wait a bit, buuut...

It was worth the wait and I was able to order Edmunds hoops earlier today!! Can you tell I'm excited? :) I purchased a selection of 4", 6" and 8" wooden hoops, as I think that will be a nice variety of sizes to start with. I can't wait til they get here and I will be one step closer to creating things.

Good night, all, and cheerful dreams!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

blog transitions: change is in the air

Good evening! I've been making quite a few changes to ye olde blog today and after much deliberation (okay, agonizing) and endless tweaking I'm pretty happy with the results. As you can probably tell, I've discontinued the use of the name "unebellevie" and am going with "hoopsters". An explanation is probably in order :)

I love to embroider and would love even more to sell my embroidery on Etsy. I love all of the nifty little things involved, from the bits of fabric to the colorful floss to, of course, the hoops. And something that is so great about embroidery is that it's not only the finished products that are a delight to have around, but the "ingredients" themselves. I enjoy seeing hoops in a basket or pinned to my bulletin board, reorganizing fabric on a shelf or in a drawer, and peeking at my floss collection when my cat is not around.

I know the word "hoopster" is technically slang for a basketball player, but I also think of it as "a person who collects hoops" or possibly "a decorative piece of [art/needlework] hung in a hoop" :) Regardless, I like the sound of it and have adopted it as my new Etsy shop/blog name. My only problem is that is taken. What to do, what to do.

Sorry about the crummy picture, but to the left is an experimental Art Nouveau piece I embroidered. I've been playing around with different ways to transfer designs as well as some different design styles and stitches. This one was a test run but I hope to stock up some pieces for my shop soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stopping in to say "Hello!" & Changes on the horizon

Hello, dear readers! I am popping in to let you know that the format and name of my Etsy shop and blog will be changing very soon. This has certainly been a year full of experiments, some successful, some... not so much. However, everything that has happened has been a growing experience, which is what really matters, right? :)

A few of the things I have learned are as follows:

>Unless they are extremely obvious/familiar, using foreign words/phrases as an integral part of your brand isn't the best idea. I learned this the hard way. But, c'est la vie (hehe). Thankfully, Etsy is allowing shops to change their names October 18th/tonight/tomorrow, so I am eagerly awaiting further instructions, as they haven't told anyone the exact time this feature will become available.

>I feel a little guilty about this one, but... I discovered I really don't like taking pictures of things. Soo, while I will still have a small shop section of vintage items (at least temporarily), my shop's main focus will be the sale of items made by me (more details later). I understand that photography is and will always be an integral part of selling on Etsy, I just don't want it to be the only thing I do, if that makes sense. I have a persistent desire to create, make something with my hands, explore my imagination, and challenge myself creatively. A drastic shift in focus is required, so that's what I'm gonna do.

>Networking is fun! Though, like everything else, it requires moderation. I have a huge respect for people who blog every day or several times a week. Some of them managing a Facebook fan page at the same time. I honestly don't see how they do it. I guess what I'm saying is I don't have the multi-tasking skills to do it. Or maybe a shop, blog and FB page were too much too fast. Either way, I've chucked the Facebook fan page (as I'm not that big of a fan of Facebook anyway) and I'm keeping the blog and becoming more active in the shop. Choosing to spend my time trying to market instead of developing my shop and brand was not the savviest thing I've ever done ;)
Gabriel exploring his own creativity with finger paints :)

>I really do love Etsy. "Success" or "failure" aside, I love having an Etsy shop and taking part in the Etsy community. It's fun, encouraging, interesting, and inspiring; there truly is a place for everyone. Not to mention the practical side, in that it's the most user-friendly online market I've come across yet, whether you're a buyer or seller. I'm not just trying to put a plug in for Etsy; it's simply that it has opened up new possibilities for me, financially and creatively. I love being at home with my son, and my time with him and my husband is precious to me. However, I believe it is important to maintain personal interests and hobbies, and Etsy allows me to do this on a larger and (if I'm going to be honest) a more fulfilling level.

There are other things I've learned, of course, but those are the four that came to mind immediately :)

Something big (for us :) that has happened since my last post is... my husband found a new job!! *hip-hip-hooray!* He has a Bachelor's in Social Work and recently started working at TFI Family Services, Inc., which specializes in reintegrating children with their parents, foster care and adoption. This was a big deal for us because we live in a pretty rural area where turn-over in social service jobs is low. We were starting to wonder if he was ever going to find a job in his chosen field- and then it finally happened. He loves it. The only down-side is he has a rather lengthy commute every day to and from work, so we are planning on trying to move closer to his job within a year. Hmm, we'll see how that works out.

Watch for changes, and I am always open to feedback, of both kinds ;) So please, if you see a change that really doesn't work for you, or notice something you like a bit better than formerly, let me know!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

...and now, back to our regular programming :)

Greetings, faithful readers! I apologize for my long absence. Classes took over my life with a fury and I've been scrambling to catch up on everything since the semester ended. My dear husband deserves a lot of credit because he is the one who kept the house going and took care of our son Gabriel while I was caught up in homework madness... as well as when I was in a mini recovery hibernation :)

Nero, our newest addition :)
Summer is finally here, though (hooray!) and we're determined to enjoy every moment of it with lots of playing outside, reading, and other summery things. A couple of weeks ago we adopted a puggle(!) who my husband promptly named Nero, for Nero Wolfe. He is a sweet-tempered and sometimes, okay, often mischievous pup ;) He's full grown weighing in at about 28 lb, but the vet doesn't think he's much more than a year old. He and our kitty Keats didn't care for each other at first, as expected, but now they constantly play together and on occasion even cuddle.

