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Friday, July 31, 2009

49. After by Amy Efaw



Title: After
Author: Amy Efaw
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 353
Publisher: Viking Books
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: 8-11-09
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 7-31-09

I received this as an Early Reviewer, and quite frankly don't remember requesting it. When I read the line on the inside front page, "Who would leave her baby in the trash to die?", I began to worry that I had received a book that was not going to be to my liking at all. I guess it says something for Amy Efaw's writing that not only did she keep my attention through the entire book, she also held it enough that I finished the book in one sitting!

This is not any great work of literary genius. What it is, however, is the honest and straight forward story of Devon Davenport, a teenager who tries to throw her baby away after she gives birth to it on her bathroom floor and blanks out afterward. She has no recollection of the birth, nor did she have any idea that she was even pregnant. Due to the circumstances surrounding the event, she is arrested and sent to a juvenile detention facility, where she is held on charges of, among other things, attempted manslaughter. At first, she can't believe that she is there, since she's obviously not like the other girls there. In typical fashion, however, she begins to see that there is more to the other girls than her initial preconceptions, and she even begins to befriend the one girl who gives her problems from the beginning. This part of the book read like an after school special to me and was highly predictable. It wasn't until Devon started to come to terms with her own actions that the story started to have some substance. The story of her giving birth is told through flashbacks, from her own point of view as she begins to remember the events of that night, and these are handled very well; Efaw does not sugarcoat these aspects of the story. As Devon matures (over the course of a week) she begins to understand that she needs to accept responsibility and accept whatever punishment is given her.

It is a well-written book and does an admirable job of expressing Devon's emotions through the entire course of her journey, as she begins to understand what it is that she has done and what the consequences of these actions will be, even if she doesn't remember any of it at all. Not something that I would have picked up on my own, but I'm glad that the book made it's way to me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

48. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback



Title: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
Author: Simms Taback
Copyright: 1997
Pages: 32
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 7-29-09

Apparently I am the only person on the planet who has not heard of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. I discovered this quite by chance while at Walt Disney World earlier in the year with my friend C, and he mentioned something about it, and when I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, he started to recite it. Just about every other person on the bus promptly picked up the story as well, leaving me feeling quite baffled that I seemed to have missed such a rite of passage of growing up. A few months later, I was catching up on episodes of Desperate Housewives, and one of the characters mentions it on the show, and at that point I decide that it's a sign that I need to buy this book.

Basically, the premise is an old lady swallows a fly, and then continues to swallow other animals (a spider, a cat, a dog, etc) to deal with the animal that she just previously ate, until she finally eats a horse and dies. Honestly, there is nothing to this story, but the illustrations are fun, with diecuts in every other page, consecutively growing with each animal the woman eats. No great work of genius, but clever all the same.

47. Flawed Dogs, the Novel: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed



Title: Flawed Dogs, the Novel: The Shocking Raid on Westminster
Author: Berkeley Breathed
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 216
Publisher: Philomel Books
Author Website:
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: 9-17-09
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 7-29-09

When I heard that Berkeley Breathed was making the jump to novels, I was tickled. I have been a huge fan of Breathed's work for years, back when he was doing the newspaper strip Bloom County. I have followed his characters over the years, from Bloom County to Outland and finally on to Opus. I have picked up his childrens books and am now anxiously awaiting the release of the first volume in a collected edition of his Bloom County newspaper strips.

When I heard about Flawed Dogs, the Novel, I assumed that it was simply an extension of his children's book Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound, maybe telling the story of the riot at Westminster that was mentioned in the book. While this is partly true, basically Flawed Dogs, the Novel takes a mirror image of the original story, using characters from the original (mostly the dogs), and slightly altering others (Heidy Strüdelberg, former Westminster judge becomes Heidy McCloud, young niece to Hamish McCloud, owner of McCloud Heavenly Acres, and a famous dog shower in his own time), to make an entirely new and refreshing story of the love between a dog and their human. I firmly believe in the idea that there are "dog people" and "not dog people" out there; dog people have a dog and will understand what this story is all about. Not dog people simply won't get beyond that it's a fun little story.

