Friday, November 30, 2012

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy Weekend, one and all.  And happy December, no less.  I'm feeling pretty proud of myself at the mo, because I've basically finished my Christmas shopping.  True, I wasn't buying for many, but it's nice to get it done and dusted, rather than trailing around Yeovil in the week before Christmas.  Yeovil is many things, but a horn o' plenty it is not.  I tell you what does keep giving and giving - and that's the Weekend Miscellany.  Enjoy!

1.) The book - I've tended to turn down review copies during 2012, as A Century of Books has restricted the (already limited) number of new books I wanted to read - but I was very tempted by A is for Angelica by Iain Broome, published by Legend Press.  Here's the info I was sent:
Set in a northern mining town, the novel deftly draws us into the secretive life of troubled Gordon Kingdom. Gordon struggles with the fate of his seriously ill wife and patiently observes the unusual goings-on of his neighbours in Cressingham Vale. The arrival of the enigmatic Angelica prompts Gordon to make difficult decisions, as well as to embark on a flurry of cake baking. The book elegantly weaves prosaic tragedy, dark comedy and Hitchcockian menace.

It all sounds like it might fit with my love of Edward Carey, Barbara Comyns etc.  I'll let you know when I get around to reading it!

2.) The blog post - I know I've been championing Claire's reading of A.A. Milne all year, but if you read only one review of an A.A. Milne book this year, make it her brilliant review of Peace With Honour.  It's definitely made me want to re-read it.

3.) The link - I've been getting into the sketch comedy of BriTANick on Youtube.  It's sometimes 'a little near the knuckle', as Our Vicar's Wife would say, but a lot of it is also very funny.  Here's their brilliant Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever Trailer (er, the screencap isn't very representative of the content):





Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rise of the Guardians: Movie Novelization adapted by Stacia Deutsch –ADVISABLE


Deustch, Stacia Rise of the Guardians: Movie Novelization 144 pgs. Simon Spotlight, 2012. $6.99. (Rating:G)
There’s a new guardian –Jack Frost. The other guardians –North, Bunny, and Tooth are confused –all Jack does is cause mischief! When Pitch the boogeyman starts turning dreams to nightmares –a crisis of the worst kind happens –the children stop believing in the guardians. Turns out Jack Frost might be just the thing the guardians need to help save them all. Jack helps Jamie, the last child who believes in them. They will all need to work together if they are to have any hope of defeating Pitch.
I will admit it –I absolutely hate the series this book/movie is based on (by William Joyce). But thanks to Dreamworks and its talented screenwriters/ adaption writer –this was actually a really fantastic chapter book! They were somehow able to convert a cheesy concept and poorly executed stories into a  interesting, funny, and entertaining book with engaging characters. If the movie is anything like the book –I will go see it! This is going to be a popular read. It includes images from the animate movie.
EL -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

Boys who Rocked the World by Michelle Roehm McCann –ADVISABLE


McCann, Michelle Roehm Boys who Rocked the World 256 pgs. Aladdin/Beyond Words, 2012. $9.99.  (Rating: G)
This book is the same in format as its Girls counterpart. It features over 45 stories of men throughout history that took a chance, made the best of their talents and in many cases put the effort to accomplish their goals.  A little creative license starts each story –allowing the reader a peak into the head of the man portrayed. My favorites were Ferragamo, Bruce Lee, and Stan Lee. Examples from the book are. Also featured are real life teens responding to how they will “rock the world”.
Would have been top notch if it had included pictures, sigh. Some of these were a total rehash of much told stories but a few were surprising –like Stan Lee. They really did a good job of adding some fresh faces to the mix but the old standbys were kind of boring. I think students will enjoy this snapshot biography format –interesting and short!
ELEMENTARY –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The Garrick Year - Margaret Drabble

I've bought up a few old Margaret Drabble titles over the years, all in slightly trippy old Penguin editions, but I've never actually got around to reading one of them before.  The one I really wanted to read was The Millstone, since I've heard complimentary comparisons to one of my favourite books, The L-Shaped Room, but it was 1964 that needed filling on A Century of Books, so I picked my second choice - The Garrick Year.  Cup-mark and all (not my doing.)


What drew me towards The Garrick Year was its theatrical setting.  As I've mentioned over the years, I am fascinated by the theatre and love reading about it in fact or fiction.  One of my Five From The Archive posts even covered the topic.  So I was keen to see how Emma and her actor husband David would get on when they move to Hereford for the opening of a new theatre.  And then it all went rather wrong.  No, not the plot, but my enjoyment of the novel.  Partly this was because of my reasons for reading it - I love to hear the theatre praised or teased, but treated always with affection, and even a little reverence.  Because that's how I feel about it, I suppose.  Emma, however, just mocks it completely.
For those who have never heard actors discuss their trade, I may say that there is nothing more painfully boring on earth.  I think it is their lack of accuracy, their frightful passion for generality that rob their discussions of interest.  They were talking, this time, about that ancient problem of whether one should, while acting, be more aware of the audience of the person or person with whom one is playing the scene: I must have heard this same argument once a fortnight over the last four years, and never has anyone got a step nearer to any kind of illumination, because instead of talking rationally they just wander round the morasses of their own personalities, producing their own weaknesses for examination as though they were interesting, objective facts about human nature.
I don't think I realised quite how much I do revere the theatre, until I bristled at this sort of blasphemy!  And, oh, what a cow Emma is.  I know some say it shouldn't matter how likeable a character is, but I always maintain (as others have said before me) that it does matter if the author clearly sets up a character to be likeable, and fails.  And, after all, I often like books because they have charming characters, so why shouldn't it work the other way around?

I have to confess, I had a problem with Emma as soon as she admitted preferring London to the countryside.  But things get worse than that.  Emma is one of those miserable people who moans all the time about everything, but does nothing to change her life.  She has no paid employment, and whines about looking after their two children - which would be fair enough, if she didn't have a full-time, live-in nanny.  Quite what she does with her day is unclear, but later she manages to fill the hours by thoughtlessly embarking on an affair with the producer of the theatre.  She appears to have no concern at all for her marriage vows, having declared earlier that the only reason she hadn't committed adultery was that she hadn't had the opportunity.

There isn't much plot or narrative drive in The Garrick Year.  It's mostly Emma's introspective, self-pitying waffle.  Thankfully it's at least well written, which is the only reason I persevered with what is, in fact, a slim novel.  Although Drabble isn't quite as good a writer as I'd expected - I'd argue she's not as good as Lynne Reid Banks - but it isn't clunky or cliche-ridden or anything like that, and she creates the background characters rather well: among them is Sofy, an ambitious young actress whose talents (if any) do not lie in the direction of acting, and I rather enjoyed any moment that Emma and David's young daughter was on the scene - she could be quite funny.  In terms of structure, Drabble went (I am sorry to say) for one of those last-minute-big-events which seem the last ditch effort of a novelist who knows their novel hasn't been very exciting yet - you know the sort?

Perhaps I'll enjoy Drabble more when her topic is different, or her character less selfish and awful. I wondered, while I was reading this, whether it might be her second novel - and, lo and behold, it was.  It has neither the inspiration of a first novel, nor the assured confidence of a later book - so hopefully I just picked up a dud, and there will be plenty more to try later.  I do recognise that she is a good writer, and I'm not giving up on her yet.  Any suggestions?

