Friday, May 31, 2013

Checkers and Dots at the Beach by J. Torres - ESSENTIAL

Torres, J.  Checkers and Dots at the Beach  Illustrated by Jennifer Lum Tundra Books, 2013.  $8.99  BOARD BOOK  Content: G 
A little boy and girl, with their dog and cat, go to the beach where they encounter different sea life.  They find five different animals and count from one to five: one crab, two clams, three turtles, four gulls and five fish.  The last page spread shows the boy and girl with their cat and dog with all of the sea animals interacting. 
This book is completely done in black and white and the illustrations are simple and adorable.  The counting fits into a storyline and the storyline rhymes making it fun to read aloud.  This is a great book for newborns and little ones.
PREK-ESSENTIAL.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Life Eternal by Yvonne Woon - ADVISABLE

Woon, Yvonne  Life Eternal, 416 pgs. Hyperion, 2012. $16.99  Content: Language: G (1 God); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13. 
This is the second book in the Dead Beautiful series.  Renee is a Monitor, a person who can feel the Undead around her, and she goes to a special school so that she can learn how to take care of reburying the Undead.  The problem, in this second book, however, is that Renee has died and been brought back to life as well, and she should also be Undead, but is not because the person who brought her back to life, Dante, also shares her soul.  Dante and Renee love each other but can’t be together, and they are searching for a solution for their shared soul.  Renee has two new friends from her new school, Noah and Anya, who help her follow clues that should lead them to the secret of immortality, which Renee hopes will allow her and Dante to be together. 
This is a typical second book in a series, in the fact that it feels like a bridge between the first book and a conclusion.  The ending totally leaves the reader hanging and annoyed that the third book isn’t out yet.  The characters are okay, but the story is creepy and exciting, making it hard to put down.  This is a good book for girls who like supernatural trilogies set in boarding schools, along the lines of the Hex Hall and Haven series. 
MS, HS-ADVISABLE.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Writing - A.L. Kennedy

Although I have never read any fiction by A.L. Kennedy (which is about as inauspicious a way to begin a review as any), I couldn't resist when Jonathan Cape offered me a copy of On Writing to review.  This isn't so much because I intend to be a writer myself (although I have always rather hoped to be - and, I suppose, in some ways I am - just theses and blog posts rather than novels, at the mo) but because I thought it might reveal more about the author's life and processes.

It's just as well that I approached On Writing with this proviso, because it's a bit of a misnomer - there isn't a great deal about writing, particularly not about how to write, but there is a great deal about being a writer. A crucial distinction. Rather than giving step by step instructions, or even general guidelines, Kennedy writes about the life of a writer - which seems to consist almost solely of travelling, getting ill, and running workshops for other people who want to be writers.
No one can teach you how to write, or how you write or how you could write better.  Other people can assist you in various areas, but the way that you learn how you write, the way you really improve, is by diving in and reworking, taking apart, breaking down, questioning, exploring, forgetting and losing and finding and remembering and generally testing your prose until it shows you what it needs to be, until you can see its nature and then help it to express itself as best you can under your current circumstances.  This gives you - slowly - an understanding of how you use words on the page to say what you need to.
So, that explains why she concentrates on other matters.  If, however, you are desperate to read about the act of writing itself, in the minutiae of prose details, then turn straight to chapter 22.  That's precisely what A.L. Kennedy does there - building up the opening sentence to a story, rejecting versions, explaining why she doing so and what thought goes into the construction of each sentence.  Granted, I didn't much like the end result (it didn't encourage me to read her fiction, I must confess), but it was fascinating to observe.

This early part of the book is a collection of blog columns Kennedy wrote for the Guardian, and I found them compulsively readable. I love her sense of humour, the dryness of her writing, and her obvious love for the craft of writing. Occasionally, I'll admit, I wanted her to lighten up a tiny bit - as she often admits, writing is not back-breaking labour - but I suppose that's better than flippancy about writing, in a book about writing.  And while Kennedy writes about the horrors of appearing in public or having her photo taken - being very deprecating about her own appearance - she has the sort of face that, if you saw her on a bus, you'd say "By gad, good woman, you must write!" It's so wry and cynical, and you get the feeling that it would be world-weary if she didn't find every facet of existence ultimately so amusing.

The next section of the book has longer essays, significantly about running workshops - offering a really interesting insight to a world I know so little about, and showing how much thought Kennedy puts into preparing them (as well as her scorn for those who put on workshops without similar levels of thought.)  There is also - of course - more about writing, and I particularly loved this paragraph, which brilliantly demolished a tenet of writing which I have always thought nonsensical:
Personal experience may, for example, be suggested as a handy source of authenticity, perhaps because of the tediously repeated 'advice' imposed upon new authors: "Write about what you know."  Many people are still unacquainted with the unabridged version of this advice: "Write about what you know.  I am an idiot and have never heard of research, its challenges, serendipities and joys.  I lack imagination and therefore cannot imagine that you may not.  Do not be free, do not explore the boundaries of your possible talent, do not - for pity's sake - grow beyond the limits of your everyday life and its most superficial details. Do not go wherever you wish to, whether that's the surface of your kitchen table or the surface of the moon.  Please allow me - because I'm insisting - to tell you what to think."
And finally in On Writing is a piece she refers to often throughout - one which she takes to the Edinburgh Festival, as well as performing around the country.  It's very, very funny - in a rather broader way than the rest of the book, and if it feels less natural than her blog writing, then that is because it is a performance piece. Some of it repeats things she has mentioned earlier, but for a book which is compiled from various sources, and also for a blog-based book, On Writing is remarkably unrepetitive.  I dread to think how repetitive Stuck-in-a-Book has been.  I dread to think how repetitive Stuck-in-a-Book has been.  (A-ha-ha.)