The story revolves around Heidy McCloud and her dachshund, Sam the Lion. Sam is going to be a show dog, living only to make his owner happy. Heidy McCloud is an orphan who has been sent to live with her reclusive uncle Hamish McCloud. Through a chance encounter at the airport, Heidy and Sam become best friends (this chance encounter results in a taxiing 737 following Sam driving an electric airport cart who is following Heidy in a cab - trust me, in Berkeley Breathed's world, this works). Heidy and Sam make themselves a new home with her Uncle Hamish, secure in the knowledge that Heidy has found her dog and that Sam has found his human. However, Sam eventually is framed by the housekeeper's poodle, Cassius, when it becomes clear to Cassius that Sam will win Best in Show at the next Westminster Dog Show, a prize that Cassius feels has every right to go to him.

Uncle Hamish sends Sam away after he has been framed, and Sam eventually winds up at the Naional Last-Ditch Dog Depository, a dog pound for the mot unloved, un-adoptable dogs. Sam decides that this is not the place for him, decides to leave, knowing that if he could make it back to Heidy, he could make her understand what has happened. When he reaches the McCloud estate, Cassius heads him off, and Sam finally understands that it was Cassius who framed him. Sam is injured in a scuffle with Cassius, and is left to die when he is found and sold the New England University Research Labs. After several years imprisoned there, Sam organizes a mass breakout with all the other animals kept there. He then finds himself living with the Rough Handed Man, who has a kind heart but is in need of money and enters Sam into a dog fighting contest for money. It is here that Sam sees the poster for the upcoming Westminster Dog Show, with Cassius' picture prominently displayed, and it is here that Sam realizes that Cassius is to blame for his years of torment. He escapes the dog fights, returns to the Dog Depository, convinces the other dogs there that they must help him overthrow the Westminster and take revenge on all the other perfect, pampered dogs in the world. This is where the book really takes off.

Breathed's unique flavor of humor really shines through in the assault on Westminster. The lengths the dogs go to to sabotage the show are hysterical, especially when they try to get into the show disguised as a woman. My favorite scene in the entire book occurs here, and while most of this won't make much sense to anyone until they read the entire sequence, I have to share this bit:
"...As the small curly-haired dog tried to regain traction, he slid around toward the rear, giving the full appearance to the observing crowd that below the coat, Mrs. Nutbush's left bosom had gone rogue and begun a migration to better shores.

The club secretary watched this without expression beyond a single perfectly arched eyebrow.

'Madam,' he said, 'Your bits are restless.'"

I kept having to go back and reread this bit, because it kept making me giggle each and every time. In continuing Breathed fashion, the story eventually loops right back around to become a touching story of friendship and the love between a dog and human, as Heidy and Sam are finally reunited. I am always surprised by how Berkeley Breathed is able to make something that can in turns be so ridiculous and funny and absurd, yet still bring it around to become a story that has true heart and soul.

Waiting on Wednesday: A Dog at Sea by J. F. Englert

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

My "can't-wait-to-read" selection for this week is:

A Dog at Sea by J. F. Englert

I first heard about J. F. Englert's A Bull Moose Dog Run Mystery Series last year through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program. The series is about Randolph, a black Lab who solves murders. "Well," I thought to myself, "this sounds like a series written just for me!" (I have a black Lab of my own, Mame, named after one the greatest literary creations, Auntie Mame) I ordered the first installment, A Dog About Town, and loved it. I picked up the next installment, A Dog Among Diplomats, as soon at it was released. J. F. Englert was even gracious enough to let me interview him for From My Bookshelf...

From Amazon for A Dog About Town:
"Harry is a man still mourning the loss of his beloved girlfriend, Imogen, who left him suddenly without a word. He’s also the owner of a plump, poetry-loving Lab, Randolph. Like most Manhattan dogs, Randolph spends his days sifting through a world of scents, his owner’s neuroses, and an overcrowded doggy run at the American Museum of Natural History. But now a bereft Harry has drifted into a circle of would-be occultists. Which might not be so bad if one of them wasn’t also a murderer.

But which one? With 100,000 times the smelling power of a human being, Randolph can quickly detect the scents of guilt, anxiety, and avarice—and he has no lack of suspects, from a seductive con woman to an uncouth professor of the decorative arts. Now, to protect his hapless owner’s life, Randolph might have to do the unthinkable—and start training Harry to catch a killer…."

And also from Amazon for A Dog Among Diplomats:
"He reads Proust. Surfs the net. Is the soul of diplomacy.
And when it comes to solving crime,
Randolph is the dog for the job.