The BLI Holiday Reading Challenge 2012

The BLI Holiday Reading Challenge
I don´t know how I missed this challenge! Between work and the house, I am exhausted. But my guilty pleasure is reading Christmas books. I love them, I even made a list of the Christmas books I wanted to read this year (now I have more).

Anyway, I'm going for the Candy Cane-aholic level: read 7 or more holiday themed books.

If you want to know the rules and sign up, please visit Book Lovers Inc.

Books Read (coming soon!):
  1. Mistletoe Mischief by Stacey Joy Netzel
  2. White Christmas by Emma Lee-Potter
  3. Christmas Without Holly by Nicola Yeager

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Cheerful Readalong

I adore Julia Strachey's novel Cheerful Weather For the Wedding - more here - and I was very excited when I found out that a film was being made.  It was going to cinema, then straight to DVD, now I think it's back on for the cinema.  I was excited, but with some trepidation, as it struck me as the sort of book which might not translate well to screen.  It's so dryly, bitingly funny, and not at all serious.  But I'm impressed with this trailer, and think they might well have caught the tone...



I'll be re-reading it before the film comes out, and wondered if anybody fancied joining me for a bit of a group read in January?  All very informal - just post a review when you want to (in, say, the last week of January) and I'll have a discussion here.  It's very short and very good - although does divide people quite a lot, so should be interesting to discuss.

Let me know if you're interested!  A Persephone edition is available, indeed two Persephone editions are available, as it got the beautiful Persephone Classics reprint treatment.


Fun fun!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan -- PUBLIC

Green, John and David Levithan Will Grayson, Will Grayson. 336 pgs. Speak, 2011. $9.99. Language: R, Sexual Content: R, Violence: PG-13.

Told in alternating viewpoints by two boys, both named Will Grayson. One is quiet, easily-embarrassed and wry. He struggles to keep to himself despite the efforts of his best friend Tiny, a giant, flamboyantly homosexual boy who loves to live life in the spotlight. A second Will Grayson owns the alternate scenes. He is depressed, cynical, and very firmly in the closet. When a series of events lead to Will Grayson meeting, well, the other Will Grayson, their lives -- as well as the lives of those around them -- are irrevocably changed.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is by turns hilarious, poignant, romantic, and whiny, but it is ultimately uplifting and it kept me intrigued throughout. I recommend the audio version, as the story contains a number of original songs from the musical Tiny writes, all of which are performed by the narrators themselves. While I highly recommend the book, the frequent (and very detailed) sexual references, as well as the copious swear words (several worse than 'f') make this one more suitable for older teens in a public library setting.

HS -- PUBLIC ONLY. Reviewed by: Caryn.

Toads and Tessellations: A Math Adventure by Sharon Morrisette - OPTIONAL

Morrisette, Sharon and Philomena O'Neill Toads and Tessellations: A Math Adventure. 32 pgs. Enzo longs to be a magician like his father, but every spell he casts goes awry. When his father goes away for a week, however, little Enzo is left to deal with customers who need magical help, including the shoemaker and his sister, who are trying to find a way to cut twelve pairs of shoes from one piece of leather. Through trial and error, the three of them figure out how to use up every scrap of leather using what they dub "tessellations." In the end, Enzo learns his true magic: math.

While the idea of presenting math in a fictional format is a good one, the lesson itself is lost in the many text-heavy pages filled with backstory and description. By the time the characters actually begin to work with tessellations, their significance is overshadowed and the lesson is unclear. Because of time constraints, the length makes it difficult to use this book in a math lesson, and the obvious curricular focus makes it an unlikely choice for students to pick up on their own. On the other hand, the illustrations throughout show numerous examples of tessellations, including floor tiles, dresses, and window panes. Finding them could be a fun game that could reinforce learning. EL, MS - OPTIONAL. Reviewed by: Caryn

Reading Presently: The Badge

I'm pleased to announce that the winning badge for my Reading Presently project is this lovely one by Agnieszka - isn't it nice?


I've scaled up my project - I'm now going to try to read 50 books, rather than 25, that have been given as gifts.  I'm excited about finding out about all these books which have been hidden on my shelves!  It probably isn't the most reader-friendly project, but I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing - and I intend to do A Century of Books again in 2014.

Do join in, and use the badge, if you'd like to!

Thanks again, Agnieszka - I'll get a bookish prize off to you!

Monday, November 26, 2012

My day in books - Cornflower strikes again!


I've been meaning to do Cornflower's My Day In Books - fill in the answers with books you've read this year.  It's tricky, and I seem to have moved to the coast, but always fun!  Do have a go yourself, and check out Karen's original post.  (Where I have reviewed the books, they get a link.)

I began the day by A View of the Harbour

before breakfasting on Brighton Rock

and admiring The World I Live In.

On my way to work I saw Art in Nature

and walked by The Sea, The Sea

to avoid The Wrong Place,

but I made sure to stop at The Other Garden.

In the office, my boss said Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,

and sent me to research More Women Than Men.

At lunch with Spinster of this Parish

I noticed Sweet William

in The Corner That Held Them

greatly enjoying Green Thoughts.

Then on the journey home, I contemplated All The Books of My Life

because I have Enthusiasms

and am drawn to The Uncommon Reader*.

Settling down for the evening, Back to Home and Duty,

I studied Elders and Betters

by I. Compton-Burnett

before saying goodnight to One Fine Day.

*This review is from 2007, but I re-read it earlier this year

Sunday, November 25, 2012

La Grande Thérèse - Hilary Spurling

La Grande Thérèse (1999) was one of those impulse purchases I sometimes make in Oxford's £2 bookshop - the Matisse painting on the cover; the fact that Hilary Spurling wrote it; the subtitle 'The Greatest Swindle of the Century'; its brevity.  I was sold.  And the book was sold.  To me.

La Grande Thérèse tells the true (amazingly!) story of Thérèse Daurignac, born into a fairly poor family, with no rich connections or impressive prospects, but who managed to become Madame Humbert, one of the most successful society women in fin-de-siècle Paris, with all the major players of the day visiting her home and paying her homage.  Three Frence presidents and at least five British prime ministers were amongst her friends.

How did she manage this?  By what talent or good fortune?

By lying.

Somehow, simply through deceit, 'her ingenuous air and her adorable lisp', and a ruthless selfishness, Thérèse elevated herself and her family to the highest ranks of society.  Spurling's short book tells the story of her rise - and, in 1902, her catastrophic fall.   She started with small fry - in Toulouse she managed to outwit dressmakers and hairdressers with promises of an inheritance soon to be given her.   This was just small scale for what she would eventually do.  Thérèse married Frédéric Humbert, a shy man with a sharp legal brain, and together the plot continued apace.  Wherever she went, Thérèse spoke of a legacy that would be hers - over the years it escalated, until it was in the millions.  A strongbox, purportedly containing the legal papers of this legacy, was kept in its own locked room, occasionally shown to an important visitor.  Thérèse expertly built up a mystique around her fortune - and on the back of it bought an enormous home on the avenue de la Grande Armée.  She rarely paid for anything at all, and her family (including a rather violent - possibly, Spurling suggests, murderously so - brother) wangled loans of staggering amounts from people up and down the country.  Such were their powers of persuasion.
All her life Thérèse treated money as an illusion: a confidence or conjuring trick that had to be mastered.
Spurling goes through Thérèse's family in a little more depth, exploring the characters of various siblings and children (and especially develops the nature of one relative by marriage, an avant-garde artist called... Henri Matisse!) but the outline is there - and, such is the brevity of La Grande Thérèse, that the outline isn't expanded a huge amount.  It is astonishing that this trickster got so far - but, of course, it couldn't last.  With hundreds of creditors wanting their money, it turned out to be a relatively minor court order (for the address of her mysterious American benefactor) which brought the whole house of cards down.  The family disappeared.  The nation was in outcry.  A lengthy trial eventually... but, no.  Although this is not a novel, I shall not spoil the ending.

