Thursday, December 18, 2008


I will update this blog soon. . . I have been reading, and I have compiled my top reads of 2008, as well, which I will post on here soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Shattered Dreams: A Memoir

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife: A Memoir by Irene Spencer, 2007

Chapter One begins: "As we were growing up, polygamy was the ruling tenet of our lives. This "Celestial Law" was so integral to who we were and what we were trying to accomplish that most often, we referred to it simply as 'the Principle'. Everything else we were to do or not do, be or not be (a great deal, as it turns out) was ancillary to this: men were to have as many wives and as many children as they possibly could during the few years they walked this Earth. It was upon the conclusion of those trying, earthly years that we would all reap the divine rewards for our obedience to the Principle" (7).

This book is about Irene Spencer's time growing up as the fourth child of her father's second wife, and how they grew up very poor because her father drank and could not make enough money to support his (eventually) six wives. Irene's mother ends up remarrying a monogamist who is also an abuser. Irene herself had the opportunity to marry for love and monogamy when she was 15, but instead, felt the Lord tell her that she should become the second wife of a polygamist who lived part of the time in Mexico (because the US government had cracked down a bit on polygamy).

Irene became pregnant every time her husband was willing to be intimate with her (which became a stretch - eventually he had collected at least nine wives, most of which ended up divorcing from him, after they'd given him about 56 living children total). She gave birth to 13 children, and then adopted a child as well. Her first baby, a girl named Leah, died soon after she was born. They didn't know why. (Could it have been a heart defect? Just curious.) She wished they could just have intimate relations just for fun (and use birth control), but just about every time they did, she got pregnant.

All through the book, you can feel the author's frustration with having to share her husband with all of these other women and children. There was also never enough money to go around, even in Mexico. Irene leaves him a few times, but then of course, her husband threatened that she would never see her kids again. Finally, after twenty-some years of marriage, her husband died. It seems it was a release for her. She could finally live for herself and her children. She remarried a monogamist, and they seem devoted to each other.

I recommend this book. It was quite an education for me!

Untamed (House of Night novel, book four)

Untamed (House of Night novel, book four) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, 2008.

I read the first three books of this series earlier this summer, and then the fourth book came out. I loved the first book (Marked), while I felt the second and third books were just kind of. . . for lack of a better word. . . okay. However, I hoped that the fourth book would be better. I wasn't holding my breath when I started it. It didn't take long until I got into the book. This one "sucked" me in much quicker, which was great!

The series takes place at a House of Night, where teens and young adults who have been "marked" to become vampires (the marks a kind of henna colored tattoos of moons on their forheads). In this story, they do not have to die, really, to become vampires. Except, a new kind of vampire has formed. . . young marked vamps who did not survive "the change" and died. Except now the have bright red marks. . .

Zoe Redbird is the rising star - she's already a full vampire with tattoos over her body that form with each accomplishment. She's also only been marked for four months. She will be the new Priestess, and she knows that something evil is going on with the current Priestess. . . the question is, what? Zoe and her friends are back, after some major rifts, working together to try to solve the mysteries.

I really enjoyed this fourth book!

Monday, September 15, 2008

These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories: a Novel by Nancy E. Turner (1998)

First, let me say I loved this book, eventually. . . and it is "adult fiction".

I borrowed this book on the spur of the moment a couple of months ago (July), and read the first few pages. They seemed rather depressing, and I didn't continue, partially because the book was due by then. However, a week or two ago, I was informed that the author goes to the church I've gone to the last couple of weeks. This book was nominated in 2007 to be the One Book AZ book. (By the way, I'd like to see Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald for One Book AZ 2008!!) So, I tried These is My Words again. It is not easy reading. . . several people die in just the first 41 pages or so. However, by then, I had to know what happened. I have to say that this is the kind of book I've appreciated for years, since I was a kid (historical fiction in journal/diary format).

Wow, I was sorry when I reached the end of the book. Fortunately, there are seq
uals. There are several very sad portions, and some wonderful portions (for instance, I didn't realize the University of Arizona here in Tucson was the first university in Arizona) about the joy of reading and education. Sarah never got to go to school formally, but studies on her own, and eventually passes the 12-grade exams. She moves into Tucson with her husband, even though she hates being in town, so that her children could have the privilege of going to school. She runs a ranch on her own. Sarah is a very strong woman. If you go to the author's website, there are pictures of the woman Sarah is based on. Sarah is based on the author's grandmother's diaries and experiences.

An excellent read! I highly, highly recommend it!

Evernight by Claudia Gray

Evernight by Claudia Gray (2008)

I read this book last week. It is a new teen vampire novel. I enjoyed it more than (*gasp*) Twilight when I read that book when it first came out. The author really sets up a surprise in the middle of the book that I did not totally expect, which made it fun to read. The story starts out with the main character, Bianca Olivier, moaning about having moved to a new school and how she misses the small town she'd grown up in. Now she is in a snooty boarding school where her parents are new teachers, and she has very odd classmates. One of the classes offered is "Modern Technology", where the students learn about iPods and how to program a microwave. It turns out this class is for vampires who are several hundred years old who need a class to learn about technology. I found this rather silly, but the rest of the book was very good. I liked it better than the House of Night books I read earlier this summer. I did not like Evernight as much as the Vampire Academy series (I read the second book in this series earlier this summer.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief a memoir by Ann Hood (2008)

"Grief is not linear. People keep telling me that once this happened or that passed, everything would be better. Some people gave me one year to grieve. They saw grief as a straight line, with beginning, middle, and end. But it is not linear. It is disjointed. One day you are acting almost like a normal person. You maybe even manage to take a shower. Your clothes match. You think the autumn leaves look pretty, or enjoy the sound of snow crunching under your feet.

Then a song, a glimpse of something, or maybe even nothing sends you back into the hole of grief. It is not one step forward, two steps back. It is a jumble. It is hours that are all right, and weeks that aren't. Or it is good days and bad days. Or it is the weight of sadness making you look different to others and nothing helps. Not haircuts or manicures or the Atkins diet.

Writing about Grace, losing her, loving her, anything at all, is not linear either. . . Grief doesn't have a plot. It isn't smooth. There is no beginning and middle and end" (52-3).

This a very small, short book, but oh, so heavy. I could not put it down! I saw it a week or two ago on the new nonfiction shelf at one of the branch libraries, and I just knew I had to check it out.

I learned from this book that not only do older people sometimes die of a virulent strep infection, but supposedly otherwise healthy five year old children. I knew when I started this book what would happen. It says so on the book flap.

Ann Hood arrived one day in April of 2002 to pick up her 5 year old (whom she'd had at age 39) daughter Grace from ballet class, and the teacher told her that her daughter had possibly broken her arm. So they go to the ER, where they said yes, it was broken, and that the pediatric orthopedist might want to do surgery, but that is could wait a few days. Grace started running a fever, but her pediatrition wasn't that concerned. However, Ann was concerned and took Grace back to the ER, where they still didn't think anything serious was going on. Two days later, after surgery and intubation, Grace died in her parents' arms, while they are singing her Beatles' song, Grace's favorite music.

This book is about Ann's grief, and how she deals with it. How she deals with it differently from her husband (Lorne). How their son (Sam!) deals with it. How Ann could finally deal with sorting through Grace's things. How she could not tolerate the song "Amazing Grace" anymore. How she gave up her love affair with the Beatles, because all things Beatles reminded her of Grace. How they missed having a little girl, but found, now in their 40s, that they could no longer conceive, even with IVF. How they adopted a baby from China. Annabelle did not, could not, replace Grace, but she brought hope and laughter back into their lives.

Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle (2008)

I heard about this book from the YALSA listserv. It is a by a first-time author, and I feel it is very well-done.