Murder has come to Manhattan’s East Village. And when detectives call twenty-something artist Harry to the scene, his Labrador, Randolph, instantly smells a rat. Why? Because Harry’s missing almost-fiancée—and Randolph’s beloved mistress—has been implicated in the murder, which has ties to the U.N. While Harry looks to the spirit world for answers, careening between terror and wild hope that Imogen is alive, Randolph goes into detective mode, using his superior Lab brain—2.3 pounds of smoothly functioning gray matter—to surf the Net, track down clues, and even land a job as a “therapy” dog to a depressed diplomat. Suddenly the brainy, book-loving Lab has done the impossible: he’s penetrated the shadowy corridors of the U.N. (which boasts the most vicious, backbiting dog run in the city) in search of a killer. Now it will take all of Randolph’s cunning to protect Harry, clear Imogen’s name, solve the crime—and stay alive long enough to enjoy his upcoming birthday."

The latest installment, A Dog at Sea, will be released later this year from Dell Publishing. According to Amazon, the release date is October 27, 2009, and according to Dell's website the release date is December 29, 2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

46. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Sir John Tenniel



Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Author: Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Sir John Tenniel
Copyright: 1865/1871 (2008)
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 7-25-09

With all the talk recently about Tim Burton's upcoming version of Alice in Wonderland for Disney, it got me in the mood to reread Lewis Carroll's original. I have read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland numerous times, but only until recently have I reread Through the Looking Glass, as I found a lovely collected edition at my local Barnes & Noble. This edition is particularly nice as it includes the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel for both volumes.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland opens with Alice sitting outside with her sister, doing her lessons. Alice is bored with her lessons, and when she notices a white rabbit run by wearing a waistcoat and looking at watch, which she finds a curious thing, she decides to follow him, where she falls down the rabbit hole and her adventures properly begin.

Wonderland proves to be a nonsensical home to many wondrous characters: the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Doormouse and their Tea-Party, the Duchess and her baby and Cook, the Cheshire Cat, the Mock Turtle and the Queen of Hearts and her pack-of-cards court. I won't go into too much detail of the story, as I'm sure most are familiar with the tale, and if you're not, my explaining it won't make much sense until you read it. The book reads very much like a dream, with one scenario leading into another without much in the way of logic.

Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, taking place some six months later, even though there is no real reference to the first volume. The only two characters to really carry over from Wonderland are the Mad Hatter and the March Hare (here known as Hatta and Haigha) and even then Alice doesn't seem to recognize them. While Wonderland's court theme was based on a pack of playing cards, the court system in Looking Glass is based on chess, with a Red Queen and White Queen both playing important roles in this volume. Again, the story reads much like a dream, with no real rhyme or reason to the procession of the story.

I love the illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. They are perfectly suited to story, capturing the look and feel of the characters and Wonderland.

In doing some reading about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I made some interesting discoveries. I always assumed that both stories were based on Lewis Carroll's stories that he told to Alice Liddell and her sisters, and while this is partly true, as the chess theme from Looking Glass did in fact come from discussions that Carroll had with the Liddell children while he was teaching them chess, the idea of the looking glass came from a discussion that Carroll had with another Alice, his cousin, Alice Raikes.

There have been several films based on Alice and her adventures, but the version I think many people are most familiar with is the Walt Disney animated version, Alice in Wonderland. This version does stay true to many aspects of the story, but really is a combination of the two original stories; for instance, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are not introduced until Looking Glass in the original volumes, yet they appear quite early on in the Disney film. Of course, there have been several other film versions over the years, but when I talk about Alice in Wonderland with other people, this is always the version that is brought up. Tim Burton's upcoming live action/motion capture animated version will be apparently taking place when Alice has grown up, forgotten about Wonderland, and fallen back into the rabbit hole. I am really looking forward to that film!

Another film that is highly influenced by both Wonderland and Looking Glass is the recently released Phoebe in Wonderland. Ultimately, the movie uses the book to parallel madness in a little girl, and her journey through that "Wonderland" of madness until she comes out the other side, understanding what it is exactly that is happening to her. The movie is a stunning piece of work, and Elle Fanning and Felicity Huffman are both fantastic in their respective roles.

There have also been several other literary stories that are influenced by Alice's adventures as well, the most recent being Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, of which the final book, ArchEnemy, will be released later this year. It is an interesting twist on the Alice story, full of political and courtly intrigues, mystery, adventure, a civil war, magic and Imagination. I'd highly recommend it.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland remains one of my favorite books, and I like to wander back into Wonderland every so often, just to remind myself how much I enjoy it. Every time I read it, the Cheshire Cat always sums up the story best for me:

'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.