The most curious thing about Spurling's book is that such a thing could happen without everybody knowing about to this day.  She discusses, in an epilogue, the various reasons why this scandal has been covered up - 'if the Dreyfus affair had knocked the stuffing out of the right wing and the army, the Humbert affair seemed likely to do the same for the Left and its civil administration' - but   it still seems extraordinary that such a shocking tale could be all but forgotten.  The second most curious thing about Spurling's book is the writing style she adopts.  From beginning to end, it is written almost as though it were a fairy tale.  Here is how it opens:
Thérèse Daurignac was born in 1856 in the far southwest of France in the province of the Languedoc, once celebrated for its troubadours and their romances.  Life for Thérèse in the little village of Aussonne, just outside Toulouse, was anything but romantic.  She was the eldest child in a poor family: a stocky, bright-eyed little girl, not particularly good-looking, with nothing special about her except the power of her imagination.  Thérèse told stories.  In an age without television, in a countryside where most people still could not read, she transformed the narrow, drab, familiar world of the village children into something rich and strange.
Our sympathies even seem to be nudged towards Thérèse and her family, admiring the audacity of her financial conjuring tricks.  In a fairy tale, perhaps she would be a heroine - because consequences in a fairy tale are not really consequences.  Yet her selfish ambition destroyed many, many lives - thousands of people were left ruined; a substantial number killed themselves.  They are not quite forgotten by Spurling, but this extraordinary tale could easily have been given a more tragic structure, rather than the they-do-it-with-mirrors account Spurling prioritises.

There are no footnotes in The Grande Thérèse, or even sourcing - no proper bibliography or indication where Spurling got individual facts and quotations from (although the illustrations are referenced properly.)  As I rather suspected, Spurling wrote The Grande Thérèse as a tangent while researching a book on Matisse, and perhaps she simply wanted a holiday from academic writing.  I was perfectly happy to be swept along by the bizarre facts Spurling presents - perhaps they suit this sort of storytelling, rather than a chunky, footnoted biography - but it does leave me with many unanswered questions, not least about Thérèse's psyche and conscience.  But those are questions for the novelist, not the writer of non-fiction and The Grande Thérèse is far more striking as non-fiction than it could be as fiction.  If you fancy being shocked and surprised, and don't mind being left a touch bewildered, then go and find this extraordinary little book.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Liar Society by Lisa and Laura Roecker-OPTIONAL

Roecker, Lisa & Laura, The Liar Society. Sourcebooks, 2011. Pgs. 361. Language: PG, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: PG

Kate Lowry’s best friend, Grace, died a year ago. So when Kate gets an email from her asking for Kate’s help, she’s a little confused. Kate begins to suspect that Grace’s death wasn’t an accident and that the answers reside within the walls of the prestigious Pemberly Brown Acadamy that Kate attends. With the help of two boys at her school, Liam and Seth, she continues to investigate and clues continue to come through emails, as well as an apparition of Grace. As the clues unfold so do secrets so big that certaub people will do anything to protect. Can Grace and her two friends solve Grace’s murder before they too are dead?

Although the parents seem a little too clueless, the main characters are likable and endearing. The plot is fast-paced, chilling and suspenseful. Readers who like mysteries, ghost stories, and horror will enjoy reading this book MS, HS. OPTIONAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Girls who Rocked the World by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden –ESSENTIAL


McCann, Michelle Roehm and Welden, Amelie Girls who Rocked the World 256 pgs. Aladdin/Beyond Words, 2012. $11.55.  (Rating: G)
Over 40 stories of women throughout history that overcome roadblocks, developed their talents, and mostly just worked hard to make a difference. A little creative license starts each story –allowing the reader a peak into the head of the woman portrayed. Examples from the book are Sacajawea  Mary Anning, and Ann Pavlova. Also featured are real life teens responding to how they will “rock the world”.
To be honest, I was ready to be bored. I have read about some of these women numerous times, and a lot of these types of collections can be a pretty dry recitation of facts. But this book was more than a pleasant surprise -it was GREAT!! The fictionalized start to each person really drew me in, the facts were fresh and new to me, and I learned a TON! But when will these publishers learn that readers like pictures!? For example –Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, a painter featured, was a very prolific artist –and I want to see her art as I am learning about her -but this book is void of imagery!!  Still a wonderful teaching tool.
ELEMENTARY -ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

Rise of the Guardians: Jamie to the Rescue (Ready to Read Level 2) adapted by Gallo, Tina –ADVISABLE


Gallo, Tina Rise of the Guardians: Jamie to the Rescue (Ready to Read Level 2) 32 pgs. Simon Spotlight, 2012. $3.99.  (Rating: G)
Jamie has an extra good time playing in the snow with his friends, including a wild sled ride. What he doesn't know is that he was getting a little help from the mischievous Jack Frost. Later, during the night, he gets a visit from all of the Guardians –North, Bunny, and Tooth. He wonders if it’s all a dream until they need his help to defeat Pitch.
Usually the big stories made reduced into these early readers are pretty confusing and crowded, but this one was great! Younger students will be thrilled to be able to read this story themselves.
EL -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

Jepo, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh-ADVISABLE

Marsh, Katherine, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 385. Language: G, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: G

 When 15-year-old Jepp, a dwarf in the late 16thcentury, wakes up to find himself beaten badly and in a cage, he finds himself caught between the pull of the past, the promise of the future, and the forces of fate and free will. As time passes, Jepp begins to recall the events that led him to where he is, from his humble upbringing in an inn to becoming a court dwarf (a position of humiliation, danger, and opportunity entwined). As a court dwarf, he had experience great injustices in Coudenberg Palace along with his friend, Lia. He managed to escape with his friend only to be imprisoned again and spirited across the sea to a place in Europe only to become nothing more than a pet dog to an astronomer by the name of Tycho Brahe. Will Jepp overcome his fate and become a person he can respect?

 Although the third section pales in comparison a bit to the first two, readers will easily sympathize and like Jepp and his humorous, self-deprecating personality. In addition to to a well-crafted main character, Katherine recreates a fantastic world that draws the reader in. The plot is gripping, balanced, unique, and well-developed. Readers who like historical fiction, adventure, and good characters will enjoy reading this book. MS, HS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Song for a Sunday

Love this song... that is all!  Over to Paolo Nutini and 'Candy'.  Let it wash over you, and forget that it's only one month til Christmas...




Book Review: Naughty and Nice by Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Stefanie Sloane

Title: Naughty and Nice
Authors: Ruthie Knox, Molly O'Keefe, Stefanie Sloane
Published: November 5th 2012 by Loveswept
Age: Adult
’Tis the season for romance with three original holiday-themed novellas! Unwrap this festive eBook bundle and discover why these authors are quickly becoming the biggest names in the genre. Ruthie Knox tells a heartwarming contemporary story of first loves given the gift of a second chance; Molly O’Keefe releases the ghosts of Christmas past with a prequel to her novel Crazy Thing Called Love; and Stefanie Sloane weaves an irresistible Regency tale of fiery passion that burns deep on a cold winter’s night.