It is unlike a lot of other books with fantasy themes. Magic exsists, and amongst the well-to-do families of London in the mid-1800s, when Queen Victoria is about to take the throne. Twins Persephone and Penelope are witches, but no one in society is to be made aware of this. They are also being presented out in society, with the hopes of making good matches for husbands. Their neighbor is also grown up, and showing much interest in Persy. Pen is much more interested in society, while Persy is extremely nervous and upset by the prospect of balls and dinner parties. Meanwhile, their teacher/nanny who was also teaching them magic on the side (and their mother supposedly doesn't know) is now missing, and the two young women are having dreams about where she might be.

This is a well-written book that I highly enjoyed because it brings historical fiction, fantsy, romance, and some mystery together in a fun way.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

White Magic: Spells to Hold You: A Novel

White Magic: Spells to Hold You: a novel by Kelly Easton (2007)

This teen fiction genre novel is relatively short, a quick read. Despite the title, it is not that "magical". It is mostly about a group of three girls finding the power within themselves to get through life and find their places in life. Each chapter is a different point of view (told from the perspectives of Chrissie, Karen and Yvonne with Jimmy thrown into the mix). It is fairly well done, but I had trouble getting into this book. If I were a teen, it might have been a little easier to get into it, but I am doubtful. I liked all of the girls' stories, but it didn't feel like it went deep enough, and felt rushed. Chrissie has just moved to California from Vermont, because her mom is getting remarried, and she is very resentful about leaving Vermont. Karen is in love with Jimmy. Yvonne becomes disillusioned in belief in magic when her wish comes true and her mother finds her, and turns out not to be quite who she always imagined she'd be.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Undead and Unworthy

Undead and Unworthy by MaryJanice Davidson (2008)

Okay. . . This is the seventh book in the Betsy Taylor series. I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as several of the previous books of the series. Perhaps it is because a few of the characters died and because it just was not as humorous! Where was the funny quirkiness I've come to expect from the author? I just didn't feel it this time. In previous books, the humor comes from ridiculous situations such as finding out that her newly discovered half-sister, Laura, who teaches Sunday School is actually the daughter of Satan, an extremely good daughter of Satan. In this newest installment of the series, I wanted to ask the figurative question: Where's the beef?

The Fiends are loose. Their minds are returning and they are remembereing who the are. So . . . they want to kill Betsy, because she's the vampire queen. It's not her fault they were made into vampires, and made to become feral, dumb creatures.

The entire book was boring, with the exception of The Ant (her now-deceased young stepmother, whose body was taken over years earlier by Satan, gave birth to Laura, who was then given up for adoption) coming back to haunt Betsy. This is really the only fun part, to me, of this book.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chalked Up

Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders and Elusive Olympic Dreams by Jennifer Sey (2008)

I couldn’t put this book down, and I read it in a few hours. (This was also perhaps helped by some insomnia, but still . . . )

Apparently this was a much-talked about book in gymnastics circles earlier this year when it came out. I was not aware of it when the title caught my eye from a display at the Mission Branch library a few days ago. Prior to actually reading it, however, I looked up the author’s website and blog. I didn’t recognize her name, though if she was in gymnastics in the ‘80s, I really might have seen her on tv at some point. I watched gymnastics back then, wanting to take part, knowing I was too old and too big all at the same time. Sey won the 1986 US National Championships. She was worn out and exhausted, and with lingering injuries before the 1988 Olympic trials.

This book really shows me that I would have never had the guts to do it. Sey says that as a kid, she really, really wanted it, and tried hard to be good enough. However, she was never good enough, at least in her mind. Her coaches all managed to point that out often as well. Even when she was little, age 7, her coaches kept telling her she wasn’t going to get anywhere if she was scared. (I would have been too scared. I might have liked the floor tumbling routines, but doing the same on the balance beam?? No way. I tried a somersault on the balance beam once in a beginner’s gymnastics class, and that was enough.)

Sey is quite critical about the coaching styles in the elite level of gymnastics. She admits that to stay competitive that she had to keep in shape even while she was recovering from injuries, but she does ask why no one in elite gymnastics puts a stop to pressuring, insisting that gymnasts keep ruining their bodies to achieve an often elusive dream. She also brings up the parents. I get the sense that her parents were not necessarily pressuring her at the beginning, but by the time Sey reached the elite level, her parents and family had rearranged their whole lives to focus on her goal. By the time that Sey was burning out, her mother was pushing her to kept trying to go on, to reach the ’88 Olympics. Sey admits that during all of those years, she did not or could not recognize the sacrifices her entire family was making for her. She feels bad now for a lot of things.

Sey is also very candid about her “diet” strategies to lose weight, and how weight was/is such a big deal in elite gymnastics. She is also candid about how she would peel the skin on her fingers as a way to cope. This is not always pleasant reading, but then I did not expect this book to be a pleasant happy read.

One part of her life that I wish she’d gone into more was her decision about a breast reduction (after she quit gymnastics, she matured and gained weight, and was not happy with the size of her chest). She does express that when she had her first son, she felt like she was not good enough because she could not produce enough milk for her baby due to the breast reduction. I feel like there is something lacking here, though. After all of the details (“despite the self indulgence”, page 279), then she kind of skips through life now. (And I wanted to know more about her BR, given that I understand, at least to some degree.)

I do like Sey’s Afterword. She feels like a failure in everything she does now. Ever since she attained success at a young age, she says, “It is inevitable that anything less than number-one status provokes feelings of failure. . . I work myself to the brink of exhaustion to suppress the feelings of not being good enough.” However, she goes on to say that really she is not a failure, that she is trying to do her best to raise her two little boys, that she forgives her parents and thanks them.

The nice thing is that she does have an online presence, and you can go to her web site and find links to articles and pictures from her years in gymnastics in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Little Prisoner

The Little Prisoner: a memoir (how a childhood was stolen and a trust betrayed) by Jane Elliot - First Published in Britain in 2005, republished in the U.S. in 2008. It was a British #1 Bestseller. I acquired this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Club. This is the third book I have received and reviewed for

First, I should say that I have read this book in its entirety. Jane Elliot (a pseudonym for her protection and that of her family) was inspired to write by reading Dave Pelzer’s extremely popular book A Child Called It. Pelzer’s book has been popular for several years now in the libraries I have work in, particularly amongst teenagers. That being said, I have not read that work. Five years ago, a coworker read the book and described it to me in such detail that I have had no desire to read it.

This newer book, Little Prisoner, shows me why I have not read Pelzer’s book. It is HORRENDOUS the way people treat one another. Child abuse of all kinds is not every right, and it was not just child abuse in this book. Everyone is threatened with violence by Elliot’s stepfather (who is only 14 years older than her) – and we come to find out that it is just not her stepfather, but her some of her half brothers who learn it from their father. If people even seem to threaten that they will tell authorities, police, etc, her stepfather promises violence, and he follows through. The idea of “family” is very twisted here. I usually like memoirs, and I have read some involving abuse, such as Sickened by Julie Gregory. That said, Little Prisoner is very well-written. It is clear and precise – from the author’s confusion from the so-called “games” her stepfather played, to the fact that her mother acted protective at times, but chose to look away most other times.

In the introduction to this edition, which I really enjoyed, Elliot rightfully “suspects” that there are two categories of one, those from “stable, happy homes, who can’t understand how any one can abuse child” (xii), and two, those who “suffered something similar themselves and find some comfort in discovering they are not alone” (xii). I am of the first category. As I read this, I constantly wondered how anyone could ever do this to any one. As it comes out during the court trial years later, this was beyond child abuse, it was about “fear and control”. I don’t understand, really, how her stepfather and all of his accomplices could have done all of these things, and continued to do them. I lost my infant son to heart defects, and would give nearly anything to have him here to hold. To me, it seems that a lot of abusers take children for granted and then don’t treat them with the love, respect and attention they want and need. I just don’t understand it.