All in all, a great book to have on a bibliophile's bookshelf - perhaps not the first place to go if you are penning your own novel - although if you've got past the 'getting published' stage, On Writing might well be an invaluable guide to the life of the writer.  For the rest of us, it's simply a great read.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #111 - No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The third book in New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels/Fallen Angels series featuring four dark heroes that will steal the hearts of their heroines and readers alike!

In NO GOOD DUKE GOES UNPUNISHED, the mysterious Temple is at best an inveterate womanizer who ruined his father’s future duchess, and at worst, a cold-blooded killer who murdered his future stepmother.

No one has seen Mara Lowe since she disappeared from her bedchamber on the morning of her wedding twelve years ago—leaving behind a drunken Temple. Despite vehement claims of innocence, Temple was exiled from society, stripped of his funds and left to survive on his own.

He is the brawn behind the Fallen Angel club, and has given up on ever returning to society, until the missing Mara shows up and begs for his help.
November 26th 2013 by Avon

I just love Sarah MacLean, she's on my author's always-read list.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Big River’s Daughter by Bobbie Miller –OPTIONAL

Miller, Bobbi Big River’s Daughter 200 pgs. Holiday House, 2013. $10.87.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ;  Violence: PG.
River is a young girl raised on the Mississippi river by her famous pirate fathers. When a natural disaster separates them, she must hold her own. Quickly she is ensnared into the politics of the river, as numerous factions try to capture her, hoping to gain the knowledge of her fathers connections. But River has her own mind and her own plans. She is brave and snarky and quickly joins forces with the in-famous Annie Christmas and her sons. Together they not on have their hearts set on a famous long lost treasure but apparently the means to possibly make it happen!
This was a fantastic book! The tone is set bright and vivid  with larger than life characters and a fast pace. There are lots of references to tall tales, both the people, like Mike Fink, and in the delivery of the story. It’s a fun intrigue-filled adventure that was so fun to read. That being said, the language is so authentic that I think students would give up fairly quickly. It was fairly challenging!! Students old enough to fall into the story regardless of that, might not be that interested in the story of such a younger girl.

Elementary, MS –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Breaking Point (Book#2 Article 5 Series) by Kristen Simmons –OPTIONAL

Simmons, Kristen Breaking Point (Book#2 Article 5 Series) 400 pgs. Tor Teen, 2013. $13.33.  Content: Language: PG (0 swears);  Mature Content: PG13 ;  Violence: PG.
Here are the continuing adventures of Ember and her love interest, Chase. They are now on the run from the government –although they faked their own deaths and thought they were “safe” (As safe as one can be in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society) –then Ember is pegged as wanted sniper, now her photograph is everywhere! The pair meet up with the Resistance and go on a few missions, but things go awry when their home base is set on fire. They must leave town –with the one person they trust very least.
I liked the first book just fine, but now I am on the fence. Nothing endears me to this character –she is almost boring. Because of the life and death dystopian thing –there is naturally this over blown sense of grandeur –since every moment is a risk. I just felt like the storyline just couldn't provide enough to live up to that. If the first book is popular at your school, might as well add this one.

HS -OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Here is my review of Book#1 –Article 5

And... more books!

On Saturday I was in London to watch Judi Dench on stage in Peter and Alice - which I will write about soon - but whilst I was there, I also bought some books... well, in actual fact I bought one book, and exchanged a lot.  I took a big bag of unwanted books to Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange (and loitered outside until they opened at the curious time of 10.25am), was given a fistful of vouchers, and bought this pile of books...

From the top down...

Down The Rabbit Hole - Juan Pablo Villalobos
Somebody is responsible for this being on my radar... Simon Savidge, is it you? 

Screwtop Thompson - Magnus Mills
I don't think I even knew about this Mills novel, but it's a lovely edition, and I'm happy to add to my pile of unread Mills!

The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
My book group will be reading this later in the year - the only Lessing book I've read before was Memoirs of a Survivor, and jury is very much out...

Knole & The Sackvilles - Vita Sackville-West
I have read through this in the Bodleian, and I do hanker after the beautiful first edition I read there, but this paperback will do for now.

Twelves Day - Vita Sackville-West
Who knew VSW wrote travel literature?  I certainly didn't - but now I do.

1066 and All That - W.C. Sellar & R.J. Yeatman
This has been on my Amazon wishlist for many years, and I finally nabbed a copy when I could.

Young Anne - Dorothy Whipple
This was the one I bought, in an Oxfam in Angel!  Quite a coup, since it doesn't seem to be available anywhere online - and I nearly lost it to the lovely man behind the counter, who hadn't spotted it. We had a quick chat about Whipple, Persephone, and Stella Gibbons - excellent customer service!

The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader 
I've read The Yellow Wallpaper, naturally, but there is plenty more to read, it seems!

My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin
Since I own the sequel, I figure I should get this one too! (And, er, maybe read one or other of them sometime.)

Poor Caroline - Winifred Holtby
Anderby Wold - Winifred Holtby
One of these days I'm actually going to read something by Winifred Holtby, you just see if I don't.

Over to you, as always!  Let me know if you've read any of these - or if any grab your fancy.  I certainly think it was an impressive haul for a net total of £3.99 and a bagful of books I didn't want!

Book Review: A Knight's Temptation by Catherine Kean

Series: Knight's #3
Author: Catherine Kean
Published May 4th 2012
Age: Adult
A ruby pendant stands at the center of this tale of disgrace, plotting, redemption, and the reunion of childhood friends.