ROOM AT THE INN by Ruthie Knox

Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU by Molly O’Keefe

Maddy Baumgarten and Billy Wilkins are spontaneous, in love, and prepared to elope the day after Christmas—that is, if Maddy’s family doesn’t throw a wrench in their plans. After all, Maddy’s barely out of high school and Billy’s a notorious bad boy. Maddy doesn’t care about Billy’s rough past—all she cares about is living in the here and now. But after Maddy’s mother stops speaking to her in protest, and a Christmas Eve heart-to-heart with her father leaves her with butterflies, Maddy starts to get cold feet. She loves Billy, but is she taking this big step too soon?

ONE PERFECT CHRISTMAS by Stephanie Sloane

After being jilted by her fiancé, Jane Merriweather turns to her dear childhood friend, the Honorable Lucas Cavanaugh, for support—and unlocks the smoldering desire simmering in the man’s troubled heart. Frightened by his newfound feelings, Lucas flees to Scotland. But when the Christmas season brings them together again, one glance is all that’s needed to reignite his yearning. If Lucas can convince Jane that his intentions are as pure as the falling snow, they’ll turn a dreary December into a joyous Yuletide affair.
I love to read anthologies for Christmas. I thought Naughty and Nice was going to be very hot, erotic and more, but it turned to be more sexy and sensual,  without missing the sweet romance..

The first one, ROOM AT THE INN by Ruthie Knox, I think it's the longest and my favorite. Carson and Julie have a complicated relationship. Carson is always running and Julie is just tired of him. He's back to take care of his old father, but wasn't expecting to still find Julie attracted. They have to share a house, and between fighting and kisses, it's time for Carson to let go of his fears. I really liked the story because the characters had a past which made things more interesting.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU by Molly O’Keefe is a really cute story about young love. Maddy is just turning eighteen and planning to marry Billy. They are the perfect couple, but her mother isn't so happy about the union. She wants Maddy to have a future, not just be the wife. It's about the importance of choosing for yourself whats best for your future, even if some people don't agree. It has a steamy moment, and it made me remember when I was younger and in love. If I had the opportunity to marry him when I was younger, I think I would have done it. BTW, we still haven't hehe, but we are still together. :)

And finally, ONE PERFECT CHRISTMAS by Stephanie Sloane was a nice surprise. It's historical romance, which was a treat for me, and the characters, Lucas and Jane, were just perfect. It was a funny and relaxed romance, I just couldn't stop smiling. Perfect to end this anthology.


More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid by Robin Mellom-ADVISABLE


Mellom, Robin, ill. by Stephen GilpinThe Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid. Disney Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 282. Language: G, Violence: G, Sexual Content: G

Starting seventh grade can be hard. Especially if you’re Trevor Jones. Trevor is a worrier and he overthinks everything. When he’s waiting for the bus, his long-time friend shakes his “cool” by telling him that he has to ask a girl to the dance coming up before the end of the day. To add to things on his plate, a documentary film crew has come to Westside Middle School in order to capture the life of a middle schooler, which could provide Trevor with the ideal outlet for becoming “cool.” Trying to become popular and cool, however, is easier said than done. Can Trevor find a date for the dance, keep his best friend, Libby, and gain popular status?

Readers will enjoy the quirky, fun characters and. the entertaining, unique notes, id cards, and cartoons throughout the book. The plot is humorous and well-written. Readers who like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, realistic fiction, and humor will enjoy reading this book. EL (4-6), MS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

 

 

Hollow Earth by John Barrowman and Carole E Barrowman –ADVISABLE


Barrowman, John and Carole E. Hollow Earth 400 pgs. Aladdin, 2012. $10.98  (Rating: G)
Matt and Emily are twins who are learning that they have some strange gifts –like bringing their artwork to life. They start to learn about them when the whole family moves in with their grandfather in Scotland. Different factions want to control the power the twins possess and they are thrown into the midst of some chaotic drama. When their grandfather is injured and their mom is missing, the twins and their new friend Zach, must use their powers to figure out what’s going on.
This was a fun read, despite my growing distain forextra special extra magical kids. (I prefer luck and ingenuity!!) This was actually a sort of complex story with plenty of interesting facets –maybe too political for younger students. I liked the idea that the twins could draw things to life, and were quite ingenious in coming up with ways to accomplish this in dire situations. I was close to putting this as optional but the author did such a good job with the characters that I really do want to read the next book, should there be a second.
ELEMENTARY, MS–ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie School Librarian & Author.

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1) by Charles Gilman –ADVISABLE


Gilman, Charles Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1) 160 pgs. Quirk Books, 2012. $11.19  (Rating: G)
Robert is reluctantly starting at a new school, Lovecraft Middle School. It’s a brand new campus with the latest in all technology. But things go quickly amiss when students find rats in their lockers, and Robert even meets up with a two-headed rat. Even stranger is the mystery room he finds in the library and the creepy science teacher. Something sinister is afoot at the school and when students disappear –Robert starts to worry.
This is a fantastic new series. What I love the absolute best, is that Robert doesn't have any special powers, it’s absolutely refreshing. Elementary students will LOVE this book, from the 3-D monster cover to the awesome plot lines  It’s just perfectly paced and there is enough of a continuing plot to leave the reader wanting more.
ELEMENTARY–ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie School Librarian & Author.

Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill –NOT RECOMMENDED


Barnhill, Kelly Iron Hearted Violet 432 pgs. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012. $11.55  (Rating: G)
An unexpected princess, Violet, is quite a surprise to the kingdom. She is nothing like a “real” princess, instead she is ugly and unruly. Together with her kind best friend Demetruis, they discover a creepy room in the castle. After some tragedy, Violet takes a deeper interest in the darkness found there –the Nybbas. As the kingdom falls about around her, she must face her true self and make friends with an ailing dragon.
What a chore to read.  At first I was kind of intrigued by the ugly princess thing –but quickly found I disliked Violet, and really could care less as to the outcome of her depressions. This book could have been reduced by 75% and I might have enjoyed the combination of this pathetic character and the semi-redeeming ending. I will wade through about anything, but students won’t. The cover is intriguing, but the book is a drawn-out and hard to relate to.
ELEMENTARY–NOT RECOMMENDED Reviewer: Stephanie School Librarian & Author.

Joshua Dread (Book #1) by Lee Bacon –ADVISABLE


Bacon, Lee Joshua Dread (Book#1) 272 pgs. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2012. $12.13  (Rating: G)
Joshua Dread has a terrible secret; his parents are Supervillians. They are constantly trying to cause mayhem and are constantly thwarted by their nemesis, the showy Captain Justice. We meet Joshua just as his life turns upside down –he is developing powers of his own, he meets a new friend who is going through the same thing, and all the supervillians are in super danger. Worst of all Joshua will have to decide –is he a supervillian or a superhero?
I rolled my eyes on the first few pages, but was so so glad I kept reading. This was an extremely fun read, featuring genuine characters, and a carefully crafted and well-paced book. This quickly became a one-sitting read, as I couldn't stop reading. I think students will LOVE this new series!
ELEMENTARY–ADVISABLE Reviewer:  Stephanie School Librarian & Author.