'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

This conversation always makes me smile. For me, it is the perfect description and explanation for the story, since in our dreams, aren't we all a little mad?

Unfortunately, the edition that I have doesn't appear to be available online through Barnes & Noble's website anymore, as this is the edition that I would recommend, but you may be able to still find one in your local store, in the bargain section where the classics are located. I believe that my local store still has a handful of copies, so they may still be available elsewhere. Otherwise, I'm sure any edition will do, but try to find one with the Tenniel illustrations.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Free books!

Who doesn't love free books? I know I do!

I just discovered this website, Free Book Friday, and wanted to share it with my readers. Every Friday, they "feature a new author with an exclusive author interview podcast or written Q&A and host a drawing to win free signed copies of his/her book."

This week's selection is Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and they are giving away 5 autographed copies! All you have to do is stop by their website and fill out the entry form. Every Friday morning, they announce the randomly chosen winners. Good luck!

Giving myself a reset

I am giving myself a reset. I am stepping back from every challenge that I had set up for myself at the beginning of the year. I was falling behind with every challenge, and instead of being enjoyable challenges, they were becoming a frustration for me. And reading is not supposed to be a frustration, right? It's supposed to be an enjoyment, an escape, a way to relax. I was beginning to feel that I had let down the publishers and authors who have sent me books; that I let down the readers of my blog for not being more focused; that I had let down myself for letting something that I normally enjoy become something that I was beginning to dislike and when I stopped finding enjoyment in it and felt that it was becoming a chore as opposed to a form of relaxation, I decided that something needed to change.

I am quitting the 9-9-9 Challenge, my 1001 Books Challenge, even my Agatha Christie Challenge. Every challenge that I am part of that I don't even remember that I am a part of. I will more than likely pick up the Christie and 1001 Challenge again next year, but for now, I don't want to challenge myself with anything more than deciding what book to enjoy next.

I have picked up some excellent books over the last couple of months and have received some fantastic books for review, and I want to be able to move from one to the next without feeling that I have to. While I understand that I owe it to the publishers and authors who sent me the books for review, and while I have kept up (for the most part) on my ARC reviews better this year than I have in years past, I still want to be able to enjoy them, and trying to find Challenge books to add into my monthly allotment is just becoming too frustrating.

So, I'm setting aside every book that I am in the middle of. I am reorganzing my ever-growing TBR pile. There are some very good books that I have picked up that I want to read first, and then I want to start with my most recent purchases and work my way backward. I would like to think that I could stop purchasing books for awhile to help myself get caught back up, but I know me and I know that isn't going to happen.

So there it is. My reset. I want to get back into enjoying this hobby, back to enjoying the community of fellow book readers and bloggers that are out there. I want to reconnect with them all and with my library. If I have books that been sent to me for review, I have a new system in place for keeping track of them and when they need to reviewed by, and if the release date has passed on a book, for that I am truly sorry. I am working hard at getting myself back on track, and will still get you the review, be it a little late. Hopefully giving myself this new beginning in the middle of the year will help me accomplish all of this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Waiting on Wednesday: ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

My "can't-wait-to-read" selection for this week is:

ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor

From Amazon:
"Discover the fate of Wonderland- and imagination itself- in this riveting conclusion to the New York Times bestselling trilogy.

The Heart Crystal’s power has been depleted, and Imagination along with it. The people of Wonderland have all lost their creative drive, and most alarmingly, even Queen Alyss is without her powers. There is some comfort in the fact that the vicious Redd Heart seems to be similarly disabled. Amazingly, she is attempting to team up with her enemy, Alyss, in order to reclaim Wonderland from King Arch. Alyss might have no choice but to accept Redd’s overtures, especially when she begins to receive alarming advice from the caterpillar oracles.

Page-turning and complex, this culmination of the Wonderland saga is intensely satisfying."

ArchEnemy will be released on October 15, 2009.

Books at the movies: Coraline and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Coraline was released on DVD yesterday, and I picked up my 2-Disc Special Edition, which also includes a special sneak-peek at 9 (could I be anymore excited about that movie?). I saw Coraline with S & B when it was released into theaters in February. We are all huge Gaiman fans and all went into the theater with high expectations. I think I was the only one who left the theater without their expectations tarnished. The movie does deviate enormously from the book almost from the very beginning, but it retained the basic feel and creepiness of the original story. S didn't like it because the characters didn't match the original Dave McKean illustrations as much as she would have liked, and B didn't like it because it deviated too far from the book for his liking. I think what helped me most was when I realized from the very beginning that it was departing so far from the text, I decided to look at it as a separate creature; both the book and the movie arrive at the same point, they just decide to take different avenues to get there. The stop-motion animation is astounding and the music is perfectly suited to the feel of the movie. Overall, I find it to be a fine film and one that does an admirable job of translating the book to film, if in a roundabout way.