Aldwin Treynarde is a squire who, in his youth, was banished from home for shooting Lord Geoffrey de Lanceau with a crossbow bolt and nearly killing the man. Later on, Aldwin discovered that he had been set up by the deceitful Baron Sedgewick, who fed him false stories about the lord's wrongdoings. Now, several years later, Lord Geoffrey sends out a call for volunteers to find a stolen, valuable jeweled pendant before it falls into the hands of the Baron and his wife Veronique. Aldwin accepts at once and hopes to make amends to Lord Geoffrey. If he excels in his duty, he hopes he might even be awarded knighthood.

Meanwhile, Lady Leona Ransley and her aging father, who have possession of the pendant, want only to turn it in anonymously and collect the reward money. Under an assumed name, Leona arranges for a secret meeting with Aldwin in a seedy tavern, and, making yet another rash decision, Aldwin decides to kidnap her. She fights furiously against him and finally reveals her true identity: she and he had once been great companions. In fact, Aldwin had nearly caused her death 12 years earlier when they disturbed a bees' nest during a childhood game. By this point, the feckless squire desires his warrior captive more than any woman he has ever met, and he knows he has one last chance to protect her life.

Only by settling the events of their past and fighting side by side will Aldwin and Leona be able to defeat their opponents and surrender to their greatest temptation—love.
I got A Knight's Temptation free a couple of weeks ago and the moment I started reading I was caught in this story.

Aldwin Treynarde is hoping to be awarded knighthood and be forgiven by his family and Lord Geoffrey for almost killing him. It was a mistake, and if he can find the stolen jeweled pendant before Veronique  and the Baron, he's sure he's going to be forgiven.

Finding the pendant was easy, but Lady Leona Ransley didn't make it an easy task. She has her own reasons to have the pendant and not trust Aldwin, after all, it was his fault she almost died a few years ago.

Aldwin was the typical alpha male, but Leona wasn't the typical lady. She's very independent and sometimes even spoiled. Their past was always pursuing them, but still they managed to fall in love between fights. Aldwin was an interesting male, tender and trying to make amends for his mistakes, but I didn't like he always keep Leona tied.

Overall, it was an enjoyable story. I haven't read the previous books of the Knight's series, but I got into the story pretty fast.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Cold Fury by T.M. Goeglein - ADVISABLE

Goeglein, T.M.  Cold Fury, 312 pgs.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. $17.99  Content:  Language: PG-13 (81 swears; 10 God); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13. 
  Sara’s life has always revolved around her close-knit family, to the point where she has almost stopped interacting with her friends.  Her loving grandparents and parents run a neighborhood bakery with the help of her uncle, but when her uncle marries, there begins to be some fighting within the family.  While fighting, secrets are hinted at, but never revealed to Sara.  So when Sara returns to her home on the night of her sixteen birthday to find her family home ransacked and her family missing, she begins to work at uncovering the family secrets, some that have been in the family for a long time. 
  This is an action packed story with a strong female character.  The family secret is revealed, but the overall mystery is not solved within this book.  This book introduces some minor characters that will be fun to learn more about in the upcoming book.  My only complaint is that at times it felt like the main character thought and acted more like a teenage boy, than a girl, but it didn’t take away from the excitement and readability of the book.  
MS, HS-ADVISABLE.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Cynical Wives Brigade (A Woman of My Age - Nina Bawden)

When Karen mentioned that she'd bought some Nina Bawden books, I commented that I had a few on my shelves, but had never got around to reading her - and, hey presto, a joint readalong of A Woman of My Age (1967) was born.  Karen's already posted her review here, but I have to admit that I have yet to read it - because I wanted to give you my thoughts before I discovered hers.

I didn't know what to expect from Nina Bawden - I've never even read her famous children's books - so I started the novel with more or less a blank canvas. Elizabeth is the heroine (if the term fits... which it doesn't, really) and is in Morocco with her husband of eighteen years, Richard.  The heat is stultifying and their companions a trifle wearying - the obese, overly-friendly Mrs Hobbs and her quiet husband, and the unexpected friend from home, Flora. Unexpected to Elizabeth, anyway...

As their journey across the country continues, the web between these characters gets more and more complex, as secrets are revealed and alliances kindled - but the mainstay of the narrative is Elizabeth's musings on her past life, as her marriage to Richard is slowly documented, and considered in minute detail.  For Elizabeth is nothing if not introspective - she's even introspective about being introspective, which does lead to one amusing line at least:
She peered appraisingly at herself in the mirror, pulling faces as if she were alone, and I was embarrassed by her candour. (Though I have as much interest in my appearance as most women, I feel it is somehow degrading to admit it.  Before we came away, I bought a special cream supposed to restore elasticity to the skin, but I destroyed the wrapper on the jar and the accompanying, incriminating literature, as furtively as I had, when young, removed the cover of a book on sex.)
Before I go further, I should put forward the weak statement that I quite enjoyed A Woman of My Age, because I'm going to harp on about the things I didn't much like.  So, while I do that, please bear in mind that Bawden's writing is always good, her humour (when it comes) is sharp and well-judged, and her characters are generally believable.  There is even some pathos in the account of Elizabeth's ageing relatives, but I shan't comment much on that - because they are pretty incidental.

Elizabeth's age, referred to in the title, is 37.  She has been married for nearly half her life, and is obviously rather dissatisfied.  We know this, because she often tells us.  Sometimes (in this mention of her early married life) it is almost laughably stereotypical:
We were bored with our husbands.  They were sober young men, marking school books, studying, advancing into an adult world of action and responsibility.
This is, I shall admit now, my main problem with the novel - and that which inspired my title to this post.  Elizabeth is a card-carrying, fully-paid-up member of the Cynical Wives Brigade.  You may remember how little I liked Margaret Drabble's The Garrick Year - you can read my thoughts here - and a lot of A Woman of My Age is cut from the same cloth. Perhaps it's because I've never been a wife, and because I wasn't around in the 1960s, but I find this gosh-is-my-privileged-life-wonderful-enough unutterably tedious, not to mention the casual adultery that all these characters indulge in.  Adultery seems, at best, a stimulus for another tedious, introspective conversation or contemplation.  Children, as with Drabble's novel, are included simply to show the passage of time, and none of the adult characters seem to have any particularly parental instincts.

