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?"


"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?"


"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.


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.


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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

{Review} The Night Circus: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday, 2011
Hardcover, 387 pages
ISBN 0385534639
Genres: adult fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magic, magical realism, paranormal, romance, YA

Summary (via Goodreads): The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

My review: I enjoyed The Night Circus reasonably well. The descriptions of the circus creators’ parties, the circus itself, and the cities visited are marvelous. The characters are interesting and the lengthy span of time covered in the novel allows the reader to get to know them better than would otherwise be possible. The story is very involved with certain aspects becoming clearer and others more complicated the farther into the book you get. The circus is a magnificent creation on the part of the author and she clearly describes it so as to give the reader the feeling that they are really there eating licorice mice, visiting the striped tents, and being mesmerized by the magical shows found within.

My two favorite characters are Bailey Clarke, a young circus-goer, and Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a clockmaker. They are, I feel, the real heroes of the story and about the only ones I feel empathy for. Bailey is 10 years old the first time he visits the circus, immediately falling in love with it. Herr Thiessen develops such a deep connection with the circus that he begins writing articles about it and inadvertently forms a circus-lovers club of sorts. The rest of the characters are, as I mentioned, interesting, but I rarely felt any strong emotions towards them or about anything they did. I think one issue is a lack of character development. Celia and Marco don’t seem to ever change, and their parts in the ending were predictable and a little lackluster. Poppet and Widget, twins born into the circus, are sweet but they don’t significantly change either even though almost their whole lives are chronicled off and on.

The style of the book was rather aggravating and the constant jumping between characters, from city to city, and back and forth (and back and forth and back again) in time got very annoying. I enjoy books that jump around in time a bit and/or have flashbacks, etc. but this was just too much, especially since a whole “chapter” of the book would frequently only be one to two pages long. I feel that with a slightly more linear time frame my reading experience would have been greatly improved.

I suppose, though, my biggest problem with this book involves the basis of the plot: the magicians’ duel. What exactly was the point? The man in the grey suit (Alexander) and Prospero the Magician pit the two young people against each other, but why? What is their history? How many times have they done this? Was Prospero involved in one such duel earlier in his life? How old are they, anyway? Tsukiko enlightens the reader somewhat with her personal account and in one of the last sections of the book Widget and Alexander sit down together and talk, the latter giving a very slight explanation for what the duel was all about. Other than that, though, there really isn’t much information given. I don’t know if the author thought up this amazing premise and then had a hard time following through, or if she and her editor felt they couldn’t make the book any longer (it’s only 387 pages, though), or what happened, but I am pretty disappointed. I don’t hate this book by any means, and I would be interested in reading anything else Ms. Morgenstern writes next, but I don’t have any strong positive feelings about it either. The only people I would recommend this book to are those who are fast readers, have a good deal of patience, and already love fantasy and magic.

I would love to hear your thoughts on The Night Circus below and thank you so much for stopping by!

Mary Beth

Monday, August 27, 2012

{Review} The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society #1) by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society (The Mysterious Benedict Society #1) by Trenton Lee Stewart
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2007
Hardcover, 492 pages
ISBN 0316057770
Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all? Welcome to the Mysterious Benedict Society.

My review: This is a cute book with fun characters and a very quirky adventure. Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance, the four children who one way or another pass the tests, make a great team, every child having unique strengths and weaknesses that make each essential to the others. Reynie is easiest to identify with and it is his perspective the narrative is most frequently told from. I like Reynie a lot, what with his sweet temperament, intelligence, occasional melancholia, and fierce loyalty. The rest of the children are much more far-fetched, though Sticky is quite lovable, Kate brave, and Constance hilariously stubborn. Mr. Benedict is the mastermind behind the tests and the mission the children must go on, and while he is a very likable character he is hard to get to know from the reader's perspective. I suppose as far as Mr. Benedict goes, I was expecting better character development. I hope, though, that since this book is only the first in a series the author has in later books evolved his character to a much more satisfactory degree as well as given the reader more history on him.

The story line meanders along pretty slowly, and while the ending is decent it is inevitable and lacking in excitement. I understand this is children's/YA fiction, so it's not going to be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller, but I was expecting something a little more lively. Also, this book is almost 500 pages long and tells a story that, with a good editor, could easily have been told in 200-300 pages. I enjoyed this book but it didn't inspire strong feelings in me, hence the three star rating. I plan on reading the other three books in the series because the first did inspire curiosity, I really like the illustrations, and I'm hoping that Mr. Stewart has resolved some of the issues present in the first. If you really like A Series of Unfortunate Events, Roald Dahl's children's fiction, The Borrowers books, etc. and have a lively imagination and a semblance of patience, I suggest you read The Mysterious Benedict Society. If faster-paced adventure/fantasy books such as the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson  series are more your thing, though, I would probably pass on this one.
Mary Beth