He went to the bookshelf and the bookshelf was bare (by the time he had finished buying all the books on it)

Before I take you through the picture below, do please keep answering the Agatha Christie questions from yesterday - I believe in you guys, I think we can get James loads of answers for his thesis!  Spread the word...


I went to London on Thursday, to hear the Persephone lecture and meet up with some online friends (all of which was wonderful) - whilst there, I managed to get a book or two... and I thought you might like to know what has entered my teetering towers of books!  It does include three gift books (my meet-up does a Secret Santa, as well as bringing lots of swaps) so they're on the pile for Reading Presently next year.

Mariana by Monica Dickens
I found two of those fancy Persephone new editions in a secondhand bookshop - so they came home with me!  I do have both in the original editions, but... these are so pretty.

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
This only came out a few weeks ago, I think - I spotted it in The Times review pages last week, and was thinking about buying a copy, and then I found it in Oxfam.  Win!

The Crafty Art of Playmaking by Alan Ayckbourn
Don't worry, I have no intention of writing a play (except for my contribution to the Chiselborough Christmas Cracker) but my fascination with all things theatre could meet new levels here.

At The Pines by Mollie Panter-Downes
I don't know anything about this, but I wasn't about to leave a Mollie Panter-Downes behind, was I?

Adele and Co. by Dornford Yates
This was my gift in the Secret Santa - I've been meaning to try Dornford Yates for ages, since I know a few fans of his, and now I have the chance in this lovely edition.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
And another one!  Very excited about the film of this coming out next year - incidentally, check out Lisa's wonderful interview with the scriptwriter.

Money for Nothing by P.G. Wodehouse
In the swap pile at our meet-up - always happy to add more Wodehouse to my shelves, especially when it's a lovely old edition like this.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
More from the swap pile - my book group is reading this next year, so it was great to nab a copy gratis.

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett
Very pleased to pick up a tricky-to-find ICB novel in the lovely Slightly Foxed bookshop.

The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic
Anne Fadiman says that everyone has a shelf of books which don't quite match the rest of their taste - mine has popular psychology and neurology.  I don't understand everything I'm reading, but I find it fascinating.  As the title suggests, this is about synesthesia.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
More Carter, please - and I love this fun cover.

Right, that's my haul!  Probably bought a few more than I ought to have done, so I think there's going to be a self-imposed ban for the rest of 2012...

Book Review: Snowed Under by Jude Ryan

Title: Snowed Under: A Christmas Short Story
Author: Jude Ryan
Published: November 17th 2011 by Chelsea Square
It's the week before Christmas, and all through the house...
With just seven days until Christmas, Janna Myers needs a snowplough to get through the mountain of work on her desk. Not that she cares, though. This holiday season, like all the ones before it, she plans to spend curled up with her laptop, visions of pound signs dancing through her head. When a blizzard traps Janna in the country with handsome Alistair Randall, CEO of the UK's biggest Christmas tree supplier, Janna must either embrace the holiday spirit or risk losing her PR firm's biggest client. Can Janna muster up some Christmas cheer, or will her bah humbug attitude cost her dearly?
Janna is a London business woman and not Christmas lover, but she has to put on her best face to work with Alistair Randall, CEO of a big Christmas tree supplier company. His company is going down and she's about to loose one of her biggest clients, so it's her job to try and find him a way to keep the company and her services.

Snower Under, as the title says, is a very short story, more about the Christmas spirit and celebrations than a romance between Janna and Alistair. Thanks to a blizzard, they have to spend a few days together at his cabin, and they discover Christmas brings not-so-happy memories to both of them. They are attracted to each other but the story needed more pages to make it a full romance.

It was a very quick read, but it was disappointing not to know more of Alistair and Janna. It was like the story was left at the middle...maybe a little bit more would have been great!


More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Agatha Christie Question



Hope you like the cartoon - I experimented with a strip format!  It's probably a case of click-to-enlarge or you might not be able to read it...

On with the show.  As I mentioned yesterday, I have a question (or three) to ask you about Agatha Christie!  This is only for people who have read some of her books, but I imagine that is most of us.  James Bernthal, who gave the paper on Agatha Christie which spurred me on to revisiting her, had some research questions about readers' experience with her novels - and who better to help him with his thesis, thought I, than my lovely readers?  Feel free to answer in the comments or, if you prefer, email your answers to jcb228[at]ex.ac.uk.  Over to James's questions!

Nearly everyone seems to have a definite opinion on Agatha Christie. As I’m writing my thesis on Christie’s place in popular culture, this fascinates me! If you have the time, and if you have heard of Agatha Christie at all, could you email me a couple of lines, which would inform a thesis chapter, about:

- How you first became aware of Agatha Christie (e.g. a film, heard a reference in a fish shop, attracted by the vibrant cover art)

- Your first impressions of Agatha Christie (e.g. cosy escape, Poirot, boring, ‘oooh, this is a grown-up book with no pictures’)

- What you think of Christie now (e.g. a guilty pleasure, a British institution, a cultural document, the name conjours up images of a moustachioed David Suchet)?

The Secret Cellar (The Red Blazer Girls) by Michael D. Beil –ADVISABLE


Beil, Michael D. The Secret Cellar (The Red Blazer Girls) 288 pgs. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012. $12.23  (Rating: PG)
Sophie is determined to find the right Christmas gift for her father. When she bids on a pen at an auction, it comes with more than just ink. This starts the Red Blazer Girls on a new mystery. What secrets does the former owner have to hide? The girls must contend with a formidable foe, a cranky bookstore owner. The girls must also deal with the closure of their favorite coffee shop, the place where their band plays each week.   
This series is close to Essential in the content department, but the covers are so heinous and unappealing –that I worry they won’t be checked out at all. It would take some serious showcasing to get my students to show interest in these. That being said, the stories are fantastic. They are multifaceted, intelligent, genuine, fun, and interesting. Students will love this mystery series, if you can get them past the covers.
ELEMENTARY–ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie MLS graduate & Author.

It’s all downhill from here (Creepover Series) by PJ Night –ADVISABLE

Night, PJ It’s all downhill from here (Creepover Series) 160 pgs. Simon Spotlight, 2012. $5.99.  (Rating: PG)
Maggie and her family, along with her best friend Sophie, are spending a long weekend at the Wharton Mansion. They might buy it and fix it up as a ski resort. Maggie has a bad attitude about it from the beginning, so no one believes her when she starts to notice strange things.
This was a fun and easy read. It rates itself a 4 out of 5 on a scary chart. I thought it wasn't quite as scary as that. Especially since there was a ton of dream sequences, which are always a let-down. There was an interesting story line and I think students will enjoy this.
ELEMENTARY–ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie School Librarian & Author.

Death of a Kleptomaniac by Kriste Tracy-ADVISABLE

Tracy, Kristen, Death of a Kleptomaniac. Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 264. Language: G, Violence: G, Sexual Content: PG

Molly is finally starting to live life to the fullest. At 16 years of age, she finally has the right friends, has the cutest boy for a boyfriend, and is finally considered popular. She still isn’t happy in life, however. She starts taking advantage of the “five-fingered discount” stealing option in order to keep her anxieties at bay. Life for her is cut short when she dies from a rattlesnake bite on her butt. In order to pass on into the afterlife, she must fix the residual issues that she had in her life and, let’s face, she had a lot. Can Molly settle her issues and cut ties to her past life in order to move on or will she jeopardize her soul in order to stay with the people she’s close to?