Was this a 1960s thing?  Well, Lynne Reid Banks's The L-Shaped Room (1960) is one of my favourite novels, but I can't deny that it is very introspective - but Jane isn't a wife, so she manages to escape the Cynical Wives Brigade.  I haven't read many novels from this decade, but already I get the idea (supported by this novel) that it's full of this type of navel-gazing, morally-lax types.  For someone born in the 1980s, incidentally, there were a couple of moments which are very of-their-time, and rather shocking to me. (Were these views still acceptable in the 1960s?? Both are from Elizabeth's point of view, and neither seem ironic.)
As a result, I drank more than was sensible in my condition: like a lot of women, I always felt more unwell during the first three months of pregnancy than afterwards, and alcohol went to my head very quickly.
I was surprised at the violence of his remorse - after all, he had only hit me
I suppose I can't blame Bawden for that, if those were still prevalent opinions and actions in the time.  But what I can blame her for is making an interesting scenario and potentially interesting characters get so dragged down by the dreariness of reading about Elizabeth's self-pity and moping. To do her justice, another character in the novel does accuse her of exactly these faults. I cheered when I read this:
If they are a sample of your usual conversation I'm not surprised that he doesn't listen to you.  You're no more worth listening to than any bored, spoiled young woman, whining because the routine of married life has gone stale on you.  It really is very provoking, to a woman of my generation.  When I was thirty, we didn't have the vote, we had to fight for a place in the world.  Now you've got it, most of you don't bother to use it.  I daresay it's dull, being tied to a house and young children, but it was a life you chose, after all, you were so eager to rush into it that you didn't even take your degree.
I'm always curious when authors incorporate criticisms of their novel or characters into the narrative itself.  Is it a moment of self-awareness, to distance themselves from the voice of the narrator?  Is it the belief that recognising one's faults is the same as correcting them?  Or is simply a moment of regret, for the direction a novel should have taken?

(I should make clear - a lot of the things Elizabeth complains about are probably genuine issues. But complaining does not a novel make.)

And I haven't even mentioned the big twist at the end.  I don't really know what to say about it.

I'm still glad that I read Nina Bawden, and I'll have a look at the other one's on my shelves to see if they're any less frustrating.  Right now I'm off to see what Karen thought... come join me?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A very, very quick Bank Holiday post...

25 signs you're addicted to reading?

I reckon we'll all tick at least 20. Aaaaaand... go!

Book Review: One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

Series: The Rules of Scoundrels #2
Author: Sarah MacLean
Published January 29th 2013 by Avon
Age: Adult
Lady Philippa Marbury is...odd

The brilliant, bespectacled daughter of a double marquess cares more for books than balls, for science than the season, and for laboratories than love. She's looking forward to marrying her simple fiancĂ© and living out her days quietly with her dogs and her scientific experiments. But before that, Pippa has two weeks to experience all the rest—fourteen days to research the exciting parts of life. It's not much time, and to do it right she needs a guide familiar with London's darker corners.

She needs...a Scoundrel

She needs Cross, the clever, controlled partner in London's most exclusive gaming hell, with a carefully crafted reputation for wickedness. But reputations often hide the darkest secrets, and when the unconventional Pippa boldly propositions him, seeking science without emotion, she threatens all he works to protect. He is tempted to give Pippa precisely what she wants . . . but the scoundrel is more than he seems, and it will take every ounce of his willpower to resist giving the lady more than she ever imagined.
Sarah MacLean is one of my favorites historical romance authors and One Good Earl Deserves a Lover  didn't disappointed me.

Lady Philippa 'Pippa' Marbury is definitely odd for her time. She likes to study, she knows things no proper lady should know. But she doesn't know anything about intimacy, and she's getting married in two weeks. So she asks Cross, the ultimate scoundrel, to answer some of her questions...all in the name of science of course.

Cross is one of the partners in London's most exclusive gaming hell, his reputation of wickedness follow him everywhere. But he never expected proper but odd bespectacled Lady Philippa, to ask him about intimacy. She should be asking her next husband, even if that makes his blood boils. Since she doesn't seem to be listening to his request to stop this nonsense, he will make her gamble with him...but of course, he doesn't believe in luck.

What can I say? This book has one of the most sensual scenes where the protagonists doesn't even touch each other. Believe me, I'll never forget it. I think I was flushed all the time I read it. But if that doesn't convince you, the characters are realistic and very unusual. Pippa is extremely intelligent and daring, and Cross, even with his strong character, is very scarred and needs to be saved.

Overall, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover was everything I wanted and expected for an historical romance written by Sarah MacLean. With realistic but original characters, and some very hot moments, I couldn't stop reading. I really can't wait for the next book of this series, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Great Gatsby: What Next?

I thought, with The Great Gatsby (1925) being a big film at the moment, there might be people out there who are looking for other novels of the 1920s to enjoy. I haven't seen the film, and I have to admit that I wasn't particularly impressed by the novel when I read it a decade ago, but I do know a thing or two about the 1920s.  So do a lot of you, of course, but I thought, nonetheless, in case people stumble across Stuck-in-a-Book wanting to read more from the 1920s, I create a little decade Stuck-in-a-Book best-of (clicking on the title takes you to a full-length review).  Most of these don't have much in common with The Great Gatsby except for decade of publication, but - whisper it - I'd argue that they're all better.