I applaud the author for sharing her story, and hope that her family, with her husband and precious children, is doing well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

* Three Books *

Hallowmere #2: By Venom's Sweet Sting by Tiffany Trent - Just like the first book in the hyped Hallowmere series, by the end it was very good, but in the meantime, this historical fiction/fantasy story seemed very long and quite a slow read. At just short of 300 pages, it should have been a fairly quick read for me. Again, I liked the ending, but maybe it was just a relief to reach the end after a rather, um, ongoing plodding plot. The point is that this series will have 10 books! I guess to be a saga or maybe epic it probably needs to just drag on. Usually I like wordiness, but I have found with the first two books that maybe something needs to be edited or condensed. I haven't figured out yet, what needs to happen.

You, Staying Young: The Owner's Manual for Extending Your Warranty by Drs. Roizen and Oz. - This is a fun read, like their other books. I like the gray side-notes the most: "Yoga could very well be the ultimate de-stress technique. It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, decreases stress hormones, and increases relaxation hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. You can get the benefits of yoga in a single pose or in a full-fledged class" (78). I think the authors put a lot of things about health into "lay language" that makes a lot of sense and makes the information in this book much more accessible to a lot of people.

Waking: A memoir of trauma and transcendence by Matthew Sanford - This memoir is written by a guy who got into yoga (yes, more yoga) years after he was paralyzed from the chest down in a horrendous car accident as a young teenager. Now he teaches it, too. However, the part of the book that was the best, the reason I picked up this book at the library, was the story of his twin sons. One of them (William), they discovered in utero, had hydrocephalus, so they were planning on how to deal with a child who would have problems, but as the pregnancy went on, this little baby passed on. However, his mother continued the pregnancy for his healthy twin. The scene near the end of the whole book was the one that struck me the most: "Later, William and Paul and Jennifer and I are physically in the same room for the only hours we ever will be. I am struck by the calm, the beauty and ease with which we are a family. Paul in Jennifer's arms, William in mine, we are happy as we drift off into the silence of sleep" (240).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Teenage Waistland

Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and can't) Help by Abby Ellin (2005)

I read part of this book (skimmed it, really) two years ago in 2006. I heard of it again recently, and vaguely remembered skimming it, so I put it on hold. I am almost done reading it, and find it quite riveting. The point is, basically that by the time kids are teens, parents have no control over their kids' weights, and that individual temperments, genes, etc, will partially dictate a person's weight. Also, that teens need to be able to make their own decisions. When kids are young, even before they start school, parents can try to present healthy examples to the kids, and offer healthy foods. Many of the examples of parents in this book show that the parents themselves have a variety of food issues. How are they going to really help their children when they are hung up on themselves as well when it comes to food, eating, weight?

The book is a combination of the author's experiences growing up, in her family and at a variety of "fat camps" she spent several summers at. As a young adult, she had disordered eating as well. For a while, every third day she could binge if she wanted to, but the two days between, she had a nearly anorexic-type approach to eating. She lost boyfriends because she refused to eat with them. When she was growing up, her parents and grandma were always on her about her weight (and they were "dieting", too), and she loved food so much, and more when she couldn't have it.

The book has notes, resources, and references. It is a well-written book and definitely worth reading. It will make you think.

The Secret Circle Volume 3: The Power by L.J. Smith

The Secret Circle, Volume 3: The Power by L.J. Smith (1992)

First of all: the cover is upcoming! I need to scan the cover of my personal copy, so you can see how beat up and well-read it is.

Yes, I read this book as a senior in high school, after I'd read Smith's Vampire Diaries series of four books. I actually discovered the fourth Vampire Diaries book (Dark Renion) in the adult-level horror paperback section of the public library. The library did not own the rest of the series. I ended up buying all of them to read, and then ended up buying The Secret Circle trilogy, as well. Anyway, I loved all of these books. My favorite of all of the books I've read by L. J. Smith is The Power. These are "teen" books, but even as a senior in high school, I loved all the magical powers in these books. I've always wanted powers. I still love the third book of The Secret Circle, because of the main character, Cassie. Cassie, at the beginning is rather shy and meek, which are traits I have always thought I've had (though not quite so much anymore. . . I feel I am less meek, anyway), and by the end, she discovers not only the magical witch powers she has had all along, but the just the strength and abilities for leadership she's had all along without recognizing them. I always want to BE her. That is the power books can have.

The Secret Circle Trilogy is supposed to be released as an omnibus this fall. I think that means just a big book with all three books included. I think I would almost like another book with the characters. Actually, what I've always wished for, since the characters in the book were about my age (in high school when I was in high school), and I am now in my 30s, I would like a book more on the adult level and seeing what happened with Cassie, Adam, Diana, Faye and all the rest in the time since 1992 or so. Did they go to college? What happened with all their magic? Did any of them actually marry each other (since too much intermarriage really doesn't work out well genetically in the long run, although maybe it's different for witches, etc)? Any children/little witches running around?

That's what's fun about these books, too. . . the changes in what's popular, technology, etc. Walkmans are mentioned a lot in these books. . . now it would be iods, of course. Beepers are involved, but no cell phones. Cell phones were still very - large - and expensive in the early 90s. (It was until maybe two or three years after this that my mom got a cell phone for her car. It was phone with a whole cord and console. I wish I had a picture!) No internet! No IMing! I am glad these things are not there . . . really, one of the themes of the book(s) is the friendship and camraderie of the group, coming together to solve problems.

As a teen, though, I really loved Cassie and Adam getting together in the end. The romantic side of me, dreaming of just such an occurance for myself, thought this was just wonderful. I did kind of feel sorry for Diana, just a little, but also felt like eventually she would find her own guy with a silver cord. That everything would turn out fine.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Book of Kehls

The Book of Kehls by Christine Kehl O'Hagan (Copyright 2005)

I am not sure why I picked up this book at the library. I think it was because I liked the title, and of course, I like to read memoirs. I feel like I am a "glutton for punishment", too, becuase I discover the book opens with the author's 24-year-old son dying. The whole time, even before I checked the book out at the self-check counter at the library branch, I kept asking myself, "Why am I planning on reading this book?" I knew it would make me cry.

It was really what the author had to say about grief and guilt that I needed to read. The author is a carried of Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), and miraculously her (and her husband's) older son does not inherit the gene. They are hopeful and have a second child, and so much think they will have a little girl (who may be a carrier, but will not die from DMD), that they even paint the baby room pink. Instead, they have a second baby boy and they find that he has inherited DMD. He is diagnosed after his uncle, who lived into his early 20s also, has died from DMD. It turns out author's brother had DMD, the author's uncles and the author's nephews. It's been a genetic "fluke" that's been passed down in their family for generations.

After Jamie dies, Christine, the author, is extremely depressed, and finally all the guilt for Jamie's life comes out. She won't permit her husband to take any of the "blame", "guilt" or any other descriptions that could be put on it. It was very powerful when her husband tells her that it is his fault, that the guilt doesn't belong just to her. He took part in the creation of their son, too.