The DVD release also includes the 3-D version of the film and four pairs of glasses to watch it with, but I haven't given that a try yet.

In contrast to that, I cannot describe how disappointed I am in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. My friend K described it perfectly when she said, "I was expecting to be blown away by Harry Potter, but was met with a slight breeze instead..." There was so much potential to be had with this film, and they just squandered that potential. Now, to be honest, I have not read the book since the night before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, so my memory could be a little fuzzy on some matters, but I just couldn't help but feel that they left some very important bits out of the movie. I almost wonder if this book wouldn't have benefited from being split into two films, like Deathly Hallows will be. The biggest disappoint for me came at the end, at the crucial moment of the film (and I won't spoil the moment just in case the one person who doesn't know how Half-Blood Prince ends happens to be reading my blog). I just can't believe how underwhelming the entire moment and follow up is in the film. The special effects are quite amazing, but that was the only thing that I was able to say that I found done really well in the movie. I think this is a fine example of how you can take a great book, and muddle around with it too much and create something that is so disappointing. Oh well. Hopefully the split-in-two Deathly Hallows will live up to its own expectations.

45. Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, et al.



Title: Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
Series: Batman
Author(s): Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, et al.
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 128
Publisher: DC Comics
Twitter: @neilhimself
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 7-21-09

OK, I'm prepared for the gasps of shock and anger from the appropriate crowd, but honestly, I was really disappointed in this story. Maybe part of the problem is that I am just not that familiar with what is happening in the individual comic book series right now, but I do know that Bruce Wayne has apparently died. Gaiman was asked to write a swan song of sorts for Batman, and Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? is the end result.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but I don't think this was it. Originally publihsed in Batman #685 and Detective Comics #852, basically, we are witnessing Batman's funeral (not Bruce Wayne's) and the remaining supporting cast of the series has come to pay their respects. Each person, including his Rogues Gallery, speaks about Batman and how he died, and how each person contributed to his death. Yet not one of these stories matches with another. And it appears that Bruce Wayne is viewing all of the ongoings as a sort of out of body experience.

I think the biggest problem here is that Gaiman was only given two issues to write this out in. I definitely think that the story could have benefited from one, maybe two, more issues of story. It seemed, at least to me, that Gaiman had more story to tell but had to compress what he had to make it fit into the space allotted. He tried to pay tribute to each of the most influential artists and writers of the Batman mythos, but with so many tributes crammed into only two issues and still needing to leave room for the "big reveal" explanation at the end, what we're left with is a rather jumbled mess of a story.

Andy Kubert's art is quite stunning throughout. He makes an effort to replicate the basic art styles from each time frame that Gaiman pays tribute to, and does an admirable job. His unique style comes through the entire story, but you can also see the artistic influences of the time in his art. I found it a unique and fresh approach to the art. I just wish the story itself left me with the same feeling.

Also included in this edition are four other Batman stories that Gaiman has written over the years.

Maybe if I were more immersed in the Batman series right now, this story would have meant more to me. Maybe if I were a faithful monthly reader, I would have gotten more out of it. But I'm not a stranger to the Batman mythos, and this still felt like Gaiman couldn't quite decide where he wanted to take his story. Maybe he needed another issue. Who knows. I'm sure this story will appeal to the right person, whether that person is a Gaiman fan or a Batman fan. All I know is that I'm a little bit of both (more a Gaiman fan than a Batman fan) and I was left wanting something more out of this story.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

44. Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound by Berkeley Breathed



Title: Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound
Author: Berkeley Breathed
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 48
Author Website:
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 7-20-09

The Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound, founded by former Westminster Dog Show judge Heidy Strüdelberg (who was removed from the show when, in a fit of hysteria, realized the error of her ways and named a three-legged streetdog Best in Show), is a refuge for the the unloved, uncared-for dogs of the world. Heidy Strüdelberg's philosophy is "Not for the cut of their coat, but for the content of their character shall we love them!"

