Friday, February 29, 2008

February Firsts


Some of my favorite "firsts" of the books I've read in February.

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room; a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o'clock struck, when she wakened of herself 'as sure as clockwork' and left the household very little peace afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was full of sunny warmth and light.

A dripping faucet.
Crumbs and a pink stain on the counter.
Half of a skin-black banana that smells as old as it looks.

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.

In the time before we knew that we would be driven away, our lives uprooted, and our people scattered, Grandfather Jim Williams spent every spare minute tending his beautiful garden in Freedomtown. He loved that garden, and I loved him. The garden was my favorite place.

It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon.

It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers.

The story would have been a lot different if Matt's supervisor had been watching him when the machine first went away.


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Dragon Slippers


George, Jessica Day. 2007. Dragon Slippers.

It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. Not that she was evil or didn't care for me. It's just that we were poor, and she was, as we said in those parts, dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel.

I loved all 321 pages of Jessica Day George's novel Dragon Slippers. Loved it. I loved everything about it. Everything. The characters. The setting. The action. It was just so good, so very very good. If you love fairy-tale type stories--think Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, Mette Ivie Harrison, Gail Carson Levine etc--I think you will love Jessica Day George. Love her. Here is how the book jacket describes the novel,

"Many stories tell of damsels in distress who are rescued from the clutches of fire-breathing dragons by knights in shining armor and swept off to live happily ever after. Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories. True, when Creel's aunt suggests sacrificing her to the local dragon, it is with the hope that a knight will marry Creel and that everyone (aunt and family included) will benefit handsomely. Yet it's Creel who talks her way out of the dragon's clutches. And it's Creel who walks for days on end to seek her fortune in the king's city with only a bit of embroidery thread and a strange pair of slippers in her possession. But even Creel could not have guessed the outcome of this tale. For in a country on the verge of war, Creel unknowingly possesses not just any pair of shoes, but a tool that could be used to save her kingdom....or destroy it."
Creel is quite a heroine. As an adult reader, I love her. I do. But I know I would have loved, loved, loved her as a child. This is the kind of book I wish had been around when I was growing up! Then again, I'm just as happy to continue the friendship now. It's not too late for me or for you. Discover the magical world Jessica Day George has created and meet Creel and her friends (and enemies) yourself!

I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

http://www.dragonslippers.net/
http://www.jessicadaygeorge.com/
http://www.jessicadaygeorge.com/Blog.aspx

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Sci~Fi Experience Wrapup

I always, always enjoy myself when participating in one of Carl's challenges. I loved the Sci-Fi Experience challenge. Everyone's reviews can be found here. My favorites this time around include Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov and The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman. I chose those two as favorites because they were both by new-to-me authors. The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer was an excellent book, but I expected it to be wonderful! Susan Beth Pfeffer is a must-read! If anybody is interested in reading Life As We Knew It, I would encourage you to participate in my online reading group. There is a poll going on now to determine if it will be an April or May selection.

Isaac Asimov:
Prelude to Foundation
Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
Foundation's Edge
Foundation and Earth


Joe Haldeman:
The Accidental Time Machine
Old Twentieth

Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Dead and Gone

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LA Times Book Prize Nominees

Here are the list of nominees in the young adult fiction category for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
What They Found: Love On 145th Street by Walter Dean Myers
Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel
A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve.

The LA Times Book Prize ceremony will be held on Friday, April 25th on the campus of UCLA.

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Poetry Friday: Mississippi Squirrel Revival



The Mississippi Squirrel Revival
Recorded by: "Ray Stevens"
Written by: C.W. Kalb, Jr. and Carlene Kalb

Well, when I was a kid I'd take a trip every summer down the Mississippi
To visit my granny in her antebellum world
I'd run barefooted all day long climbin' trees free as a song
And one day I happened to catch myself a squirrel
Well, I stuffed him down in an old shoe box, punched a couple of holes in the top
And when Sunday came I snuck him into Church
I was sittin' way back in the very last pew showin' him to my good buddy Hugh
When that squirrel got loose and went totally berserk
Well, what happened next is hard to tell
Some thought it was heaven others thought it was hell
But the fact that something was among us was plain to see
As the choir sang "I Surrender All" the squirrel ran up Harv Newlan's coveralls
Harv leaped to his feet and said, "Somethin's got a hold on me", Yeow!