Near the end of the book when she is talking about what she has learned from all of her experience with muscular dystrophy, she says this:

"I'm not sure that you come back from grief stronger, wiser, tougher, or purer in spirit. Part of you, especially when you lose a child, comes back crazy. These days, Patrick and I are like a couple of helium balloons, keeping each other out of tress. When we get up at night for drink of water, we say 'I love you' to each other, and when we go anywhere, we hold hands. . . We tell too many people we love them too, and we cry much too easily. If you see us coming, and you want to run the other way, we completely understand. But it's nothing we can help. . . To me, it all seems a miracle. . . In restaurants, I'm delighted to watch everyone swallow, and I'm delighted to follow the natural rise and fall of a sleeping chest. . . Some days, the pain of losing Jamie feels like a boulder on my chest, and on other days a pebble that sinks to the bottom of my show. . . The hurt is always with me. Beautiful days are tinged with a brilliant, hard sadness, as if each day Jamie won't see is behind an unbreakable glass. My loss, my regret, color the seasons in a different way" (207-8).

It wasn't the deaths recounted in this book that made me cry, it was this long paragraph. Do you come back crazy? And she so right - the natural rise and fall of someone sleeping is so incredibly beautiful. Just last nigh, I was listening my wonderful, lovely husband breathing while he was sleeping. And missing our little Samnini so much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

It was exciting to get this book. The instant I saw the cover, I wanted to read it. With intriguing cover art, I am like a young kid who can't wait and has to have it. That said, I am adult who loves kids' books (really, almost all books, but that's besides the point). I am also an adult who likes fairy tales and any take-offs of fairy tales - you know, mix them up a little and maybe thrown in something new.

I liked Gracie and cheered her on, but I really wanted to know more about Foyce, as a Werewoman. Foyce is a combination - she was obviously an "evil stepsister" but she was also the Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. (Although I don't know if I like Gracie compared to Red Riding Hood. . . if you read the Sisters Grimm series, Riding Hood is not that likeable as a character. . .)

The bats and Gubble were the best characters. The bats had the most interesting tasks in this book. They were really keeping every under control and organized. Gubble was likeable and had more personality that many of the other characters. He made me laugh out loud. He is so proud of himself when he figures out that he can rhyme! ("Gubble's Troubles")

Overall, this was a quick and easy read for me. Enjoyable, as well. I would definitely recommend this book to any kids and adults who like fairy tales.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (Copyright 2007)

The tree behind the Waverly ancestral home, a large Victorian house in North Carolina, throws apples at the people who come near, trying to get them to eat the apples. The apples cause dreams, visions, really, of the biggest event of their lives, but not necessarily the best event of their lives. Claire, the Waverly daughter who now lives in the house, regularly gathers the apples and buries them. Around the tree grows magical herbs, which Claire ingeniously uses put in food for uses such as bringing happiness to other people or compelling them apologize if apologies are needed. The Waverly's special wine is used for helping people see in the dark.

This book, though, is not just about the magic, but about the relationships in a town where families for generations have either been the best of friends or feuding with one another, and not knowing the real reason anymore. Claire has felt so abandoned her entire life that she prefers not to make too many attachments. She only wants people and things in her life that will remain constant. Her sister and her niece are starting to become constants, but Claire worries that they will leave, too. Her sister Sydney and niece Bay have returned from some place and situation that Sydney reveals later.

This is a sweet book. The story is well-told and very effective. The conclusion of the story is bit predictable, but that is exactly why this book is so good. I enjoyed it very much.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Forever Lily by Beth Nonte Russell

Title -- Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother's Journey to Adoption in China by Beth Nonte Russell (2004, 2007)

"I want nothing of this world, nothing by to love you. What was false in me has died . . . What you have given me is beyond value, beyond price; what can I give you in return? It is my greatest wish that you be whole, and happy and free. I have never wanted something so much, yet felt at such a loss to achieve it. You represent all that is good in the world, in triumph over all that is bad" (197).

This book was an excellent read. Not only is it not a long book, but it is very well-written. The author opens this memoir while she is on the plane with a friend, accompanying the friend on her way to adopt a baby girl from China. The upshot is that the friend finds that even after a year of paperwork, etc, she is not ready to raise this new child, and begs the author to take the baby, who is eventually named Lily. The quote above is directed toward Lily and it a good example of the writing throughout the book.

Interspersed with the narrative of this emotional trip to China are the author's dreams and past-life memories. At first, this was rather irritating, as I, as the reader, wanted to narrative, wanted to find out what happened. However, the past-life memories became increasingly important in driving home the point of karma and how the author, her husband, and Lily belong together as a family.

This book is a recommended read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Caspian Rain by Gina Nahai

This book was a let-down. The title sounds great, and held such promise. The book flap made me want to read the book. The way in which the story was written and developed was well done and very dramatic. However, the ending came too quickly and suddenly. It was rather shocking. The reader is really left wanting more. Many of the periphery characters really were on the periphery. . . they could have been more fleshed out. On the other hand, the story is written reflects Yaas's (the daughter who is telling the story) limited experiences.

This was the first book I read by this author. I am really not sure if I will read any of her others. As my husband has pointed out, there are a lot of books by angry Persian women, and I had hope that this one would be different. Perhaps I will try another book by this author, and see if it seems as angry. I suppose I was hoping for a happier ending. I read the whole book hoping for something good to come out of all the unhappiness. I have read other books, fiction and nonfiction, set in Iran that I have liked and appreciated more than this book. I love the cover and the title, and really, I am disappointed.

Here is the link to the author's official website:
Actually, maybe if I can get her first book, Cry of the Peacock, I will give that one a try.

Friday, June 27, 2008

So many books, so little time

I plan to write about what I've been reading lately very soon. . . I've been busy moving across the country, and just tonight, I found some of our bathroom stuff. . . so now we have a place to put our shampoo, for instance.

I read the first two "House of Night" vampire series by PC Cast and Kristen Cast. I really enjoyed the first one (Marked), and the second (Betrayed), not so much. I don't even know if I want to read the third, but I know that I will at least skim it. I was not able to get my hands on a copy of Sucks to be Me, and I really want to read it. Meanwhile, I have some other vampire stories to keep me occupied. I will report on them fairly soon. I have been reading a romance, Sex and the Psychic Witch by Annette Blair, and though I liked one of her books that I read two years ago, I have already skipped to the end to see how it turned out. The ending wasn't all that surprising, which I did not really mind. I was into it at the beginning, but I've pretty much skimmed parts of it now.

Before this book and after Betrayed, I re-read Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, and read for the first time Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss by Ann Douglas and John R. Sussman, M.D. The first, Belles, I have read many times since my first read in 1988. The "old-fashioned" humorous family tales allow me to feel better when my life feels like it is in upheaval. The second is in doing background reading with the idea that maybe a few more months from now maybe trying to have another baby. I have also just started reading a novel by Gina B. Nahai: Caspian Rain. It takes place in pre-Revolutionary Iran. I have read the first few pages thus far, and it is much better written than the romance I've been reading, even though completely a different topic.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Most Excellent Year (Teen Fiction)

Title: My Most Excellent Year: a Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

Take a paper that needs to be written for school entitled "My Most Excellent Year" (well, that's what TC changes the title to be, anyway), journals, letters emails, lots of IMs, and three friends, and you have a great story. This very humorously written story is first about TC who has a passion for baseball and doesn't think he is popular, when in fact he his popular. He also misses his mother a lot. She died when he was little. His "brother" is Augie. They've been best friends since they were little and the connection is so strong that they consider each other brothers for life. They have their own spaces in each others' houses. Then there is Alejandra. She is the 'new girl' at their high school their freshman year. TC immediately falls in love, and writes Ale a note telling her that he is considering a relationship with her. She thinks he's terrible with his tactics.

It moves on from here. . . you learn about each of their lives and their perspectives. TC meets a little boy who loves Mary Poppins. He takes this boy, Hucky, under his wing, even learning American Sign Language so they can communicate. Augie comes out about his sexual orientation, but it's not really big news to everyone else. They've realized it for a long time. Everyone is very accepting. Ale discovers that she does not want to go into politics or anything else like that as her father expects. She loves singing and dancing. In the midst of this, there is email communication between the adults in this story, particularly between TC and Augie's fathers. Sometimes this is all quite humorous.