There are several layers to this story. In typical Breathed fashion, the art is both outrageous and sublime, and the limericks and rhymes are witty; "Bipsie was bought to replace / The dearly departed Sweetface. / A beauty in blues / With some parts chartreuse / She clashed with the whole bloody place." There is a moral to this story, though; that even though someone or something isn't perfect does not mean that it deserves any less love. The book is also Breathed's plea to future dog owners to go to their local dog rescue and adopt a loving pet there. Even though these dogs may not be the best in the pack, may not be perfect, does not mean that they are not looking for loving homes or not as deserving of one. Breathed can be sneaky like that, mixing an all too important message into a wild, fun romp of a book, so that you don't even realize that you are getting a message until the very end.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

43. Isis by Douglas Clegg



Title: Isis
Author: Douglas Clegg
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 113
Publisher: Vanguard Press
Author Website:
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: 9-29-09
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 7-18-09

A slim little volume whose cover and tag line caught my eye, Isis is apparently a prequel of sorts to Clegg's Harrow haunted house saga (which I will admit to having not read, much less heard of). The story is about the Villiers family who has moved to their ancestral home in Cornwall after the father has gone off to war. The family consists of Iris, twins Spencer and Harvey, older brother Lewis (who has gone off to school) and their mother and lunatic grandfather. Iris and Harvey are closest and are rarely seen apart. The estate gardener, Old Marsh, likes to fill their heads with the stories, legends and folktales from around the area; particularly about the burial grounds, or Tombs, of the Villiers family. One such story goes that you musn't make wishes or threats in the Tombs, as the dead will answer you, and then you must pay a debt to the dead.

After a time, there is an accident, and Harvey is killed while trying to save Iris from falling from a window. In her grief, she runs to the Tombs and asks that her brother be brought back to her, and he does come back, but with consequences. By the time I finished the story, all I could think of was W. W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw and the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for." Not knowing any background of the rest of the series that Isis is taken from, I have no idea whether or not this is a good background for these characters, but based on this book alone, I probably wouldn't pick up the rest of the series. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't that engaging for me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

42. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips



Title: The Well and the Mine
Author: Gin Phillips
Copyright: 2008
Pages: 287
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Author Website:
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Finished: 7-9-09
Challenge: 75 Books 09

From Amazon:
With an introduction by Fannie Flagg Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café

A novel of warmth and true feeling,
The Well and the Mine explores the value of community, charity, family, and hope that we can give each other during a time of hardship.

In a small Alabama coal-mining town during the summer of 1931, nine-year-old Tess Moore sits on her back porch and watches a woman toss a baby into her family’s well without a word. This shocking act of violence sets in motion a chain of events that forces Tess and her older sister Virgie to look beyond their own door and learn the value of kindness and lending a helping hand. As Tess and Virgie try to solve the mystery of the well, an accident puts their seven-year-old brother’s life in danger, revealing just what sorts of sacrifices their parents, Albert and Leta, have made in order to give their children a better life, and the power of love and compassion to provide comfort to those we love.

I will honestly admit up front that the only reason I requested this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program is because Fannie Flagg wrote the introduction. The description sounded acceptable, but really, it all came down to Fannie Flagg for me. I love Fannie Flagg and all of her books, and I thought, "Fannie Flagg hasn't written anything in quite awhile now, but at least I'll get to read an introduction by her!" Well, how wrong I was. I not only got an introduction by Fannie Flagg, but I also got a book that is honest, funny, poignant and touching all wrapped up into a story that I won't forget anytime soon.

Taking place in 1931, The Well and the Mine tells the story of Albert and Leta Moore and their family, daughters Virgie and Tess and young son Jack. The Moore's own land, so do not struggle as much as some of their neighbor's during the Depression, but still, like it is for everyone, times are not easy. Albert works in the coal mines, a fate that he doesn't want to have happen to his son. Leta cooks and cleans and takes care of her family, sometimes doing without for herself to make sure her children want for nothing. The children help out with day to day chores, but live a rather sheltered life at home, not knowing how bad it is for some of their own neighbors during this time.

One summer evening, Tess witnesses a woman throw a baby into the family well. No one believes Tess, thinking the event is a result of her overactive imagination, until the next day when a dead baby is pulled from the well. What transpires from this event is an amazing journey for the entire family, as they come to terms with their changing views of their own lives and the changing world around them. The two girls find themselves most at odds with their changing perspectives on the world. Tess comes to terms with the fact that the world is not necessarily always a perfect place. Virgie begins to question her role as a woman, as the event makes her wonder what it would take for a mother to want to kill a child, and whether she wants her "self" tied down to a child or family.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of each member of the family, with each chapter being broken into segments from each person's point of view. This gives an interesting insight into the growth of not only each character, but in their own interactions with their family. Phillips easily writes in the local dialect without overwriting the accents and local colloquialisms that can so easily happen when an author tries to mimic a speech pattern from an area. She tells her story fluidly, and while some of the aside stories seem to veer a little too far from the main flow of the story, overall, she wraps the book up nicely, not leaving the reader feel like they've missed out on anything in the story.