1920 : Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson
To see how the Bright Young Things were behaving on the British side of the channel - or, rather, the Bright Middle-Aged Things - you can do no better than Benson's hilarious series Mapp & Lucia, featuring the warring heroines and their sniping, fawning, and eccentric associates.  But don't be one of those people who starts with Mapp and Lucia, the fourth book - start at the beginning, with queen bee Queen Lucia.

1921 : The Dover Road by A.A. Milne
If you've never read any of AAM's books for adults, or never read a play, or both, then this is a great place to start. It was P.G. Wodehouse's favourite play, and is definitely one of mine too - an eloping couple stop for the night in a hotel, and curiously can't leave in the morning... it's all very funny, ingeniously plotted, and surprisingly poignant in the end.

1922 : The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
A short, powerful novella about a man who inherits a house unexpectedly, and slowly falls in love with it.  There is more passion in this tale than you'll find in most romances, and if you can find the beautiful Hesperus edition, all the better.

1923 : Bliss by Katherine Mansfield
The link is a slight cheat here, since it goes to Mansfield's Selected Stories, but I had to include KM somewhere. Her writing is modernist without being inaccessible, and she is one of a tiny group of authors whose short stories satisfy me whatever mood I'm in. Observant, striking, entirely beautiful.

1924The Green Hat by Michael Arlen
The British equivalent of The Great Gatsby, at least in terms of parties, glitz disguising melancholy, and an enigma of a central character.  Also rather better, I'd say - although a writing style which perhaps takes some getting used to.  I described it as 'like reading witty treacle'.

1925 : Pastors and Masters by Ivy Compton-Burnett
If you've never tried any of Dame Ivy's delicious, divisive fiction, this is a good litmus test. Set in a boys' school, it's Ivy-lite. If you like it, you'll love her richer works - if you don't, then you'll know to steer clear forever.

1926 : As It Was by Helen Thomas
A biography/autobiography by the poet Edward Thomas's wife (followed later by World Without End) - together they are exceptionally good accounts of marriage, in all its pitfalls and peaks, and subsequently its fragility.

1927 : The Love-Child by Edith Olivier
One of my all-time favourite novels, this tells of a spinster who inadvertently conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life. From this premise comes a very grounded narrative, which is heart-breaking as well as an increasingly clever manipulation of a fanciful idea.

1928 : Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay is one of those bubbling-under authors - both from critical acceptance and middlebrow adoration. She deserves better in both categories, I think, and this delightful, thoughtful novel about a lightweight novelist and an aspiring highbrow woman is both funny and clever.

1929 : A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
You've probably heard of this essay, and you probably know its central tenet (about women needing an income and a room of their own, in order to write) but if you haven't read it, you're missing a real treat. If you find her fiction too flowery, this is a perfect place to sample her exemplary writing.

I hope you've enjoyed that quick whirl through the 1920s!  Why not do the same mini project for the 1920s - or any other decade - on your own blog?  Pop a link in the comments if you do...

Book Review: Reluctant Romance by Leighann Dobbs

Author: Leighann Dobbs
Published March 18th 2013
Age: Adult
Risa Kennedy will stop at nothing to save her company. Connor Dunn is a ruthless corporate executive who only cares about the profits. When the two are pitted against each other in a corporate buy out, sparks fly… and not just sparks of anger.

Connor has everything most women find attractive: he’s wealthy, astonishingly handsome, successful, charming and he loves his dog Picasso.

But the last thing Risa wants is to be attracted to Connor, especially since he’s trying to buy her pet-food company and shut down the low-cost vet clinic that she loves so dearly.

As their worlds collide a spark of attraction turns into a burning desire. But both of them are hiding secrets that could jeopardize everything.

Will Risa and Connor satisfy their desire or will the secrets between them extinguish their reluctant romance?
Such a cute romance. I'm a sucker for animal lovers characters, and this one satisfied my animal lover heart. Risa is a veterinary, daughter of the owner of a pet-food company and low-cost vet clinic. She loves her job so that's why she isn't going to help Connor buy the company and destroy it.

Connor needs to make a decision about the company before letting his father buy it, but Risa isn't making it easy. And their attraction is making it worse. Their dogs wants to be friends, but can he trust her?

It's a cute story, kind of short. I loved the dogs and even when I thought Connor needed to trust Risa a lot more, they made a sweet couple. It has everything to keep you interested and it's perfect for a quick read.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith –ADVISABLE

Smith, Charles R and Illustrated by Cooper, Floyd  Brick by Brick 32 pgs. Amistad, 2013. $13.36.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
It took more people than could be found to build the first White House. So slaves were brought in, they toiled without pay, by hand to build the White House. They also learned skills from craftsman that later enable them the chance to make money to earn their freedom.
I did not know that slaves helped to build the first White House so I was eager to read this book and learn more. But the story is very lyrical, and not all that clear. Students would not understand this book without teacher guidance. I think teachers would find this book to be a valuable component for a lesson on US History, Slavery, and American Symbols. The artwork is pixilated and washed out, but the pages are large enough that the visuals and unique viewpoint would make an impact.
Elementary –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Mary Walker wears the Pants by Cheryl Harness –ESSENTIAL