I loved this book. A fellow staff member at Joliet recommended it. Even though the book is rather long, it was really a quick read. I wanted to know how it ended. I cared passionately for the characters. I think adults will enjoy this book as much as teens.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Title: Locked in Time

Locked in Time by Lois Duncan, copyright 1985

Nore has an "uncanny" sense of time. She doesn't need an alarm clock to wake her in the morning, and always knows what time it is. (Of course, this is prior to cell phones, which might make this point moot. On the other hand, it could come in handy if you just know when you wake up in the morning exactly what time it is without a clock around. . .)

Her father has just gotten remarried, much to Nore's surprise. Her father and mother loved each other very much until her mother died just the year before. Suddenly her father, a somewhat famous writer, is in love with this woman who is so unlike Nore's mother, and lives in the bayou in Louisiana on an old plantation. Nore immediately perceives that Lisette, her new step-mother, does not like her and sees her as threat. A threat to what? That's the question. And then there is Nore's new step-siblings, Gabe (who is quite handsome in a teenage sort of way) and Josie, who is 13 and in "that awkward stage". It is Josie who says things that don't always make sense. . . like about the circus fire in 1941 and that she was there. How could she have been there? Why has Nore found 100-year-old pictures of people who looked exactly like Lisette, Josie and Gabe? Not just similar, but exactly. Who are they, really?

I loved this book as a young teen precisely because of the "time" factor. The first time I read this book, I had to know the answers. In addition, I was fascinateds by the idea of immortality. Because I had not yet quite discovered vampire novels, this was a good book that bridged that gap between realistic fiction, time travel, and vampiric immortals in fiction.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Title: The Other Side of Dark

The Other Side of Dark by Joan Lowery Nixon (Copyright 1986)

I read this book around 1988 at age 13. It is about a girl who wakes up one to discover that she isn’t 13 anymore, but now age 17. She was in a coma for four years. She also finds out that her mother was killed in the same home robbery attack that Stacy was injured in. Even before she leaves the hospital she’s lived in for four years, she finds that the media is completely interested in her story, calling her “Sleeping Beauty”. (Although, Stacy points out that this is incorrect – when Sleeping Beauty goes to sleep, everyone else in the castle does, too, so they really don’t lose out on anything.) For her, she went into her come before really maturing, and in four years time, suddenly lots of makeup, shrunken jeans (remember those days?), and punk styles are in. Her best friend from growing up comes around to introduce Stacy to what being a teen is all about. Stacy has no idea. She’s still just getting used to how different she looks.

If this story took place now, not only would the media be getting pictures of her, etc, but the other teens and young adults at the party she goes to would be taking pictures of her on their phones, and chatting about her via text and IM. This would have made things even worse, as the murderer is still around and he knows that Stacy might be able to remember who was there in their house that spring day.

Most of the plot of the story is about who did it – who killed Stacy’s mother and robbed Stacy of four vital years of her life. She’s very angry throughout the book. Hey, I would be, too! The killer is Jarrod Tucker. At the party, he is the one who gets her drunk. Stacy has no idea there is vodka in her pop, and it naive enough not to suspect. When I first read this book, I had more dire suspicions – perhaps Jarrod would spike her pop with some kind of poison like cyanide. In the end, when Stacy has a gun pointed at Jarrod, she does not shoot him. She had previously thought that if she had the chance to do so, she would take it, but then Jarrod tells her what her mother had told him: “It’s all right. It’s all right.” This is what spoke to Stacy: yes, he’s right, that’s what her mother would have said. Stacy didn’t have it in her any more to killed him. She says, “I didn’t really have a choice. Jarrod’s life doesn’t belong to me.”

Things I really noticed during my re-read this week:
- Mid ‘80s punk: There is mention of a punk rocker “Glory Beans”. Real? I think not. I never heard of her then, and if you Google the name, you get a YouTube video with some people doing some thing Glory brand beans. I have mixed feelings about using fake musicians versus real people in fiction. Both have their negatives and positives .

- Shrunken jeans: I noticed this during my youth when originally reading it, but tight jeans were really still in then, too. However, 1988/89 is when ripped jeans were also in – so tight ripped jeans. Really lovely. I never ripped my jeans on purpose, but when they ripped from regular wear and tear, that was fine with me.

- The name Stacy: That is a name of my generation. I haven’t seen so much of this name in kids born in the last 18 years or so, at least. One of the Babysitter’s Club girls is named Stacy, but these books started coming out around the time this book was released, so generation-wise, it makes sense.

- The name Jan: This is my middle name, so I always thought that was neat. However, even in 1988 I thought this name was untrue for a teenager at the time. I thought it was more of a name for my mom’s generation. Lately I have noticed that a lot kids are getting more old fashioned names that go back to my grandma’s generation, such as Evelyn.

- Donna: Stacy’s sister is about 21, is married and expecting a baby. We hear that she has promised their dad that she will still graduate from college. It seemed to me even then that the name Donna was very old-fashioned. I equated it to The Donna Reed Show, which we’d seen on Nick at Nite, and to a book from the early 60s that my mom had (and I will discuss here on another date) – Donna Parker at Cherrydale. We never learn what the sex of the baby is that Donna (Stacy’s sister) is carrying. I always felt gypped out of never knowing what happened. I always wanted to know if the baby was a girl or a boy.

- The Pasta Salad: Donna makes Stacy a chicken pasta salad. Stacy doesn’t eat it because she has no clue as to what it is. Donna makes a comment that nobody knew what they were until recently, and she’d forgotten that Stacy knew nothing of the previous four years. I always thought this was funny, because I rarely ate pasta salads either, back then. First, I did not like cold pasta. Second, they often had chicken, and back then, I hated cold chicken. Third, there was usually some kind of dressing on it, and I hated the taste of the dressing. The entire combination seemed revolting.

- Jeff: He is the narcotics officer working under cover at the high school. He helps protect Stacy, and seems as if he’s making a move to be become Stacy’s boyfriend. Stacy doesn’t know what to think. He’s very evasive at times when it comes to questions about himself. It is not until the very end of the book when he takes the gun out of Stacy’s hand that he tells her the truth. It also makes for a somewhat satisfying ending when he tells Stacy he will wait for her – because he doesn’t want to be just her “first love”, but the “real thing.”

I just realized that my paperback copy of this book, like other paperbacks from the 80s, have a page listed other books by the author along with a little order form. Each paperback title is listed under $3 each. I do not believe that book companies do this anymore. People can just go online to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, find the author, read reviews, and order what they want. I don’t do that because I try the library first. I think books nowadays still have lists of other books, but not the ordering forms.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Title: Nothing's Fair in the Fifth Grade

Nothing's Fair in the Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements, Copyright 1981, Apple Paperbacks

Summary: Jennie is in the fifth grade. She hangs around with her two best friends, Diane and Sharon. Their teacher, Mrs. Hanson, asks Jennie to show Elsie, the new girl, around the school. Jenny wishes she hasn't been asked. . . Elsie is the fattest girl she has ever seen, and doesn't want associated with her. Through a series of events throughout the book, Jenny learns about Elsie's life (and Elsie is great in math, and tutors Jenny), and becomes more compassionate. Eventually Jenny and Elsie really become friends.

Doctors making house calls (page 40 - "I'd drink it and throw up. The doctor came. He told mother I was dehydrated") : I thought it was funny back when I first read this, too. I was aware that doctors used to make house calls back in "the olden days", but I was around in 1981 when this was published. My doctor didn't make house calls back then. No, we had to go wait in the waiting room for three hours to be seen finally, because they were always so behind with their appointments. When would the doctor have had time to get in a car and drive to our house? This is something that today's kids really wouldn't get at all, either.