I am very happy to have read The Well and the Mine. I love how Phillips adds more and more layers to her story, yet never makes it feel like she is adding too much. The story unfolds at a perfect pace, witnessed more through the development and growth of the characters rather than by the actual events in the story. It's a lovely coming of age story, not only for each individual member of the family, but also the family as a whole.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Tour: The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

I am participating in Elle Newmark's blog tour to promote her book, The Book of Unholy Mischief. I will point out, up front, hanging my head in shame, that I have not read The Book of Unholy Mischief. I see it there, on the shelf of every book store that I visit. I pick it up and look at it, every time. But then I think of the stack of books next to my bed that need to be read, and I reluctantly put it back. Well, I can honestly say that I think that is about to change. Elle Newmark was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to tell us, in her own words, a little about The Book of Unholy Mischief:

A couple of reviewers have compared my novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief, to The DaVinci Code, and I would just like to say… Are you kidding?

The DaVinci Code is a modern thriller based on a questionable thesis. The Book of Unholy Mischief is a historical picaresque about the power of knowledge.

Yes, they are both set in Italy, but so is Under The Tuscan Sun. Yes, they both have an element of mystery, but so does Miss Marple. Perhaps the thing that makes reviewers antennae hum to the same vibration is the stuff about the Catholic Church. However, Dan Brown weaves a massive and debatable conspiracy theory, while I simply point out a few inconvenient historical facts. I'm hardly the first to do that (ask any Lutheran) and it’s not the main point of the book.

The Book of Unholy Mischief is about a street urchin in Renaissance Venice who is caught stealing a pomegranate by the doge's chef and becomes an apprentice in the palace kitchen.

The kid, Luciano, gets involved in all sorts of intrigues surrounding a mysterious book, and the church is a player (it's the Renaissance after all) and it looks like his boss and benefactor, the chef, is involved. So there's a story question and it happens in Italy and therefore… it must be Dan Brownish?


The thing that most readers mention about The Book of Unholy Mischief is the glut of food metaphors. All the chef's recipes mean something, and sometimes they mean trouble. I don't remember anyone having so much as a burger in The DaVinci Code while Unholy Mischief is a friggin' feast.

So I say again: Puleeese. Can we stop comparing books to The DaVinci Code? Can we get past this cookie-cutter mentality and read a novel on it's own merits? The Book of Unholy Mischief has something to say about the value of knowledge, and it says it with food. Dan Brown has zip to do with it. So if you read it, please keep that in mind, and buon appetito.

Visit me at

So there you have it, from the author herself. Needless to say, I think I'm going to have to be going on a search this weekend for The Book of Unholy Mischief and partake of this feast myself.

I'd like to thank Elle Newmark for taking the time to tell us about her book!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

41. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan



Title: The Last Olympian
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5
Author: Rick Riordan
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 400
Twitter: @camphalfblood
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4/5 stars
Finished: 7-7-09

The final book in the first installment of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Last Olympian is where everything that has been building in the previous 4 books comes together at last. I really feel that this is my favorite book of the series. I feel like Riordan finally has a grasp of all of his characters and who they are. There was death and destruction, and the deaths really meant something this time. That was one thing that I feel he has handled poorly throughout most of the series thus far, that the deaths of some of the characters have been handled much too lightly. In fact, one of the major deaths in the second or third book was so matter of fact, that I really didn't think the character was actually dead.

Kronos finally brings his army to NYC and the Empire State Building, which is the current location of Olympus. The Gods have been drawn off in a battle with Typhon, so it is up to Percy and the other demigods to protect Olympus and the Gods' seats of power. Something else that I liked about this book is that most of the book contained the battle. So often, you have a huge buildup to a battle that is subsequently handled in one chapter. Not so here. I think the book is perfectly paced out (even if it is a little heavy on the nonstop action sometimes) and the characters all deal with their situations in very real terms. The story, obviously given the circumstances of the story, has become much darker in tone by this book, but there are still moments of levity and wit that Riordan has continually sprinkled throughout the series.