Chorus:
The day the squirrel went berserk
In the First Self-Righteous Church
In the sleepy little town of Pascagoula
It was a fight for survival that broke out in revival
They were jumpin' pews and shoutin' Hallelujah!

To read the rest, visit here.
Roundup can be found here.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

American Gods Link

For those following the news, Neil Gaiman's book, American Gods, will be yours to read free online for an entire month.

http://tiny.cc/WRiXE

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March Bookworms Carnival


The next Bookworms carnival will be hosted by The Armenian Odar. The theme is Women in Literature. Entries are due by March 14th; more information is available on the carnival home page. Email entries to armenianodar AT yahoo DOT com.

The February Carnival of Children's Literature is up now.

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Their Eyes Were Watching God

Hurston, Zora Neale. 1937. Their Eyes Were Watching God.

If ever a book is going to grab you at 'hello', let it be Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)

This book, which I just recently finished reading for my online reading group, has to be one of my favorite, favorite, favorite, favorite books of all time. (Yes, it's right up there along with Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.) I first "discovered" Zora Neale Hurston by force. She was required reading in a short story course I was taking in the Fall of 1997. When I signed up for the course, I was not an English major. I was just looking to fulfill the core requirements. (The very fact that I was in that class was an accident because of schedule conflicts and classes having to be changed, rearranged, etc. at the last moment. One thing I don't miss about college is the hassle of registering for classes, having some be canceled and having to scramble to find something new at the last minute.) By the end of the semester, however, I had changed majors and chosen to walk down a new path. (Zora Neale Hurston wasn't solely responsible, however, she had help from some other greats.) Hurston kept popping up on reading lists in college. A short story here and there. And then there came the novel--Their Eyes Were Watching God--I honestly don't remember if it was assigned reading just once or if I read it twice 'officially' (meaning for a grade). But regardless, it was love. I've read this one at least four or five times since that first introduction.

The story. At the heart of the story is a woman. Janie. Except for the very briefest introductions, we first meet Janie as a young woman, sixteen or seventeen and just awakening to the possibilities of love and life and passion.
Oh to be a pear tree–any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma’s house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
But life and love don't come easy for Janie. Her grandmother, the woman who raised her, forces her into a loveless marriage. Logan is Janie's first husband, her first introduction to what it means to 'be' a woman. In chapter three, we read, "She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie’s first dream was dead, so she became a woman." (25) But Janie goes on to have other dreams and second chances.

Janie's life isn't easy, and the things that take her from an unhappy wife of seventeen to a grown woman, a sadder but wiser woman, in her forties are often bittersweet. But her story is one that must be told, must be shared. It is an emotional journey of one woman's life, one woman's experiences and heart aches. Her hopes. Her dreams. Her everything laid before the world.

“Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” (191)

“Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” (192)

The book is beautiful. Full of imagery--some beautiful, some haunting, some heartbreaking, but always, always authentic imagery. The language. The characters. The style. This one is a real gem of a book. The best of the best. A true masterpiece.

Official site of Zora Neale Hurston

On the official site you can listen to excerpts of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Mules & Men, and Every Tongue Got To Confess. All performed by Ruby Dee. (Now, if only MY library would have these audio books, I’d be very happy indeed.)

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Official)

A nice, brief summary that fills in the “why” of why you should read it! Also linked to the first chapter online, the reading group guide, and the teaching guide.

National Endowment for the Arts: The Big Read: Their Eyes Were Watching God.

To call Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God an “African American feminist classic” may be an accurate statement-it is certainly a frequent statement-but it is a misleadingly narrow and rather dull way to introduce a vibrant and achingly human novel. The syncopated beauty of Hurston’s prose, her remarkable gift for comedy, the sheer visceral terror of the book’s climax, all transcend any label that critics have tried to put on this remarkable work. First published amid controversy in 1937, then rescued from obscurity four decades later, the novel narrates Janie Crawford’s ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny. Although Hurston wrote the novel in only seven weeks, Their Eyes Were Watching God breathes and bleeds a whole life’s worth of urgent experience.