Friday, August 24, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #2}

Frabjous Friday is a feature in which I share books I have recently borrowed, won, been given, or purchased. Well, I haven't entered any book giveaways in quite some time, it wasn't my birthday or Christmas, and I'm a little on the broke side. So this week I went to the amazing public library... :)

Genres: adventure, children's fiction, fantasy, magic, paranormal, science fiction, YA

This is the fifth in a series of seven (the seventh coming out in 2013!) and I can't wait to read it. Or numbers  6 and 7 for that matter. I adore Septimus, Beetle, Jenna, and Nicko, and the adventures they go on are fun and suspenseful. I love the way magic works in these books and the roles the wizards and witches and other creatures play. This is an imaginative series in which the later books have been as good as the first; a trend I fully expect to continue.

The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire

Genres: children's fiction, fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction, YA

I really like Gregory Maguire but it's rather hit or miss with his books. I love the Wicked Years series but am not such a fan of some of his others. I would like to read all of his works, though, plus this is a really small book, so I thought I would give it a chance. I'll let you know how it is!

Genres: adult fiction, contemporary fiction, mystery, suspense, thriller

Jack and I discovered the television show Bones early summer 2011 and it immediately became one of our all-time favorite series. Ever since then I have been meaning to read the books on which the show is based. I finally picked one up this week and can't wait to start it. I have heard there are quite a few differences between the two but that each are good in their own way. Thoughts on the books vs. the show? I'd love to hear them!

I don't include very many books in my Frabjous Friday feature because I only borrow what I'm fairly confident I'll be able to read in a week or so (what with school starting, having an active little boy, etc.). I don't want to get a stack of books, feature them, not read them, and then never mention them again. This seems like the most prudent plan, but please feel free to let me know what you think (the good and the bad!) and any suggestions you may have. Thanks for stopping by bibliophyte and have an awesomely Frabjous day!
 Mary Beth

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

{Review} What-the-Dickens by Gregory Maguire

Published by Candlewick Press, 2007
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN 0763629618
Genres: children's fiction, fairy tales, fantasy, magic, paranormal, urban fantasy, YA

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A terrible storm is raging, and Dinah is huddled by candlelight with her brother, sister, and cousin Gage, who is telling a very unusual tale. It’s the story of What-the-Dickens, a newly hatched orphan creature who finds he has an attraction to teeth, a crush on a cat named McCavity, and a penchant for getting into trouble. One day he happens upon a feisty girl skibberee working as an Agent of Change — trading coins for teeth — and learns of a dutiful tribe of tooth fairies to which he hopes to belong. As his tale unfolds, however, both What-the-Dickens and Dinah come to see that the world is both richer and far less sure than they ever imagined.

My review: This is a difficult book to review. I adore What-the-Dickens and Pepper, and much of his/their story is extremely charming and sweet. The narrative about Dinah and her siblings and Gage, however, was simply hard to get into and doesn't make a lot of sense. It also takes up way too much of the book without any kind of satisfactory character or plot development or even a decent resolution. In addition, I'm rather disappointed in Mr. Maguire because it would seem that he modeled the children after religious and homeschooling stereotypes without a lot of first-hand knowledge of such lifestyles. The reason I say this is because not every homeschooling family breeds religious fanatics, a family's religion or faith is not always the motivation for homeschooling, and homeschooled is not necessarily synonymous with antisocial. To be honest, I'm not sure what his point is regarding the children's upbringing because the story would be much greater served without all of the extra religious/sheltered angst.

The story Gage tells about the skibbereen, on the other hand, is fun, magical and feels much more like a proper fairy tale. I love old Mrs. Gangster and her collection of morbid books (gifts from her family), the mama grisset and her maternal affection for What-the-Dickens, and the tooth-achy Bengal tiger, Maharajah. The skibbereen are an awesome and very imaginative creation, and What-the-Dickens and Pepper, what with their evolution and growth throughout the story, have enormous potential for further adventures. 

Unfortunately, in addition to the problems mentioned above there is an awkward disjointedness between the two stories, absolutely unbelievable dialogue among the children and Gage, more cheesy and inept adults than you'll find in an episode of Scooby-Doo, and long dull stretches that interrupt and ruin the suspense and magic of What-the-Dickens' story. As much as I enjoyed the fairy tale bits, I had a hard time mustering up enough enthusiasm to even give this book two stars. I am very disappointed in What-the-Dickens and to be honest, I can't think of anyone I would recommend it to.