Pop Culture References:
They liked to watch “Mork and Mindy”. Even by the mid-80s when I read this book, I really was not familiar with that show. This was first time we had cable tv in our house, and we enjoyed whatever was being shown on Nickelodeon – mostly shows such as The Monkees, as well as programming like You Can’t Do that On Television, Double Dare, etc. Anyway, part of my point is that this could be relevant today, to today's 10 year olds, but because of the references to shows that were on 30 years ago now, this almost seems like historical fiction at times to someone reading it today. I just looked up Mork & Mindy on IMDB - It was on the air from 1978 to 1982. It seems that the DVDs have been released.

Then there is the music. I love record players and old records. However, it’s funny when they listen to the Bee Gees, and they are changing records. At the time I didn’t blink an eye when Elton JJohn was mentioned, because he was still popular and records were still around though on their way out. Jenny's mom buys a Burl Ives record for Jenny's little brother Kenny. Burl Ives? Even as a kid at the time, I had no idea who Burl Ives was.

Jenny's Dad: He's very opposed to Jenny's mom getting a job, even though her job will help pay for a new car, which they need. He wants her there at home when he wants to eat. Also, he wanted her there to be with the kids, because he goes bowling. He's a very one-dimensional character who is very '50s TV father-like (like the one brought to life in the movie Pleasantville). As a kid, I thought this was just odd, because of course women could work, and in my experience up until the time I first read this book, my dad never went bowling. I thought that was silly. Dads performed weddings and took moms to wedding receptions. Jenny's dad didn't cook. Mine did on occaison, and would make stuff my mom never would - like rhubarb pie.

Elsie loses weight, eventually, as the book goes on. The teacher at school has to help "police" Elsie's diet, because Elsie would beg for food from her classmates. I am sure this was easier, because the students ate their lunches in the class room. I keep pointing out the weird stuff, but I always thought that would be fun, to eat in the classroom. In none of my schools did we ever have to eat in the classroom. We had lunch room space elsewhere in the school. I always wondered in what school DID kids get to eat in their rooms. I always thought that would have been easier, because then you already have your assigned seating, and you wouldn't have to worry about who to sit with, and all of the other anxiety-producing issues that come with the lunch room.

There is perhaps more to say about this book, and I will work on it if time allows. The cover above is my own original copy from back then. I wrote my name on the cover page five times with a variety of writing utensils (a multi-colored pencil, blue ballpoint pen, and two Magic Markers - blue and brown). My mother was tutoring a girl one summer, and used this book. I wanted to make sure I got my book back! I was not trusting it with anyone else.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Title: Barbie's Adventures To Read Aloud

Barbie's Adventures to Read Aloud by Jean Bethell and Illustrated by Claudine Nankivel
Copyright: 1964 by Mattel, Inc. Cover price: $0.39

Did you know that Barbie circa 1964 had brown hair? I did, but that's only because I sometimes got to play with my aunt's old Barbie doll. As you can see on the cover (Barbie is to the right, and her BFF Midge is on the left), she does!

Did you know that Barbie has a last name? She's Barbie Roberts! And Ken's last name is Carson. In re-reading this book, I find that Midge does not have a last name. Are there still Midge dolls available in stores now?

The front cover, near the bottom, says: "America's favorite foll, Barbie, comes alive in a series of fast-moving, madcap adventures that will have boys and girls alike begging for more. Join her and her friends and let the fun begin!" Really? Boys, too? The cover itself calls out for girls!! Where's Ken on the cover?

This book is really a series of 'episodes' really, a chapter takes us a little farther into 9 months of teenage Barbie's life. I was given this book by my grandpa about 25 years ago. (He and my grandma also brought me another book at the same time, but I will discuss this one later.) I think they thought that I would enjoy this book, and at the time, I was the only granddaughter (they had five grandsons otherwise). I was just about 8 years old. I was the proud owner of one Barbie doll with blond hair. It was fascinating to see a brown-haired Barbie in the midst of 1980s Barbie-blondness. At the time, it was only about 20 years since the book was published.

The first chapter is about Barbie's birthday. It is apparently her sixteenth birthday, and it strikes me as very funny now how this was -- "Overnight you've become a grownup. You're not a baby any more. Of course, Barbie had noticed that when people become very ancient-when they reach twenty-two, for instance - they aren't as happy about having birthdays as they used to be. But she thought she understood why. After you've lived twenty-two whole years, you're probably very tired and feeble" (6). She thinks everyone who's "tired and feeble" and even her not so feeble BFF (in today's parlance) Midge have forgotten her birthday! Oh no! Barbie shouldn't have been worried, however, because her parents have planned a marvelous surprise party for her. Surprise!!

In "The School Play", their English teacher Mr. Sutton announces the tryouts for the school play, which is going to be a fairy tale. In light of all of the recent Barbie movies where Barbie is the princess, this chapter is really very funny and a bit ironic. Barbie spends most of this chapter preparing for the audition - making sure she looks princess-like in her looks, how she walks, and so on. The night before she puts her hair in curlers and goes to bed after lounging like she expects a princess would do. Guess what happens next. . . when she wakes up in the morning, she is all stuffed up, and her voice is hoarse! She can hardly speak! Oh dear! Every thing seems to go wrong. During her audition, the heel of her shoe breaks, so now she is walking oddly, too. What else can go wrong?

Well, luckily for Barbie, Mr. Sutton keeps in her in the play. She'll have the opportunity for stardom that she'd dreampt of. . . but as the "Wicked Old Queen", instead. Mr. Sutton says that she will definitely be the star of the play with this role if she is as terrible in the performance as she was in the audition! Meanwhile, the sterotyping in this book is rather blatant: When Mr. Sutton gives the Princess role to Marcia Nolan, he tells her, "'We can't have a Princess with a short read crewcut'" (67).

How about Barbie's Adventures in High School Musical style? Hmmm. . .

In "Barbie's Big Adventure", we find out this: "Barbie had a job! It was the first job she had ever had, and she was enjoying the new experience very much. She was working as a leader at the summer camp in Willow Community Park" (87). Ken was working at the summer camp, too, as a swimming instuctor. He has a group of little boys, one of whom is very naughty. Barbie takes her group of girls on a hike. The girls have never been in the woods before, and one girl asks if they'll see an elephant. First: "Barbie made sure each girl was wearing comfortable rubber-soled shoes" (89). They use markings of various kinds to mark their path so they can find their way back out of the woods. Then the naughty little boy whom by now Ken has kicked out of the pool due to his naughtiness has wandered into the woods and begins destroying the trail markers.
Never fear - the girls are not lost for a long time. Barbie does a good job with the girls. Ken does try to come to the rescue, though, when a rock with Barbie's lucky hair ribbon is brought back to camp by the naughty little boy.

In a previous chapter, "A Present for Mother", Barbie wants to give her mother something homemade for Mother's Day. However, a 'naughty little boy' comes into play here, too. Barbie buys leather and leather working tools to make her mother a purse. She takes the supplies to Midge's house so she can work in secret. This is when we learn that Midge has a little brother, Albert. When Barbie and Midge take a break from their 'hard work' (Midge is wrapping a bottle of perfume for her mother, which is just such hard work apparently. . .) to drink milk and eat the cookies Midge's mom had freshly baked, Albert slips into Midge's bedroom to cut up all the leather. We just learn that Albert is "naughty" and we never learn anything else about him. I wonder if there was an Albert doll?