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BTT: Favorite Heroines...

btt button

Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one . . . I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)

I'm so going to have more than one. Let's see. There's Laura of course. Laura Ingalls. Laura Ingalls Wilder. The person I wanted to grow up to be. That unrealized dream came about as a mix of the books and the tv show. The tv show had her ever-eager to become a teacher. The books, not so much. I think it was the idea that she was a teacher, a wife, a mother, a writer. I especially wanted to be a writer. Though I did dabble in dreams of wanting to be a teacher for a few years. On to number two. I loved Anne. Ann-with-an-"e" Shirley. Again with the teacher, the wife, the mother, the writer themes. Did the books emphasize the writing as much as the movies? I don't remember. I guess I'll see when I reread them later this year. Another strong factor in loving Anne? G-I-L-B-E-R-T. I loved Gilbert. As far as fictional boyfriends go, he's the best. He had me at hello. But back on topic and back to number three, I loved Ramona Quimby. She's the best. I mean what's not to love? I plan on rereading those Beverly Cleary books closer to April. They're definitely among my favorites. Let's see, am I leaving anyone out? I love Lucy, of course. Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. Of course Jane Austen wrote some incredible heroines. But since I discovered them late in life--didn't grow up with them, haven't reread them extensively, etc.--I'm going to leave them off. I don't think I'll hurt Elizabeth's feelings. Scarlett. You either love her, hate her, or love to hate her, or hate to love her. Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler. I'm sure I've leaving off some great ones, but I think I've mentioned quite enough!

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Two Polls for You!

The first is asking when you would like to read Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Your two choices? April OR May. The companion novel, the dead and the gone, releases in June of 2008. (I want to have had the group read the novel by the release date.) One or two reasons might make May a better choice, but I'm leaving it up to you. (I'm good with April, by the way.) One reason is that the novel releases in paperback in May. That's assuming that the participants want to buy the book. Which I would never ever assume. But it should be available--widely available--at most libraries anytime. The other thing which might push it back towards April is that everyone knows the other book is releasing in June. And other people might be eager to read or reread Life As We Knew It in May in celebration or preparation for the release of the dead and the gone. That being said, depending on your library, the book might be so ever-popular that it might not be on the shelves (unless you put yourself on the waiting list) anyway. Hardcover copies are available used (starting at $4.97) if anyone is interested, and as I said paperback copies are available starting May 1rst.

When should Becky's Online Group Read Life As We Knew It?

April
May


(View Results)

Create a Poll


The second relates to the first. If the majority vote is for May, vote for which book you'd want to read in April.

If May is chosen, which if any, should be our April selection?

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
April shouldn't have a book at all


(View Results)

Create a Poll

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Travel the World: England: The Mozart Question


Morpurgo, Michael. 2008. The Mozart Question.

Don't let appearances deceive you. This book may not look like much. It's a small book after all. But it can pack a "wow" with the best of them. It's not a novel. It's not a picture book. It's definitely for older readers--upper elementary on up. What is it about? Well, even the book starts in a roundabout way.

The question I am most often asked is always easy enough to answer. Question: How did you get started as a writer? Answer: Strangely enough, by asking someone almost exactly that very same question, which I was only able to ask in the first place by receiving a dose of extraordinarily good fortune. I had better explain.
The Mozart Question is a story within a story. The story is framed around that of a reporter--a new reporter hoping for her big break--interviewing a famous musician. The inside story is that of the musician. It is that story that in my opinion is able to pack quite a wow.

Lesley is a new reporter. She's only worked at the paper for a little over three weeks. But when her boss is unable to get the story--get the interview--due to a skiing accident, Lesley takes her place. Her job? To go to the home of Paolo Levi. Her instructions: Don't mess up! And above all else DO NOT ASK HIM THE MOZART QUESTION. The problem? She doesn't know what "the Mozart question" is. So she can only hope that she doesn't ask it accidentally. When she arrives, he tells her she may ask one question. Nervous she goes for it heart and soul, "I wonder if you'd mind telling me how you got started. I mean, what made you pick up a violin and play that first time?" His answer stuns her, wows her if you will.

I hope you'll read The Mozart Question yourself so you can see just how magical this short, little book really is.

Another (recent) review of The Mozart Question.

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Final Day of Their Eyes Were Watching God


Today is fifth and final day of our discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God. You can join in the fun here. While the 'official' discussion may be over at the end of the day, unofficially you can still participate at any time. You can leave comments on any of the 'daily' posts and let me know what you're thinking as you read the novel. I might even join in the discussion and respond! (Depending on how many things I've got going on at the moment.)