 Despite the main topic of death, this books is light-hearted and fluffy. A story of redemption, and love’s power to rise above death, readers will not only relate to the main character, but have a hard time putting the book down. Girls who like chick-lit, humor, paranormal, and realistic fiction will enjoy reading this book. MS, HS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Jessica Moody, Library Media Specialist, Olympus Jr. High

Stealing Popular by Trudi Trueit-OPTIONAL

Trueit, Trudi, Stealing Popular. Simon and Schuster, 2012. Pgs. 230. Language: PG (1 swear, no “f”s), Violence: G, Sexual Content: G

 Coco Sherwood goes to Briar Green Middle School. When some of the mean, popular girls start picking on Coco’s friends, Coco takes matters into her own hands in a creative way. Now girls who never dreamed of being a cheerleaders are making cheer squad and becoming beauty queens. Will Coco’s dreams of equality come true or will they turn into a nightmare?

Although the plot is overdone, Trudi handles it in a well-written, creative way. The characters are humorous and easy to relate to. Readers who like chick-lit, humor, and realistic fiction will enjoy reading this book. MS. OPTIONAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

After by Ellen Datlo and Terri Windling-OPTIONAL

Datlow, Ellen and Windling, Terri, After. Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 370. Language: PG-13, Violence: PG-13, Sexual Content; PG-13

If World War III, ice age, world meltdown, plague, or some other event with devastating consequences occurred, what would tomorrow, next year, or even the next decade be like? These 19 stories told by various famous authors imagine these scenarios and many more to not only tell the reader, but show them what the world would be like.

 Each story is well-written and imaginative. Readers who like science fiction and dystopian society stories will enjoy reading this book. MS, HS. OPTIONAL. Reviewer: Jessica Moody, Library Media Specialist, Olympus Jr. High

Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery-OPTIONAL


Avery, Lara, Anything but Ordinary. Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 336. Language: PG, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: PG

17-year-old Bryce Graham is an excellent diver and so is her boyfriend, Greg and best friend, Gabby.  A dive gone wrong during Olympic Trials makes Bryce hit her head on the side of the pool instead of landing in the water. When she wakes up, she finds out the yesterday she remembers was 5 years ago and she’s been in a coma ever since that day. The 12-year-old sister she remembers is now an out-of-control 17-year-old. Her boyfriend is engaged to her best friend, and a medical student named Carter has fallen in love with her. To make matters worse, now Bryce is finding herself experiences brief, painful experience of future, tragic events. Unfortunately, such experiences seem to be linked to her brain slowly dying from lack of oxygen  Can Bryce’s courage, tenacity, and stubbornness help her to cope and adjust to her new life? Will Bryce learn to use her new powers for good before it’s too late?

Avery portrays this premise in a believable way that readers will like. Although the paranormal is more in the background than paranormal fans will like, the characters are genuine and likable. Their growth is significant and their emotions are real. The plot is complex and a little confusing in parts, but the ending is satisfying. Readers who like stories about growth, self-discovery, and friendship will enjoy reading this book. MS, HS. OPTIONAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

 

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy-ADVISABLE

Meloy, Colin, Under Wildwood. HarperCollins, 2012. Pgs. 559. Language: G, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: G

Life outside of the Wildwood, a magical land near Portlan, has had no appeal for Prue since she rescued her brother from the evil Dowager Governess. When she is attacked by a trio of shapeshifters, she finds herself saved not only by some herons, but also drawn back into the world of Wildwood. There, she is reunited with her friends, Curtis, a bandit-in-training, and Septimus, the rat. Above ground in the Industrial Wastes of Wildwood, Curtis’ grieving parents put their two daughters in an orphanage in order to go search for Curtis. A Dickensian institution where the orphans are forced to build machine parts for a machine that will make the impassable wilderness passable. Discovery of this finding drives the trio into the deep undergrounds of Wildwood where a dastardly plot, regarding the machine the orphans are working on, not only endangers the trio, but also all of Wildwood. Can Curtis, Septimus, and Prue save themselves and Wildwood?

 
With well-blended literary references, well-developed, likable characters, and an intense plot, readers will have a hard time putting this book and will enjoy the ride of reading it. EL (4-6), MS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library

Dark Star by Bethany Frenette-ESSENTIAL

Frenette, Bethany, Dark Star. Hyperion, 2012. Pgs. 356. Language: PG, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: PG

Audrey Whittcomb is the daughter of one of the most famous superheroes, her mom, Morning Star. Audrey, however, has never thought of saving the world, because her super power is Knowing: seeing into the future. When girls from her school start disappearing and her mom starts getting overprotective, Audrey starts investigating what’s going on. She soon figures out that her mom doesn’t fight the traditional criminal, she fights Harrowers-an ancient evil that was buried beneath the Earth eons ago. Now some have escaped and they want Audrey dead. Can Audrey master her powers in time to save herself and other Kin (people with superpowers)?

The characters are likable and easy to empathize with. The plot is intense and has lots of twists. Definitely set up for sequel,  paranormal fans will devour this book and wish there was a sequel already. MS, HS. ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There's Nobody Quite Like Agatha

In 2000, or thereabouts, I read an awful lot of Agatha Christie novels - mostly Miss Marple, because my love of slightly eccentric old women started way back then - but since then, I've only read one or two.  In 2010 I read The Murder at the Vicarage, and thought it might issue in a new dawn of Christie reading.  Well, two years later that dawn has, er, dawned.  After hearing an interesting paper on Agatha Christie covers at a recent conference, I decided that a fun way to fill some gaps in A Century of Books would be to dip into my shelf of Christies, many unread.  Since she wrote one or two a year for most of the 20th century, she is an ideal candidate for this sort of gap-filling.

Before I go onto the two novels I read (pretty briefly), I'll start with what I love about Agatha Christie.  She is considered rather non-literary in some circles (although not quite as often as people often suggest) and it's true that her prose doesn't ripple with poetic imagery - but the same is true of respected writers such as George Orwell and Muriel Spark, who choose a straight-forward seeming prose style, albeit with their own unique quirks.  Leaving aside Christie's prose talents - and they are always better than I expect, and often funnier than I remember - she is most remarkable for her astonishing ability with plot.

For a lot of people, myself included, reading Agatha Christie is our first experience of detective fiction.  She sets the norms, and she sets the bar high.  Only after dipping my toe into books by Margery Allingham and Dorothy L. Sayers do I realise quite how vastly superior she is when it comes to plot.  It was once a truism of detective fiction that the author would be unfair, only revealing important clues at the last moment.  "What you didn't know was that the gardener was Lord Alfred's long-lost cousin!"  That sort of thing.  Dame Agatha never does that.  There are almost invariably surprises in the last few pages, but they are the sort of delightful, clever surprises which could have been worked out by the scrupulously careful reader.  Of course, none of us ever do fit all the clues together along the way - it would spoil the novel if we did - but Christie has a genius for leaving no loose ends, and revealing all the clues which have been hidden thus far.  Other detective novelists of the Golden Age still (from my reading) rely upon coincidence, implausibility, and secrets they kept concealed.