Harness, Cheryl and Illustrated by Molinari. Carlo  Mary Walker wears the Pants 32 pgs. Albert Whitman & Company, 2013. $14.42.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
Mary Edwards Walker helped lay the ground work for the role of women today. She rebelled against the typical female conventions by becoming a doctor, wearing pants, and actively participating in the civil war. Although she was often ridiculed, she stood up for what she believed and made a difference through hard work, perseverance and sheer grit.
What a fantastic role model!! Never giving up, individuality, standing up for what is right and just, and being yourself! This was an excellent book! The book does a great job of laying out understandable context, both about a woman typical place in this time period, as well as the events. A general foundation in basic US history would be helpful though –works for lessons on role models, biographies, women’s rights, and of course, history.  
Elementary -ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Changeling by Philippa Gregory - OPTIONAL

Gregory, Philippa Changeling, 256 pgs. Simon Pulse, 2012. $18.99  Content: Language: PG-13 (15 swears); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13. 
Luca Vero has an inquisitive mind, which moves him from the monastery he grew up in, and places him, at the age of seventeen, as the church’s inquisitor.  He is ordered to roam Europe and investigate the goings-on in villages that lead people to believe in supernatural elements.  His first mission places him at an abbey where he meets the beautiful Isolde, a lady whose brother swindled her out of her holdings upon her beloved father’s death and had Isolde placed in the abbey.  Luca and Isolde, working separately, begin to learn that the wealth of the abbey is coming from questionable means and the person who is benefiting the most from the circumstances is willing to go to great lengths to keep the secret.  Uncovering the abbey’s secret is the beginning of Luca and Isolde’s adventures. 
I was really excited to read this book because I have read other books by this author that I loved.  It’s hard to pin point what I didn’t like about the book, but I didn’t feel like either character was that endearing.  The storyline was fantastic and interesting, but sometimes repetitive.  Also the book felt divided between two adventures-almost like two short stories put together.  This is the first book in a new series and so the ending, although it did have resolve, left the characters fates unfinished.  I would probably read more of the series because the storyline is interesting and well thought out, but I’m not sure young adults would stick with it because, at times, the story seemed geared towards adults. 
MS, HS-OPTIONAL.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Waiting on Wednesday #110: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

A novel about the end of days full of surprising beginnings

The world is living in the shadow of oncoming disaster. An asteroid is set to strike the earth in just one week’s time; catastrophe is unavoidable. The question isn’t how to save the world—the question is, what to do with the time that's left? Against this stark backdrop, three island teens wrestle with intertwining stories of love, friendship and family—all with the ultimate stakes at hand.

Alexandra Coutts's TUMBLE & FALL is a powerful story of courage, love, and hope at the end of the world.
September 17th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Doesn't it sounds amazing?! It reminds me the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pterosaur Trouble (Tales of Prehistoric Life) by Daniel Loxton –ESSENTIAL

Loxton, Daniel Pterosaur Trouble (Tales of Prehistoric Life) 32 pgs. Kids Can Press, 2013. $12.20.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G;  Violence: G.
This realistic book takes the reader on a journey with a flying Pterosaur, an extinct flying giant reptile. We get to experience his flight, high above beaches and later on -what looks like southern Utah.We get to see how he deals with attacks from other dinosaurs and learn lots of interesting facts.  
This is a exactly the kind of book that students will just love, reading this book is like watching a real movie. Everything was fantastic; the simple story that takes us on a journey, the vivid outdoor settings, the well crafted and realistic dinosaurs, action packed events, and cool features like skin texture. I can’t wait to add this and all the other books from the “Tales of Prehistoric Life” series to my school library collection.
EL -ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The Eagles are Back by Jean Craighead George –ESSENTIAL

George, Jean Craighead and Illustrated by Minor, Wendell  The Eagles are Back 32 pgs. Dial, 2013. $12.23.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
A simple yet touching story about the small part one boy played in helping the American Bald Eagle come back from near extinction. The boy always watches his favorite pair of eagles, when he discovers that the two eggs they laid are crushed, he is upset. How can this be? What can he do?
While this book is full of information and doesn't hold back on the realities of the part humans have played in the situation –it also has this wonderful story that carries the reader through and brings them up with hope. The artwork is varied in presentation and interesting. I think this book will be a wonderful addition to a school library collection and useful in areas such as American symbols, environmentalism, inspiration, and a nature story. Looks like this book is part of a series of animal population recovery books, worth looking into further.
EL –ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The Help (in which I step off my high horse)

I recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett - I shan't bother giving a full review, since I'm so late to the party that nearly everyone seems to have read it already, but it does provide a useful opportunity to talk about a general trend in my reading.

Very briefly, for those not in the know, The Help is about 1960s America - Jackson, Mississippi, specifically (which to me is chiefly notable for producing Eudora Welty and this wonderful song) - and the racial tensions of the time.  Particularly those between maid and employee - the cast of characters is almost exclusively women, including the three narrators Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter Phelan.  All three narrators are marvellously engaging, the whole novel is a terrific page-turner without sacrificing any narrative polish, and all in all it's a very good novel.  If it weren't tremendously popular already, I would be waxing evangelical about it to all and sundry.

It's not a flawless novel.  You think the characters are complex (and some are) but then you realise that some of the racist characters are unrealistically bad in all ways - and there is an incident involving a naked man and a poker which needn't have been in the novel at all (and isn't nearly as unpleasant as I've realised that sentence sounds.)  But it's an extremely impressive debut novel, and it's bewildering that 50 agents turned it down.

Simply to create three characters so empathetic and engaging (that word again; but it is appropriate) is an exceptional achievement.  Novels were multiple narrators usually end up having one who isn't as vibrant as the others, or one who is head and shoulders above the rest - not so, in Stockett's case.  I was always delighted to see any of them turn up in the next chapter - with perhaps a slight preference for irrepressible Minny. No, wise Aibileen might come top. Oh, but what about Skeeter's enthusiastic confusion and determination?  Oh, hang it, I love them all.