Monday, February 18th. Chapters 1-4
Wednesday, February 20th. Chapters 5-6
Friday, February 22nd. Chapters 7-12
Monday, February 25th. Chapters 13-17
Wednesday, February 27th. Chapters 18-20

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Books of Wonder on Martha Stewart


Today on the Martha Stewart show, one of her segments will feature Peter Glassman who will be highlighting five books "that encourage children's imaginations and creativity." One of the featured books is "Could You? Would You?" by Trudy White. I believe that I featured this as one of my Travel the Worlds not so long ago. Anyway, it's fun to see these things pop up. You might want to watch it if you get the chance.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

6 word memoir meme


6 Word Memoir

1. Write your own six word memoir.
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere.

4. Tag five more blogs with links

5. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

I was tagged by the book worm.

Here's mine:

A dreamer lost in a book.

I tag: Debi, Chris, Dewey, Becky, Renay,
and one more because I'm not afraid of bending rules:Melissa.

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D.E.A.R. Reading Challenge


Last year, D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Day caught me unawares. I found out about it only a few days in advance. This year, I want to do something BIG to celebrate. I'll be hosting the D.E.A.R reading challenge with four levels of participation! Here is the official site.


What is National D.E.A.R. Day?
D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything and Read. National D.E.A.R. Day is a special reading celebration to remind and encourage families to make reading together on a daily basis a family priority.

Who Is Leading the National D.E.A.R. Day Celebration? The National Education Association (NEA); Parent Teacher Association (PTA); the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association; Reading Rockets; The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC); the Newspaper Association of America Foundation (NAA); First Book; HarperCollins Children’s Books; and Ramona Quimby.
Level One: Commit to reading 30 minutes on D.E.A.R. day, April 12, 2008. It's a Saturday in case you're wondering.
Level Two: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for three days. April 11, 2008 - April 13, 2008.
Level Three: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for an entire week. April 6, 2008 - April 12, 2008.
Level Four: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for an entire month. March 12, 2008 - April 12, 2008.

A blog is not required to participate by any means! The goal is to learn how to make reading a part of your daily routine. A way to encourage you to incorporate reading into your life. To make it a priority.

If you want to join up, leave a comment. You can blog about your experience, your progress, the books you read. But you don't have to in order to play along. I would encourage you, however, to at the very least leave a sentence or two in the comments at the close of this challenge the weekend of April 12/13th. Again, not a requirement, but it would be nice.

This challenge is for kids and adults. If you're a parent, I would encourage you to make this a family event. Commit to reading books with your kids. (But if you're not a parent, this is for you too!)

If you are going to use this as an opportunity to read with your kids, you might want to check out these official tips. There are tips on how to read with your child aged preschool to third grade.

Unsure of what to read? Here are some 'official' recommendations. And here are a list of books by Beverly Cleary. But you may read whatever you like. If you're an adult (with or without kids) feel free to read adult books. I don't want anyone to feel excluded. But as for this adult--me--I'll be reading kids books with a big smile on my face. :)

Unlike most challenges, this isn't asking for a certain number of books. This one is only focusing on the commitment to read a certain amount of time per day.

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Brendan Buckley's Universe And Everything In It


Frazier, Sundee T. 2007. Brendan Buckley's Universe And Everything In It.

It was the first Sunday of summer break, and I was in a hurry to finish my dusting chores fast so I could call Khalfani to ride bikes. I wasn't even thinking too hard about anything, like Dad says I do sometimes. Well, okay, maybe I was thinking a little bit hard. About Grampa Clem and how I'm going to miss fishing with him this summer. Which made me think about the funeral and how the man in the the black robe had said, "From dust we come and to dust we shall return." And then I started looking more closely at the gray particles I was picking up with my dust rag, and I thought, What is this stuff anyway? And where does it come from? And how come it keeps coming back no matter how many times I wipe it away? That's when the science part of me took over. (1)

That one paragraph hooked me. Brendan charmed me from the very beginning. Though that paragraph doesn't give you a full picture, the book shows him to be curious, eager to learn, sincere, and genuine. He's a thinker. But he's also a feeler. I love that I do. I love the way we see the world through his eyes. I am definitely wishing I'd read this one last year so I could have promoted it when it came time to choosing Librarians Choices. Because here's a secret--I SO would have voted for it.