I have a looong summer reading list waiting on me, as I've mentioned before, and so far I've re-read Wicked by Gregory Maguire, read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, re-read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (obviously! ;) and now I'm working on Northanger Abbey. Next I'm going to read Son of a Witch, Wicked's sequel. After that... hmm, not sure. What are YOU reading right now? I'm very curious, so make sure you post below! :)

I also started embroidering again, playing around with some of my own thread doodles ("designs" just sounds too pretentious haha ;) as well as some vintage ones. It never fails that I have all of these great ideas, especially at night, and then when it actually comes to executing them I'm not sure what to do. I'm also always afraid of ruining materials, so crafty experimenting scares me. Well, do or die, I'm determined to complete SOMEthing this week and post a picture. This is part of my scaredy-cat crafters anonymous therapy ;) What project(s) are you working on or have planned? What do you do when you're feeling intimidated by a project you've taken on?

I have found a few more favorite pieces on Etsy (of course!), so without further ado, here they are! I hope you love them as much as I do :)

Coffee Time by lauraamiss
"Creative Life" print by hellocherie 
Dream Big hand embroidery by merriweathercouncil

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yard sales, and sewing machines, and fabric. Oh my!

Salutations! We have had an awesome and very busy weekend. We've spent most of it playing outside: running around, chasing after balls, playing soccer, throwing a frisbee, making sure the kitten doesn't escape from the house, and practicing going up and down the back steps ;)

Yesterday morning I casually mentioned to my husband that yard saling sounded like fun (hehe :) There were some good-sounding advertisements in the paper, so we jumped in the car and took off in search of second hand treasures. I have been looking for a sturdy sewing machine ever since my inexpensive one from a mass-retailer-who-shall-not-be-named wore out in less than two years. I should have known better than to buy one there (not to mention that particular model), but it was a bit of a late-night, pre-baby impulse buy ;) Anyway, I've had my heart set on getting a vintage sewing machine, but every single one I've seen has either been out of my price range or there were essential bits missing. Well, yesterday I was finally able to satisfy my heart's desire :)

I found this White sewing machine (model 940) at the garage sale of an elderly lady who bought it brand new in 1973 from a sewing shop here in town. It is in immaculate condition and came with several attachments and other sewing accessories, as well as the rolls of fabric in the picture. It runs like a dream and I can't wait to get a project going (summer break, please hurry up!). I'm not a very experienced seamstress, but I realized that part of the problem was not having much confidence in my machine. That shouldn't be a problem now :)

The rolls of fabric I got are thick and mainly vintage-y plaids, with one tweedish piece and a wool-like grey. I'm trying to decide what to make out of them. If you have any ideas, let me know below. I'm curious to hear them!

This is a view I can definitely get used to :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Whimsical Wednesday: the sweet serenity of books

A good book and a cup of tea from Thesmokingcat
The love of learning,
the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I love to read. Love love love love love to read. I'm obsessed, smitten, can't stop thinking about what I'm going to read as soon as summer break gets here. One. more. month. and then I will be freeee to read whatever my heart desires!

Reading has always been an all-consuming activity for me. I tend to entirely zone out and be completely absorbed into the story, as if there were actually an alternate reality contained in the pages. Ahh, now what to read first after I have been liberated from this semester's oppression? (Yes, I'm in a rather melodramatic mood.) I'm always open to suggestions, though I already have quite a list going haha. A couple of books already on my rather lengthy list are...

The Crack in the Lens by Darlene Cypser. Last evening Odessa from the blog Book Eater featured this new novel, a prequel about Sherlock Holmes, and it sounds really good. She wrote a great review about it (without any spoilers!) that you can see here. It was very quickly added to my To-Read List :)

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence. I looove D.H. Lawrence, and a couple summers back I started a tradition of reading one of his novels every summer break. I've been meaning to read The Rainbow for ages and I am bound and determined that this year it will finally happen. There's something about his writing that appeals to me; it's probing and powerful and I find his thought-processes intriguing.

There are a ton of books I'd like to somehow squeeze in this summer, including re-reading at least two Jane Austen novels, Pride and Prejudice being one of them. What should the other be?

To celebrate this love for the written word, I have found a collection of whimsical items (it is Whimsical Wednesday after all :) for your perusal. I'd love to hear about some of your favorite books as well as who your favorite authors are. I know my To-Read List is about three miles long, but I'm always willing to expand my literary horizons just a little more :)

Paris, 1959 - Patrice Reads Obsessively, Sometimes To Her Own Detriment
from Purrr

Little Sailor Bookplates from thelittlefox

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it."  Oscar Wilde

I Read Banned Books Bracelet from CobwebCorner

Book Geek Necklace from bookgeekery

Pipino IV from holli

                                      Read to me riddles and read to me rhymes
                                      Read to me stories of magical times
                                      Read to me tales about castles and kings
                                      Read to me stories of fabulous things
                                      Read to me pirates and read to me knights
                                      Read to me dragons and dragon-book fights
                                      Read to me spaceships and cowboys and then
                                      When you are finished- please read them again.
                                              Read to me ~ Jane Yolen
A book is like a garden from matouenpeluche

My Greatest Adventures from TheLightFantastic

Our Book Club notecards from trafalgarssquare
Books to the ceiling
Books to the sky
My piles of books are a mile high
How I love them
How I need them
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them
Books to the ceiling ~ Arnold Lobel

Shakespeare and Company Book Store, Paris, France from metroline6
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.” Christopher Morley