So why am I writing about The Help without reviewing it properly?  To expose one of my failings, I'm afraid.

I had assumed, since it was so popular, that it would be very poor.  If it hadn't been for my book group, I wouldn't have read it - and I'm grateful to the dovegreybooks ladies for giving me a copy (although I don't know which of the group it was!)

You can excuse me - or at least understand where I'm coming from.  If you've found your way to Stuck-in-a-Book, I wouldn't be surprised if you've experienced a similar thing.  Seeing Dan Brown and his ilk at the top of the bestseller charts, it's difficult to believe that anything of quality could sell millions of copies, in the way that The Help has.

I did love The Time Traveller's Wife, but other bestselling representatives of literary fiction have proven singularly disappointing to me.  Ian McEwan's recent output has been rather 'meh'; Lionel Shriver's fantastically popular We Have To Talk About Kevin was so dreadfully written that I gave up on p.50.  Things like The Lovely Bones and The Kite Runner weren't exactly bad, but I found it difficult to call them good, either.  Bestselling literary fiction is usually vastly better than bestselling unliterary fiction (yes, Dan Brown, I'm looking at you) but it doesn't excite me.

Remember a little while ago I posted that quotation from Diana Athill, about the two types of reader, and how the second type created the bestseller?  Well, my experience had led me to believe that I'd never find a chart-topping novel that I really loved and admired.  Perhaps a few would be page-turners, but I couldn't imagine any would actually bear closer analysis too.

Well, reader, I was wrong.  While Kathryn Stockett isn't (yet, at least) on the scale of great prose writers like Virginia Woolf, she is certainly a cut above the usual.  I'm delighted that I stepped down from my high horse long enough to enjoy it - or, let's face it, that I was pushed off against my will.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cookie Monster's Busy Day by Ernie Kwiat -- ADVISABLE

Kwiat, Ernie Cookie Monster's Busy Day 40 pgs. Candlewick Press, 2012. $5.99.

A collection of four very short early readers featuring Cookie Monster and friends. Includes Cookie and Elmo Eat Their Colors, Cookie Monster and the Parade, Cookie Monster Cleans Up, and Cookie Monster's Bed.

Featuring colorful images, simple words and concepts, and lots of repetition, these are nice for new readers who still have an interest in Sesame Street. Since the accompanying text includes longer words that are not always seen on beginning sight words lists, such as pillow and tricycle, these are probably best for reading with an adult's assistance.

Pre-K, EL (K-3) -- ADVISABLE. Reviewed by: Caryn

And the Winner is….Amazing Animal Athletes by Etta Kaner –ADVISABLE

Kaner, Etta and Illustrated by Anderson, David And the Winner is….Amazing Animal Athletes 32 pgs.Kids Can Press, 2013. $12.20  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ;  Violence: G.
A competition sporting event between all kinds of animals. There are fun commentators; a walrus and a cockatoo, who are featured across the top of each page –making their comments and providing info. Four different animals square off in each of a variety of events from the Marathon to Swimming. Facts and information about each participant are provided. Once the reader turns the page they discover the winner, and how humans compare.
Content wise, this was a fantastic book! I loved the commentators and the presentation. The information was interesting and fun. But, I thought the art work was dated looking, a bit drab, not appealing to students. If the majority of this book had been done with action photography, I think this would be an all-time favorite. I might have trouble trying to get students to choose this over the more showy Guinness World Book Record Books.  
EL, Elementary –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity by Adrienne Mason –ADVISABLE

Mason, Adrienne and Illustrated by Thompson, Margot Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity 32 pgs. Kids Can Press, 2013. $17.06.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
This story starts with a wonderful analogy of how earth is much like Noah's Ark. It goes through a variety of topics that relate to biodiversity, such as global warming, dirt, alien species, and saving wild places. It also includes examples of people today who are making a difference and suggestions for students.
This book is very well written! It is interesting, invokes the 5 senses, and manages to squeeze in important definitions without sounding textbook like in the slightest. I really liked the biodiversity perspective presented in this book. The pages are huge and filled with beautiful illustrations. Add this to your Going Green collection.
 EL, Elementary -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Some books...

Wow, thanks for all your comments on the previous post - I will reply to them soon, but basically it seems like we all make wishlists somewhere or other, and I'm very impressed by how organised some of you are!

And I thought I'd treat you with a little pile of books which have recently come to Stuck-in-a-Book Towers... let's work from the bottom up, shall we?  (I hadn't realised until I put these together for the photo quite how blue books have dominated of late...)

London War Notes 1939-1945 by Mollie Panter-Downes
I thought this book was absolutely brilliant, and essential WW2 reading, when I reviewed it earlier in the year - but I didn't actually own a copy. When an affordable one came up in my abebooks alerts, I high-tailed it to... well, the internet. But the book is mine now, and I'm thrilled!

Selected Poems by Anthony Thwaite
The Norman Church by A.A. Milne
The Man in the Bowler Hat by A.A. Milne
These all came via a connection Claire/The Captive Reader brought to my attention - as you might know, A.A. Milne is one of my favourite authors, and the first one I loved wholeheartedly in my adult reading. 2012 was Claire's year of discovering AAM, and she read many of his books - and Ann Thwaite's exceptionally good biography A.A. Milne: His Life.  I've read it a few times, in pre-blog days, but haven't posted about it yet. Anyway, Ann Thwaite spotted Claire's review and commented on it that she's looking to sell some of AAM books - read her comment on this post - and I got in touch with her.  We had a chat on the phone, and she was lovely - and I bought the Milne books mentioned here. The collection of poetry by her husband came as a surprise bonus, and I must write to thank her soon :)  I can't tell you have special it feels to have these books come from the author of a biography which affected my reading so much.