The basics. A young boy, biracial, spends the summer wondering why his white grandfather refused to have contact with his mother after her marriage to his father. A summer wondering why even though they live so close--a quick bus ride away--he's never tried to meet his grandson. The two do meet. By chance. But that meeting tends to produce more questions than answers. Brendan and his family--his mother, his father, his grandmother--are so authentically presented, that it is a joy to read. (What do I mean by authentic you're wondering? They felt real. They felt human. They seemed to be so fleshed out, so genuine, that it didn't read like fiction.) A book full of questions kept in a young boy's journal. A book that searches the universe for a few answers. In case you didn't guess, I did love this one.

This is a boys' book, by the way, and I didn't love some of the details. The contest between two friends to see who could pee the most into their mountain dew bottle didn't thrill me. But then again, I'm not in the target audience range. I think this one works. And I am so happy to recommend it to others!!!

http://www.sundeefrazier.com/bb.php

198 pages

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Earthly Pleasures



Neches, Karen. 2008. Earthly Pleasures.

I rarely read Amazon reviews these days. I typically don't second guess my opinion. (And for the record, I'm not second guessing it here either even though I did look the book up on Amazon. The only thing I'm second guessing is whether to give it 3 stars or 3.5 stars or 3.75 stars.) But I have to say that Publishers Weekly's phrasing of "appealingly unorthodox" is just right in describing this fun, often light-hearted debut novel, Earthly Pleasures. Set both in heaven and on earth, it follows the lives of many characters--some living, some not so much. The story lines are seemingly unconnected--unconnected but enjoyable nonetheless--until the last third of the book when everything begins to come together. It is a romance. An unusual romance, but a romance all the same. The man? A celebrity both in heaven and on earth. Ryan Blaine. The woman? Well, when we first meet her she's a 'greeter' in heaven. Skye Sebring. Where they meet. How they meet. When they meet. I'll leave that up to you to discover.

Expect a sweet, often-funny story of two lovers that seemingly will never have the chance to connect. Don't expect an orthodox vision of heaven. Don't. If you do, if you read it through the mindset of "this is wrong; this is wrong; that's wrong, too" you'll be missing out on a charming story. Theologically weak--at least for Christian believers that may come across this novel--the novel's strength is in its telling. The back cover for instance mentions that the heroine "discovers that all of life's lessons can be learned from the lyrics of five Beatles songs." As a Beatle fan, how could I really resist such a tale?

This book may not be for everyone. Some--myself excluded--might find it a bit too light, a bit too fluffy, a bit too predictable. Romance novels aren't suited for all readers after all. And one person's "best book ever" is sentimental trash to another. But I enjoyed myself greatly with this one. It was fun. Pure fun. Guilty fun.

First sentence: The red light on Skye Sebring's computer blinked rapidly, announcing the arrival of her first client of the day. Within seconds a girl with dark, darting eyes entered the cubicle. She wore spiked leather wrist cuffs and a T-shirt with the logo "Hustle or Die."

309 pages.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Answering A Few Questions

Have questions about the "online reading group"? Just ask!!!

How do I participate? Do I need to sign up anywhere? No 'official' sign ups are necessary. However, if you want to express your interest, your intent to participate, that's good. It encourages me. But everyone is welcome to participate regardless of if they "signed" up or not. A blog is not necessary to participate. Participation comes from reading the book and visiting the online reading group blog. You may share your thoughts and opinions in the comments, OR if you prefer you can write your thoughts in a post on your own blog site (if you have a blog). Just be sure to leave a link so everyone can visit your site.

Do I have to participate on the assigned days? No. If you feel better posting on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and sometime on the weekend, for example, that is fine. I don't know why I chose M,W, F. There really wasn't much logic behind it.

What if I get behind? If you get behind, don't give up. Just comment on those posts as you get to that chapter. It doesn't matter if you're behind schedule. I'm still interested in what you have to say! I'd rather have you a day or two (or even a week) behind schedule, than for you to give up and drop out completely.

What if I start the book and hate it? Do I have to keep going? That's up to you completely. Your comments (or posts if you blog about it on your own site) can be as negative as you like. But if you seriously hate a book and don't want to waste your time, then drop out if you must! I'd rather you do that than come to hate me by association :) I'm not going to *force* you to read anything!