There are more chapters that I have not covered, but really you're not missing that much. There is the trip to the beach and the story of the lost little dog. We do learn that Barbie's father, Mr. Roberts, is allergic to dogs, so that's something.

I will probably be reviewing Joan Lowery Nixon's The Other Side of Dark next time.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Title: Children of the Dust

Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. (Copyright 1985)

I read this book in early 1988. I was almost 13. I saw a classmate reading this book. (Megan, I think.) I saw the mushroom cloud on the cover. This was also around the time I had become familiar with Weird Al's song "Christmas at Ground Zero", and these lyrics: "We can dodge debris while we trim the tree / Underneath the mushroom cloud." So naturally, I wanted to read it. At the time, if I remember correctly, we were nearing the end of the Cold War, but the possibility of mushroom clouds still seemed very real.

I found the book in the school library in my junior high. The Media Librarian was Mrs. Page, who was previously my fifth grade teacher. I loved her, and in jr. high, she would often save me books that she thought I'd like. However, this one I found on my own. Also, it again points out the power of peer influence, even when it comes to reading selections. Note: It was most likely this book that really gave me a taste for "disaster" fiction. I have to admit that it was already there (e.g. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder), but the disaster in Children of the Dust is man-made. This really woke me up to the idea that people could really be crazy enough to be this destructive.

Seven things about Children of the Dust:
1) The story is told in three parts - "Sarah", "Ophelia", and "Simon". They are each essentially a different generation.
2) It takes place in England, in Gloucestershire. The book opens with a line about how perfect the day was: "It was such a perfect day, a promise of summer with cloudless blue skies."
3) Sarah does not get along well with her step-mother Veronica. They get along better as the end nears for them. They work together to save Catherine, Sarah's little sister.
4) Their dad, unbeknownst to them, survives when he is invited to an underground bunker. He pairs with another woman to conceive another child (Ophelia) to help carry on the human race. They mistakenly think that no one will survive outside.
5) Years later, when Ophelia is a teen, she, a friend, and her dad to go out to warn the people in the outside world that the men in the bunker are going to come to steal their cattle. It is then that they discover Catherine. Catherine is covered in radiation sores, but has managed to have two children who survive - they are mutants: the Children of the Dust. They have adapted to the new radiated environment. Ophelia looks so much like Sarah that Catherine thinks that Sarah survived.
6) Thirty some years later - Ophelia's son Simon has been out with an expedition and is injured. He is taken to the healer in the local mutant settlement where he meets who turned out to be his cousin Laura (granddaughter of Catherine - also known by now as Blind Kate). Laura is a mutant, and at first he finds her repulsive, and then later beautiful as he get to know her and her people.

7) The mutants have mentals powers such as telekenesis that humans always has access to, but never used, and then forgot over time. The mutants have reclaimed these powers. Simon begins to see how the mutants and their powers, and the science that the people in the bunkers have can work together to create a wonderful new world.

Favorite lines from the book:
"They ate by candlelight - fish sticks, crinkle-cut french fries, and green beans, with thawing ice cream for dessert. . . food that Veronica had taken from the freezer and had to be used up quickly" (12).

"Sarah coughed and smiled. Bright blood flecked the back of her hand and she did not worry. Johnson was part of the plan, a man with a vision that she herself would never share. Her part was over, her purpose played out. She had lived for Catherine and now she gave Catherine to him. Finally satisfied, Sarah turned away, leaving man and child together in the rainy darkness" (61).

"From the inner room came a thin baby wail and an echo of girlish laughter, laughter that went on and one, a maniacal glee. Dwight was talking rubbish! Of course the human race was going to survive! Catherine had just given birth to a live healthy child and Ophelia was going to see. . . Gently she opened the shawl for Ophelia to see. The baby was naked, a pale little thing, completely covered in white silky hair, soft and thick as fur. Tiny fingers gripped when Ophelia touched her, and her eyes opened wide. They too were white" (11 7-18).

" 'Government?' said Johnson. 'What government is this? I wasn't aware we had a government, and I certainly didn't vote for them. None of us did. You can't just walk in here, Allison, and expect me to believe you represent some government I've never heard of.'
'I do have credentials.'
'Credentials don't count,' said Johnson" (122).

" 'Psychic,' said the girl, as if she had read his mind. 'I'm a water diviner, among other things, and my name is Laura. You had no need to shoot that dog, you know. I could have controlled it. My mind is stronger than an animal's mind. Stronger than yours, too.'
Simon sat on the crumbling edge of the windowsill.
There was a throbbing pain in his leg.
He did not believe what she told him.
Laura laughed teasingly.
'Once people believed that nuclear holocaust would never happen,' she said" (136-7).

If you liked this book, there is a movie from the early '80s that you should see titled The Day After. I watched this two or three years ago after a colleague suggested it. It takes place in the US, and does not go into future generations of those who survive, but it tells a story that is very scary, and would be at least as scary as this book. I do have to admit, though, that Children of the Dust really ends very positively for the characters involved who go on to create new societies after the destruction.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Title: The Dollhouse Murders

(Cover of my signed copy in 1986. It was signed inside on the front cover.)

The Dollhouse Murders
by Betty Ren Wright was copyrighted in 1983. I didn't read it until 1986 at age 11. I don't know if I would have ever read it, except for the fact that I had a chance to meet Ms. Wright at the author fair at the Lake Geneva Public Library (Wisconsin) on November 15, 1986. I believe that my mom bought me the book there, and then I took it into the room where the various authors were waiting to sign their books for their adoring readers. At that point in time, I was sure that I was going to be a Writer when I grew up. My mom asked Ms. Wright to tell me that I needed to have another profession, too, so I could earn money and have health insurance as an adult. At the time, I said, no, I was just going to write and become famous. (I know it's still not too late. I can continue working at this. . . )

Ms. Wright was a very kind and gracious woman. I felt more shy than usual in her presence. She was an Author! I couldn't believe that Authors were really very real people. It was quite intimidating for me, but she was very nice (which made me think all Author as nice people, which didn't seem to be the case the next year when I met a different Author - a YA writer - who seemed very put out - but that will be another entry in the future). After meeting her, and reading Dollhouse Murders, I proceeded to borrow the rest of her juvenile/pre-teen books from the library, and to read her new books as the came out even as I got older. I loved her style.

On to the actual book --
Amy finds an old dollhouse in the attic of her aunt's house. It looks completely like her aunt's house, too, inside and outside. Lots of strange thing happen, such as the dolls moving on their own (and this gave me a taste for creepy doll stories - in high school I moved on to Ruby Jean Jensen horror paperbacks, particularly her book Baby Doll.) The back cover blurb says, "Amy knows the dolls are trying to tell her something - but she's terrified to find out what." I had to read to find out what, of course.

The books begins with Amy with her best friend Ellen, and they are out in public trying to look for Louann, Amy's younger sister who is larger than she is but Amy has to take care of because she is mentally retarded. She resents having to take care of her all the time (which some things later in this book resolve - things with their mother, mostly), and runs away to her aunt's house. Her aunt is great, and offers to let her stay there a little while, to get away, even offers to host Amy and Ellen's joint sleepover birthday party. However, her aunt gets angry and upset when she finds that the dollhouse (which was hers when she was younger) has been played with, and the dolls, who represent her aunt's murdered grandparents, are in the positions they were in when they (the grandparents) died. She does not believe Amy when Amy says that she is not the one moving the dolls. It is finally when Louann witnesses it and corroborates the story that Aunt Clare finally believes. They figure out that the dolls/the grandma's spirit is trying to show them where to find the answers to what happened all those years ago. The grandma doll leads them to the house's library room - and a letter is found in a book. It turned out that Aunt Clare thought that she was responsible for the death of her grandparents - that her boyfriend at the time killed them. It turned out it wasn't him at all. Aunt Clare starts looking very young again, and stops beating herself up over it.