The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill
This one was a recommendation by a SiaB reader, Tina, as mentioned in my previous post.

Symposium by Muriel Spark
One of the few Spark novels I didn't already own. very kindly given to me by Karen. It might well be my next Spark read...

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay
Coming Up For Air by George Orwell
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept by Elizabeth Smart
I bought these in the brilliant Amnesty Book Shop in Bristol last weekend - I did already have a copy of the Macaulay, but not in this gorgeous NYRB Classics edition... I'm not the sort of person who could resist that, as well we all know.

Mel recommended the Catherine O'Flynn, and the other two are books I've been intending to read for ages. Well, actually I just want to read more Orwell in general, and had hoped to find The Clergyman's Daughter, but this will more than do.

Letters of Lewis Carroll
Well, why on earth not? (Also timely, as I am going to see Judi Dench in Peter and Alice this weekend. Can't wait!)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Eighth Grade is Making me Sick by Holm, Jennifer L. -- ADVISABLE

Holm, Jennifer L. and Elisia Castaldi Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis's Year in Stuff 121 pgs. Random House, 2012. $15.99. (Language: PG, Sexual Content: PG, Violence: PG)

Told entirely in full-color illustrations, this cross between a scrapbook and a graphic novel uses notes, class assignments, shopping lists, bills, instant messages, and many other items to show the highlights of Ginny Davsis' eighth grade year. She begins with a new house and a new list of things to do, including trying out for cheer, saving money, and teaching her grandfather how to use e-mail. But she could never have anticipated the difficulties she had ahead of her, from her stepfather losing his job to her mother having a new baby.

This is a surprisingly touching and fun insight into one girls' middle school life. The colorful, collage-like pictures contain many details, and the plot takes a fair number of twists and turns. The format does make it difficult to become fully invested in Ginny and the other characters, but Holm does an admirable job, and the unique presentation should be appealing to many students. This is a follow-up to Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf, but stands alone fairly well.

MS -- ADVISABLE. Reviewed by: Caryn

In the Tree House by Andrew Larsen –OPTIONAL

Larsen, Andrew and Illustrated by Petricic, Dusan  In the Tree House 32 pgs. Kids Can Press, Ltd, 2013. $13.15.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
This is a story about 2 brothers, the tree house they build with their dad, and how even though things are changing, they can still spend time together.
This was kind of an odd story. I felt like all fun of the tree house was over with quickly, then moving right into the depressing part where the older brother has moved away from the friendship with his younger brother. Some of the illustrations are really dated looking, while others are spectacular.
EL  –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Operation Robot Storm (The Mythical 9th Division Book #1) by Alex Milway–ADVISABLE

Milway, Alex Operation Robot Storm (The Mythical 9th Division Book #1) 224 pgs. Walker Children’s Paperbacks, 2010. $6.99.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ;  Violence: G.
The Country of Wales has a new glacier! That’s a problem, because there shouldn't be a glacier there, ever. So the Mythical 9th Division is called into action; Albrecht, Saar, Timonen. These 3 special agents are not just good at what they do, but they are Yetis. In this first book of a series they must face Balaclava and his army of Greebo robots. Will they be able to stop the bad guy from freezing the entire world?
This was a super fun book to read! It was really well written, super stuffed with secret agent talk and gadgets, and fast paced. I think students will really enjoy this, picking it up for its appealing cover, and sticking with it for its great characters and action. A series worth following.
Elementary- ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Book Review: Stranded with a Billionaire (Billionaire Boys Club #1) by Jessica Clare

Series: Billionaire Boys Club #1
Author: Jessica Clare
Published April 16th 2013 by Penguin Group
Age: Adult
The Billionaire Boys Club is a secret society of six men who have vowed success – at any cost. Not all of them are old money, but all of them are incredibly wealthy. They’re just not always as successful when it comes to love…

Billionaire Logan Hawkings needs a vacation.
He’s had a rough time after the death of his father and the betrayal of his fiancĂ©e. But with a visit to a recent business acquisition—a private island resort in the Bahamas—he has a chance to mend his broken heart.
When a hurricane blows in, a misplaced passport and a stalled elevator bring Logan together with an unusual woman named Bronte. She’s unlike anyone he’s ever met—down to earth, incredibly sensual, and even quotes Plato.
She also has no clue that he’s rich…

Bronte Dawson, a waitress from the Midwest, is stranded with the hotel’s domineering yet sexy manager Logan. What’s the harm in a little fling when it’s just the two of them, alone in paradise? But after several steamy island nights in Logan’s arms, Bronte’s ready to give her heart—and her body—to the man in charge.

But she soon discovers there’s more to Logan than he’s told her…a billion times more. Now, Bronte’s caught in a whirlwind affair with one of the world’s most powerful men. But can their love endure their differences or will it all just blow over?
Logan is a billionaire alpha male. He's checking his new hotel when a hurricane blows in and traps him with Bronte in the elevator. At first it's just about surviving, but then attraction hits and it's difficult to maintain their hands off while being totally alone at the wrecked hotel.

Bronte was fun, I loved her quotes. She's young and kind of a geek, so you wouldn't think she would be a good match for Logan, the sexy billionaire who is used to get everything he wants.

It's a romance full of twists, it's more difficult than you would thought for an independent woman like Bronte to have a billionaire boyfriend, and for Logan to trust a woman. But it was fun to see them together, and I even loved the secondary characters (I'm talking about a certain redhead).

It started good but at the end it was a little weak (too many things going on), but I really enjoyed Bronte and Logan's romance (I couldn't stop reading), and I'll keep an eye for next book of the series, Beauty and the Billionaire.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.