Reading a detective novel demands quite a different approach from most other novels.  Everything is pointed towards the structure.  There can be innumerable lovely details along the way, but structure determines every moment - all of it must lead to the denouement, and everything must adhere to that point.  Many of the novels we read (especially for someone like me, fond of modernist refusal of form - witness my recent review of The House in Paris) are deliberately open-ended, and the final paragraphs are structurally scarcely more significant than any arbitrarily chosen lines from anywhere in the novel.  With an Agatha Christie, the end determines my satisfaction. My chief reason for considering a detective novel successful or unsuccessful is whether it coheres when the truth is revealed.  Is the motive plausible?  Does the 'reveal' match the preceding narrative details?  Are there any unanswered questions?  That's a lot of pressure on Agatha Christie, and it is a sign of her extraordinary talent for plot that she not only never disappoints, but she casts all the other detective novelists I've tried into the shade.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

I'd never read Christie's very first novel, so it was serendipitous that 1920 was one of the few interwar blank spaces on my Century of Books.  I'm going to be very brief about these two novels, because I don't want to give anything away at all (a carefulness not exemplified by the blurbs of these novels, incidentally.)  Suffice to say that there is a murder in a locked bedroom - and a lot of motives among family and friends.
"Like a good detective story myself," remarked Miss Howard.  "Lots of nonsense written, though.  Criminal discovered in last chapter.  Every one dumbfounded.  Real crime - you'd know at once."
"There have been a great number of undiscovered crimes," I argued.
"Don't mean the police, but the people that are right in it.  The family.  You couldn't really hoodwink them.  They'd know."
I love it when Christie gets all meta.  In One, Two, Buckle My Shoe one character accuses another, "You're talking like a thriller by a lady novelist."  Heehee!  But the best strain of meta-ness (ahem) in The Mysterious Affair at Styles is adorable Captain Hastings.  He narrates, and he is not very bright.  He considers himself rather brilliant at detection, and is constantly sharing all manner of clues and suppositions with Poirot, only for Poirot to laugh kindly and disabuse him.  Hastings really is lovely - and doesn't seem to have suffered even a moment's psychological unease at having been invalided away from WW1.  Poirot, of course, is brilliant.  It's all rather Holmes/Watson, but it works.

You've probably read the famous moment where Poirot is first described, but it bears re-reading:
Poirot was an extraordinary-looking little man.  He was hardly more than five feet four inches, but carried himself with great dignity.  His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side.  His moustache was very stiff and military.  The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.  Yet this quaint dandified little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.  As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.
Isn't that line about the bullet sublime?  (Although, again, demonstrates a remarkable lack of shellshock on Hastings' part.)  What I found ironic about this, the first Poirot novel, is that (with decades of detection ahead of him), Hastings thinks:
The idea crossed my mind, not for the first time, that poor old Poirot was growing old.  Privately I thought it lucky that he had associated with him someone of a more receptive type of mind.
Hastings is wrong, of course, but as a retired man, Poirot must enjoy one of the longest retirements on record.  As for the novel itself - Christie tries to do far too much in it, and the eventual explanation (though ingenious) is very complicated.  Colin tells me that Christie acknowledges the over-complication in her autobiography.  It's not surprising for a first novel, and it does nonetheless involve some rather sophisticated twists and turns.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940)

Onto another Poirot novel!  For some reason I love the idea of titles being nursery rhymes or quotations, and Christie does this a lot.  And Then There Were None is my favourite of her books (that I have read), and I also think the twist in The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side is brilliant.  I hadn't read this one, and chose it over Sad Cypress for the 1940 selection.  Which turned out not to be very clever, as it is set at a dentist's, where I will probably have to go soon...

The plot of this one isn't amongst Christie's best, and does depend upon one minor implausibility, but it's still head and shoulders over other people's.  I realise I'm giving you nothing to go on, but I don't even want to give the identity of the victim (even though they're killed very early in the novel) because every step should be a surprise.  What I did like a lot about the novel was this moment about Poirot:

She paused, then, her agreeable, husky voice deepening, she said venomously: "I loathe the sight of you - you bloody little bourgeois detective!"
 
She swept away from him in a whirl of expensive model drapery.
 
Hercule Poirot remained, his eyes very wide open, his eyebrows raised and his hand thoughtfully caressing his moutaches.
 
The epithet bourgeois was, he admitted, well applied to him.  His outlook on life was essentially bourgeois, and always had been[.]
Having sat through an absurd talk recently, where the embittered speaker spat out 'bourgeois' about once a minute (and then, after lambasting his own bottom-of-the-pile education, revealed that he'd been to grammar school) this came as a breath of fresh air!  One of my few rules in life is "If someone uses the word 'bourgeois' instead of 'middle-class', they're probably not worth paying attention to, and they certainly won't pay attention to you.'  The other thing I loved was the morality Christie slipped into Poirot's denouement... but to give away more would be telling.

So, as you see, one of the other issues with detective fiction is that it rather defies the normal book review, but I've had fun exploring various questions which arise from reading Agatha Christie - and tomorrow I shall be putting a specific question to you!  But for today, please just comment with whatever you'd like to say about Christie or this post - and particularly which of her novels you think is especially clever in its revelation (giving away absolutely nothing, mind!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do you Know Dewey? by Brian P. Cleary –ADVISABLE


Cleary, Brian P. and Illustrated by Lew-Vriethoff, Joanne Do you Know Dewey? Exploring the Dewey Decimal System 32 pgs. 21st Century, 2012. $20.34 (Library Binding Price).  (Rating: G)
A beautifully illustrated book with a fun rhyming style. It goes through each section of the Dewey and features bright colorful illustrations that are fun and cute.
I think this was a darling book, and would be helpful in explaining Dewey to a second or first grader. The author did a good job of making an exceptionally boring topic actually interesting and even look like fun!
EL –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola – NOT RECOMMENDED


dePaola, Tomie The Birds of Bethlehem 40 pgs. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012. $11.55. (Rating: G)
During the Nativity, many animals were probably present –this is the story of the Birds point of view. They spent time chatting and when something interesting starts to happen, the birds are very interested. Turns out birds were able to witness the spectacular events.
I know this author/illustrator is wildly popular, but I thought this book was unnecessary. The bird’s point of view in this book failed to provide a new perspective to this much-told story. This book basically just rehashed the typical version. As a librarian possibly wanting to introduce a new reader to the nativity story, you could do much better than this book.
EL –NOT RECOMMENDED Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

Peace and Quiet (Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox Book #4) by Brigitte Luciani and Eve Tharlet –ADVISABLE


Luciani, Brigitte, and Tharlet, Eve Peace and Quiet (Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox Book #4) 32 pgs. Graphic Universe, 2012. $6.95.  (Rating: G)
Its going to be winter so the fox’s and the badgers are all stuck together in their underground den. Their bodies are preparing for winter in their own ways –fatter badgers and furrier foxes. Ginger, the little fox, is so upset when the badgers start to sleep day and night, but some fun with her mom outside of the den helps keep her spirits up.
I am new to this series and was so confused for most of the story. Apparently this is a merged family –the fox lady married the badger guy. I had trouble telling the badger kids apart and when dialogue got chaotic (cabin fever), I just wanted to stop reading. I am a big fan of graphic novel style books for younger students, and despite my comments, I think students will enjoy this book since the illustrations are so darling!
EL -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

Dangerous Waters: An Adventure of the Titanic by Gregory Mone –OPTIONAL


Mone, Gregory Dangerous Waters: An Adventure of the Titanic 240 pgs. Roaring Brook Press, 2012. $12.74.  (Rating: PG)
Patrick just wants to be a working man like his older brother, so when he gets a chance to join him in the boiler room on the maiden voyage of the Titanic –he jumps. But Patrick just isn't cut out for heavy labor and ends up as a steward for a rich book collector –Harry. Harry’s latest addition to his collection –a rare and old book called Essaies is much desired by more than one person on board, all of whom are willing to do anything to get it.
I was excited to read this book because I love Titanic stories, and the extra attention by providing a character that really existed, Harry, was intriguing. But overall it was a bit dry for me.  It felt like a really simple plot with simple characters –but drawn out into a book that was way too long to carry it off. When a reader already knows the ending (the sinking of the Titanic), the story better be pretty exciting, and this just wasn't. 
MS–OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary Librarian & Author.

