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