The book is quite predictable, as most of these hero-journey-type books are, but I still wasn't distracted from the story knowing I knew what was going to happen. These aren't books to think too hard about. They are to be read as is and enjoyed. It comes as no surprise that Percy and friends will have further adventures and I'm looking forward to them!

Rainy Day Rescue and The Quarter Horse Foal by Inda Schaenen as guest-reviewed by beserene

Awhile ago, I received a package of books in the mail from Running Press Kids, and while I appreciate the offer to get free books, these weren't exactly the kind of books that I read. My good friend and fellow reader, beserene, can sum it up best:

...So he got these two books and when he opened the package he had to laugh because obviously the publisher had not really paid any attention to the type of stuff he usually reviews. Girly horse books are not his thing. Fortunately, he has a friend who, once upon a time, used to live on girly horse books (yeah, that would be me) so he took the opportunity to pass the book (tee hee) and I agreed to review them. Here is the result:

Rainy Day Rescue: Saddle Wise, Book 1 and The Quarter Horse Foal: Saddle Wise, Book 2 by Inda Schaenen

The problem with Inda Schaenen’s horse-and-girl series is that it can’t really decide what it wants to be. The first book, Rainy Day Rescue, starts with the premise that the main character, a girl named April, has been terrified of horses her whole life because her parents were killed in a horse-riding accident when she was just a toddler. 'Okay,' the reader thinks, knowing by the cover and the series title that this is a horse-and-girl book, 'this will be interesting to see how she progresses through her fear and overcomes it by the end.' But then the book resolves April's fear in just a few more pages, making references to her being a "natural" with horses, and suddenly that lifelong fear, and its plotline, have disappeared. Wait, what? That was my reaction. Still, there is more book to go, so the reader carries on. 'Okay,' the reader thinks again, 'the expected didn't happen – that can be a good thing – so perhaps this will be about the girl struggling to get her horse, or to build a relationship with it, or maybe to achieve some horsemanship challenge.' But these issues are also resolved quickly and easily.

In fact, "easy" pretty much characterizes each new plot point in this slim book – every time the reader anticipates a challenge, it turns out to be no big deal. And that really becomes the disappointment of the series (because the second book, The Quarter Horse Foal is more of the same). Most of its time is spent on overt didacticism – April reflecting on herself and her relationship with her aunt, with occasional diversions to teach unsubtle lessons about patience, tolerance, etc. – and the ins-and-outs of daily horse care, which is necessary, but not necessarily thought through here. If this is a series for girls who already love horse-and-girl books, for those who started reading Marguerite Henry's Big Book of Horses at the tender age of 4 (okay, that would be me), then the instructions in horse care are old hat, and spending so much time on them (and those all-too-convenient lessons) is, frankly, boring. If, however, this is a series for girls who are not already acquainted with horses, or even for those who are a little afraid of them, then the details are good, but the instant-cure approach to that fear and the easy horse-and-girl heroism that so quickly follows will probably leave them somewhat alienated. I think this is a case of trying to be all things to all people (or at least all girls) and unfortunately falling somewhat flat.

There are some redeeming moments, of course. The interactions between April and her aunt, including their inside joke of "sometimes all a person can do is…" are sweet and several of the side characters are quite charming (though there are a couple of characterization inconsistencies between the two books, especially with Mr. McCann). The horse trailer accident at the beginning of the first book is vividly and cinematically written, and there are other moments of wonderful description which allow the reader to "see" the world that Schaenen has envisioned. There are also fun allusions to the classic horse stories that have gone before – Black Beauty, National Velvet, and others. Unfortunately, mentioning those brilliant classics, while obviously intended to direct girls to read those books (again with the unsubtle didacticism) or to cozy up to those who have, also sets up an inevitable comparison: those are great novels; this is not. It seems like this series was written as a prescription for a struggling reader who likes horses but doesn’t have the consuming passion of most horse girls, or in the line of 19th century girls books that aim to instruct more than entertain. If those are your intentions (and good luck with them), this series is fine, but there are better horse-and-girl books, including chapter books and series, out there.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Nothing but Ghosts Sales Drive Extended

My Friend Amy has extended the sales drive for Beth Kephart's Nothing but Ghosts until July 24. I just had the pleasure of reading Beth's book (check the next post down for my review) and would encourage anyone to pick it up. And if my word alone isn't enough to convince you to pick it up, there are also prizes involved with the book drive, so check it out!