It was a very satisfying read. I had already liked ghost stories, but this book I would recommend easily to 8 to 12 year olds. I really, really liked the author, too, as a person. It is important for kids and teens to actually meet the author. It's magical . . .

Friday, March 7, 2008

Title: Angie and Me

Since I mentioned this in my previous entry, I thought I would go ahead and write about it. Unfortunately, I do not own this book! Fortunately, it is available at quite a few libraries yet.

Here is the cover. As you can see, the cover looks like a pencil drawing with two other colors involved, yellow and green. It really looks very hospitalish with those colors, too. It was published in 1981, almost two years before I read it for the first time.

When I was 8 years old and in third grade, we were on our weekly visit to the school library. In my elementary school, the library was housed in the cafeteria! The stacks were around the perimeter of the room, with the rows of lunch tables in the middle. Anyway, I remember looking to see if any Judy Blume books were in (no, they were all out) and then started looking for something else that might be interesting. That's when I discovered this book.

Right away, I was intrigued by the "blurb" on the book jacket. It begins: "Jenna is adamant." This lined hooked me. What in the world did 'adamant' mean? I had to find out. It turned out that she has Juvenile Rhuematoid Arthritis, and would spend some time in the hospital over the summer to get it under control.

I started reading this book, and this is the first time that I actually stayed up really late so that I could finish the book. I even read under the covers. I had to find out what happened to Jenna and Angie. It was also the first book I ever cried while reading. However, there were plenty of funny parts. As a fairly naiive reader, this was also the first time that I realized that someone could write things in a book such as this example from page 19, "When Mrs. Anderson came around the desk to inspect me more closely, I gulped. I'd never seen such an enormous woman. Her breasts were about the size of basketballs."

It never occurred to me until many, many years later - when I was in my 20s - that cortisone is a steroid and that is could be similar to prednisone. In my preteen and teen years, I took prednison on and off for my asthma episodes. It never occurred to me that this medication could have led to my weight gain. However, in this book, Jenna is on cortisone for her JRA, and she starts looking "puffy". She and Angie have a whole conversation about this. I thought it was funny at the time.

On the last page (113), there was another term that I did not understand as an 8-year-old (but it never occurred to me to ask anyone about). Here is the quote:
" 'Maybe I won't do it today,' I said, 'and maybe I'll need a souped-up wheelchair to do it, but I'm going to fly this kite all by myself.' "

What did "souped-up" mean? I remember wondering back then what that meant. I didn't really think that meant a wheelchair covered in soup (although that was a funny mental picture to me), but what else could it mean? And let's look the the third to last sentence of the book: "Yoyo looked at me like she was trying to figure out what size straight jacket I should wear." I do realize I was perhaps a very naive 8-year-old, but I really had no idea what a straight jacket was, and why one would be needed. At that time, I figured that if it was like the beautiful Scandenavian wool sweater my aunt had given me that made me break out in hives and was forever torturing me, then I wouldn't want a straight jacket.

Really, this is a very good book. Jenna learns how to deal with different people in the hospital, and gains a lot of maturity for an almost-12 year old. She deals with making new friends and loses one to death (Jenna screams for a long time when she finds out). I have never met anyone else who has said they've read this book, either. I enjoyed it so much. I have to admit, it gave me a taste for Lurlene McDaniel's books later as well as other tragic stories.

It inspired me to start writing myself. I really saw the possibilities of good writing. Yes, I was also reading the the Little House books, Heidi, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but it was this one that made me think that I could write! Shortly after finishing this book, I attempted to write my first 'novel'. It was five written pages long, and really bad, but I was proud of it then. I hid it away in my desk and didn't let anyone else read it. It was my secret. I was proud that I wrote it, but not confident enough to let anyone else see it. It was delicious to have my secret story hidden away.

Since I have focused on books with autoimmune diseases these past two posts, I think the next post will be about Betty Ren Wright's The Dollhouse Murders. Yes, I think a nice ghost/murder story would be good change of topic.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Title(s): 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 & 1989) by Isaacsen-Bright

I was nine when I first saw the cover of the paperback 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 version). I was in fourth grade, and one of my classmates that I was not friends with had this book. She had probably gotten it through a school book fair. I was immediately intrigued by the title, and wanted to read that book. Badly. (I read Rebecca Jones' Angie and Me the year before, but that book will be the subject of a future entry. And this was before I discovered Lurlene McDaniel.) The school library and the local public library branch did not have a copy of this book. This was before it was incredibly easy to just look up if any library in the system would have had it. I was too shy to ask the library staff to check at other libraries for me.

So, I kept the title in my head for nearly three years - until the school book fair at my junior high in 7th grade. It was there! Yay! I took some of my hard-earned babysitting money, and bought the book (as well as buying a Lurlene McDaniel book, but that is also the subject of another entry). Then in the early 1990s, in a used bookstore, I found what I thought was just a recent reprinting - but it wasn't. It has the same name, author, and some of the characters' names are the same, but the story is different in several ways. More about that later.

Let's look at the covers first.

Here is the cover of the 1980 version:

Here is the cover of the 1989 version:

(I bought this one to the left new 20 years ago. It looks really beat up now, huh?)

In the first one, the one that intrigued me as a 9-year-old, I learned about lupus. This book also made me think that lupus is automatically fatal. Yes, I am giving away the ending. At age 12, when I finally had the chance to read it, I cried and cried. Very melodramatic! I know this book was written thirty years ago now, but all it says on page 86 is that Lupus is "a mystery disease". Yes, from what I know, it still is somewhat of a mystery, but this book never says that it is an autoimmune disease. Surely this was known back then. I know this book was intended for pre-teens, but still, it could have been a little more specific. I can also see that this book would be a little out of date these days. There are a lot of people out there living with lupus, and I've known some.

Alexa is the main character, and the story is in the third person, but told from her perspective. The story opens with Alexa noticing how foggy the island she lives on is, and then her best friend informs her that the island is "like a Polaroid postcard" (page 2) it is so clear and bright.

In chapter two, her mother gets on her case for not taking care of her skin properly. If she were, Alexa wouldn't have such an ugly rash on her face. Alexa thinks maybe she just scrubbed her face too hard. She mentions going to a dermatologist, but her mom puts her down for that idea, and insists she just must not have good habits.

Well, finally, Alexa ends up in the hospital. However, they, the doctors and her parents, will not tell her what's going on. They keep her in the dark until she overhears her parents talking. This is how she learns she's going to die. She still doesn't know why. After this, the whole story becomes one question. . . will Alexa make it to her 14th birthday? Because "13 is too young to die". She goes to her school dance, she goes to Disney World with her friends, and her dad gets her the boat he promised for her 14th birthday.

I loved this book as a 12-year-old.

Later, when I was browsing at a used book store (Old Book Barn in Forsyth, Illinois - the best used book store ever!), I found the second version. It was wasn't just re-released. It was re-written! Again, the main character is named Alexa and the question is if she will make it to age 14. However, this Alexa is a ballet dancer. She is going to actually be in an onstage ballet! Woo-hoo! Then she starts getting dizzy. It turns out she has a brain tumor.

Really, this second version is better written than the first one. It's not as (what I perceive as) amateurish, but there is still "wailing" and such other descriptions. " 'Just go away, and leave me alone,' Alexa wailed" (68). If it were me with the brain tumor, I might want to wail, but I would not write it this way. The funny thing is, years ago, as a teen, I wanted to write a book this way - I thought I HAD to write with words other than "said" if even that. Now I know better, and know how to find one's voice in writing.

I will have to decide soon which book or books to post about next. There are so many to choose from!