Mary Beth

Monday, August 20, 2012

{Review} The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind (El cementerio de los libros olvidados #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; translated by Lucia Graves
Published by The Penguin Press HC, 2004 (originally published 2001)
Hardcover, 487 pages
ISBN 1594200106
Genres: adult fiction, fantasy, gothic novel, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, philosophy, thriller

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

My review: This novel is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I knew it would be one of this year's favorites before I was half-way through it. Between the fascinating story line, well-developed characters, and elegant style, The Shadow of the Wind is hard to compete with. What initially drew me in was discovering it is a book about books: a mysterious and secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books and a certain volume discovered within.  The main protagonist, Daniel, enthusiastically delves into this previously-forgotten novel and begins unraveling the mystery of its tormented author, leading to a years-long quest culminating in a stunning ending. This book is part adventure story, part mystery, part historical drama, part thriller, with a sprinkling of fantastical elements and philosophical questions. In addition, it is Daniel's coming-of-age story, bittersweet in that the reader re-experiences all of the doubts, questions and fears of growing up. It is, in my opinion, the perfect cross-genre piece.

The characters evolve and develop, becoming richer and more familiar the farther into the book the reader gets. They are unpredictable and so very human, each with their own temperaments, faults and dreams. I love that although Daniel is the main protagonist, the author has labored to make each and every character unique and indispensable to the plot. The cast of characters is pretty large, though instead of becoming a hindrance for the reader it simply makes the novel that much more enjoyable. Daniel is one of my favorite characters because he is compassionate, curious, and intelligent. Another favorite character would have to be Fermin, a man whom Daniel literally stumbles upon who has been living on the streets. He has an extremely shadowy past, more aliases than you can count, and a case of PTSD that would land a lesser man in a sanitarium (or worse); and yet, through it all, he has an indomitable spirit and an admirable code of honor.

This novel is set mainly in Barcelona, Spain with a small portion taking place in Paris, France. The imagery is incredible and it is obvious the author, who was born in Barcelona, is extremely knowledgeable about its geography. The streets of the two cities literally come alive and while I have always wanted to travel in Europe, my desire has rarely been stronger than while I was reading this novel. It was fascinating to read about life in Barcelona immediately following the Spanish Civil War: the still-apparent signs of destruction, the fragile state of politics on every level, the drudgery of a struggling economy, the deaths of loved ones still hanging in the air. The complexity and multi-faceted nature of The Shadow of the Wind is stunning.

I would strongly recommend reading this book; it is one I would love to own myself. I originally thought it was a stand-alone but am thrilled to report it is actually the first in a series! El cementerio de los libros olvidados (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books) series includes The Shadow of the Wind (#1), of course, The Angel's Game (#2), The Prisoner of Heaven (#3), and The Rose of Fire (#.5), the last being a short story available only in ebook form. I cannot wait to read and review the entire series, as well as Carlos Ruiz Zafon's other works.
Mary Beth

Friday, August 17, 2012

{Frabjous Friday #1}

I have decided to resurrect my Frabjous Friday feature! For a while it was a meme of sorts in which I shared cool things I had recently discovered on Etsy or wherever else I had been browsing about. While it was fun and some of it was book-themed, that's not exactly relevant to what I'm doing with bibliophyte now.

Therefore, Frabjous Friday has been reborn as a weekly feature in which I will share the books I have recently won, been given, borrowed, or purchased. Before I dive into this past week's loot, though, let us take a moment to examine the word Frabjous.

Frabjous: adj a word imagined up by Lewis Carroll and used to describe a happy day; ex, as read in Jabberwocky: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Now that we all feel better because of the magic of nonsense words, on to the loot!

From the (amazing) local library:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Genres: fantasy, romance, adult fiction, historical fiction, magic, YA, magical realism

This is what I'm starting as soon as I'm done with this post. (Even though I really should start writing another review *ahem*.) I have been wanting to read this for ages but never had the opportunity because it was always checked out at the library. It is a beautiful book and has provoked a whole spectrum of reactions, so I really can't wait :)

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Genres: fantasy, magical realism, women's fiction, romance, paranormal, adult fiction

I ran across this the other day and thought I'd give it a try since I enjoyed Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers so much. (I apologize for the terrible quality of the cover photo.)

Genres: mystery, children's fiction, YA, historical fiction fantasy

I have wanted to read this book ever since I first saw the cover on Goodreads. The illustrations are fabulous and it's gotten pretty good reviews on Goodreads. I really hope it lives up to my expectations.

Purchased from my local used bookstore

Genres: paranormal, vampires, horror, fantasy, occult, adult fiction

I have read the first three volumes in The Vampire Chronicles (Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned) and loved them (though I really need to re-read them, and in order this time, ha). It's a series I would really like to own, so I have decided to buy them when I see hardback copies in great condition and reasonably priced. This fit the bill even if it is #10, i.e.: the last one. Oh well, I'll get the whole series eventually and until then I can just borrow them from the (awesome) library.

I'd love to know what you think of these books and please feel free to share what you've recently acquired! I hope you have a Frabjous Friday!
Mary Beth