The House in Paris (in which we learn that Darlene is right, is garlanded with flowers &c. &c.)


A while ago the very lovely (but, it turns out, fiercely competitive) Darlene laid down a challenge.  She would read a book by my beloved Ivy Compton-Burnett, if I would give her beloved Elizabeth Bowen a second chance.  "Game on!" said I, always happy to give respected authors two or three tries - but she comfortably beat me with her fabulous review of Manservant and Maidservant in early September, which you can read here.  I took my time, but I've finally managed to keep up my end of the bargain, and on my trip to the Lake District I managed to finish The House in Paris (1935).


Well, Darlene, you were right.  I didn't enjoy The Last September at all, but The House in Paris is beautiful.  Cancel the book burning, Bowen is back in business.

The novel has a layered narrative.  The first and last quarters (called 'Present') take place in the Parisian house, belonging to Mme. and Miss Fisher, where young Henrietta is spending the day between one chaperone and another.  Coincidentally, Leopold is also there - nervously waiting to meet his biological mother for the first time in his life.  The middle half reverts to 'Past', and concerns Leopold's mother Karen, who knew Miss Fisher (Naomi) when they were ten years younger, and the affair which led to Leonard's conception.

It is the beginning and end of The House in Paris that I loved, and I half wish that Bowen hadn't left the house in Paris at all.  The scenes between Henrietta and Leopold are so perfectly judged that it seems impossible that writing can be so beautiful as well as so plausible - surely Bowen (one thinks) would have to sacrifice one to the other?  But no, every moment described is a new insight into the way children interact, and beautiful because true.  This is the first conversation they have while alone together:
He said: "Miss Fisher says you're here for the day."

"I'm just crossing Paris," Henrietta said with cosmopolitan ease.

"Is that your monkey?"

"Yes.  I've had him ever since I was born."

"Oh," said Leopold, looking at Charles vaguely.

"How old are you?" Henrietta enquired.

"Nine."

"Oh, I'm eleven."

"Miss Fisher's mother is very ill," said Leopold.  He sat down in an armchair with his knees crossed and, bending forward, studied a cut on one knee.  The four velvet armchairs, each pulled out a little way from a corner, faced in on the round table that reflected the window and had in its centre a tufted chenille mat.  He added, wrinkling his forehead: "So Mariette says, at least."

"Who is Mariette?"

"Their maid.  She wanted to help me dress."

"Do you think she is going to die?" said Henrietta.

"I don't expect so.  I shall be out, anyway."

"That would be awful," said Henrietta, shocked.

"I suppose it would.  But I don't know Mme. Fisher."

It is never natural for children to smile at each other: Henrietta and Leopold kept their natural formality.  She said: "You see, I'd been hoping Miss Fisher was going to take me out." 
Leopold, looking about the salon, said: "Yes, this must be a rather funny way to see Paris."  But he spoke with detachment; it did not matter to him.
In the first quarter of the novel, little takes place to propel the plot.  Henrietta meets Mme. Fisher (slowly, wryly, dying in a bedroom upstairs); Leopold snoops through Miss Fisher's letters, and finds letters from his adoptive mother and Henrietta's grandmother, and an empty envelope from his biological mother.  What makes this section so special is the gradual, engaging way Bowen builds up the relationship between the children - character is paramount.  Although they develop a fragile and fleeting friendship, they have the child's selfish indifference to each other's feelings - as Bowen expresses so strikingly:
With no banal reassuring grown-ups present, with grown-up intervention taken away, there is no limit to the terror strange children feel of each other, a terror life obscures but never ceases to justify.  There is no end to the violations committed by children on children, quietly talking alone. 
This passage demonstrates one of the qualities of Bowen's writing that I most admired and liked - the way she moves from the specific to the general.  Authors are often told "show, don't tell", and Bowen finds an original way to follow this maxim while subtly evading it.  She never plays too heavy a narrative hand with the characters, letting their actions and words form their personalities, but then she steps back a pace or two, and draws general conclusions about children or lovers or parents or people in general.  She shows with the cast, and tells about the world.

As the first part closes, Leopold learns that: "Your mother is not coming; she cannot come."  Isn't that sentence delightfully Woolfean, with its balance and half-repetition?  No wonder people have often drawn comparison between Bowen and Woolf - including Byatt, in her excellent introduction (which, as always, ought to be read last - and pleasantly blends personal and critical aspects.)

actual houses in Paris wot I saw once
In the central section of the novel, we meet Leopold's mother Karen, and witness her relationship with Naomi's fiancee Max.  Although longer than the other sections put together, 'Past' felt less substantial to me.  It is, essentially, the very gradual and incremental development of the relationship between Karen and Max - from distrust to love, and... onwards.  But here I shall draw a veil over the ensuing plot for, although plot is hardly primary in Bowen, it cannot be called negligible, and I shall not spoil it.

And, finally, back to Henrietta and Leopold, as they make proclamations about their lives, in the midst of situations they cannot understand for more than a moment at a time - and eventually they part.  Without giving away too much, I shall remove one possibility - they do not end up living like brother and sister; they will probably never see each other again.  Their encounter has been fleeting, and wholly at the whim of the various adults (present and absent) whose decisions so heavily influence the children's lives.  As a conceit it is not entirely natural, but we can forgive Bowen that - it structures the narrative perfectly, and gives opportunity for so many other moments where the natural triumphs against the artificiality of fiction: time and again novelistic cliches and truisms have the carpet whipped from under their feet, and the reader thinks "Oh, of course, that is what would happen."

Above all, Bowen is a wordsmith.  She crafts sentences so perfectly.  They are not of the variety that can be read in a hurry - perhaps that is where I went wrong with The Last September - but, with careful attention and a willingness to dive into the world of words she creates - it is an effort which is very much repaid.  Darlene, thank you for refusing to let me declare Bowen done and dusted - she's now very much back in my good books.  You might have won this competition, but this is a case of everyone's-a-winner, right?


Others who got Stuck into it:

"From the very first page of The House in Paris when Henrietta is collected from the train station by Miss Fisher, both wearing cerise cockades so as to recognize one another, I adored this book.  Elizabeth Bowen's genius as a writer is staggering and to anyone who doesn't agree or simply does not get on with her...I could weep for you." - Darlene, Roses Over A Cottage Door

"The pages were awash with beautiful, sonorous language formed into exquisite sentences that swirled through my thoughts, leaving lingering, evocative images behind." - Rachel, Book Snob [Simon: this review is much better than mine!  Go and check it out if you haven't done already.]

"I wanted to love Elizabeth Bowen; one of my most respected history profs at university cited Bowen as her absolute favourite author and ever since then I've intended to read her. I liked this book, I even found some quotable passages which I delightedly copied out. But somehow it didn't coalesce into a Great Read, at least not for me." - Melwyk, The Indextrious Reader