What if my copy is back due at the library before our discussion schedule is "finished"? If you don't want to renew--and I wouldn't blame you if you don't want the hassle--then you can always finish it ahead of schedule. You might want to jot down a few notes about the chapter(s) if anything strikes you as being outstanding--either good or bad. The number of notes you might have to take will vary. If you think you can retain it for a week or two, then none may be necessary. Otherwise, jotting down a key idea or two might help.

What if I read really quickly? What if I finish that month's book in two days? Do I have to "slow" my reading down just to participate? If you want to read at your own pace, feel free to do so. Just comment when you can! Take a few notes if necessary. But basically just retain enough to let your opinions be known as we go along.

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Sense and Sensibility is only ONE week away!

Becky's Online Reading Group: March Selection

Sense and Sensibility will be our second book. I hope more people can join us on this next book! It is by Jane Austen. The sections (or “days”) are roughly 25 to 30 pps in length. I hope you find it quite manageable to keep up with. (Feedback would be a good thing if there are problems.)

Monday March 3rd: Chapters 1-7

Wednesday March 5th: Chapters 8-13

Friday March 7th: Chapters 14-18

Monday March 10th: Chapters 19-22

Wednesday March 12: Chapters 23- 27

Friday March 14: Chapters 28-30

Monday March 17th: Chapters 31-34

Wednesday March 19th: Chapters 35-37

Friday March 21rst: Chapters 38-41

Monday March 24th: Chapters 42-44

Wednesday March 26th: Chapters 45-47

Friday March 28th: Chapters 48-50

The Masterpiece Theatre production will air Sunday March 30th and Sunday April 6th.




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Day Four of Their Eyes Were Watching God


Today is the fourth day of our discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God. You can join in the fun here. There is still time to play catch up if you want to join.

Monday, February 18th. Chapters 1-4
Wednesday, February 20th. Chapters 5-6
Friday, February 22nd. Chapters 7-12
Monday, February 25th. Chapters 13-17
Wednesday, February 27th. Chapters 18-20

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Interview with Laura Wiess


Today I'm interviewing YA author Laura Wiess. She is the author of Such A Pretty Girl, one of the Cybil nominess. Her newest book, Leftovers, has just been released. You may read my review of Such A Pretty Girl here. And you may visit Laura Wiess on the web here.

What inspired you to write Such A Pretty Girl? (Or how did this novel come to be…)


Pretty Girl was born while watching a news story about yet another kid being sexually abused by an adult. The first draft came fast with Meredith, the main character, speaking loudly, clearly and in detail, desperate to tell her story. Once I had it down on paper I went back and researched pedophilia, childhood sexual abuse, Megan's Law, incest, crossover offending and more, and was lucky enough to talk with some very candid survivors of sexual abuse.

Also, director James Ronald Whitney's Just Melvin: Just Evil is a stunning documentary. Powerful, unforgettable stuff.

How long did it take to write it and see it through to the finished product? Were there any surprises along the way on your journey to publication? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? (if anything…)

The first draft was written fairly quickly but the revision took time. I wrote it with no thought to market or age bracket or anything but the story itself, so there was no limiting or censor along the way.

When Pretty Girl was finished I submitted it to Barry Goldblatt who then became my agent. We agreed this story would need just the right editor, one who really "got" Meredith, and who didn't shy away from controversial issues. Luckily, Jennifer Heddle at MTV Books was out there, and we found her.

Honestly? I can't think of anything I wish I'd known in advance because each step of this journey has taught me something and if any of those moments had come sooner, I might not have been ready to absorb and (hopefully) learn from them. I love the constant evolution of it.

Who has been your biggest supporter or mentor along the way for you on your road to publication?

I'm really bad at picking only one of anything, so it would be a toss up between Barry Goldblatt (whose belief in Pretty Girl never wavered from the moment he read it), and my husband and my family who never said, "When are you going to stop writing and get a real job?" They believed, and that support meant a lot.
In addition, my mom's always been a voracious reader, and when I was little she would take me to the library once a week where we would each fill a big bag with books, go home and start reading. Thanks to her, I discovered the whole world in books.
She also belonged to a minimum of five book clubs, so there were new books coming in every month. I can't tell you how many times I wandered out of my room and said, "I have nothing left to read," and she would point me towards the new-book bookcase. She still passes on all the ones she's read, so I'm really lucky that way.

What do you hope readers gain from reading Such A Pretty Girl?

This is a hard question to answer because each person's reading experience and interpretation of the events in the book is different. I imagine it'll be the same for Leftovers, too, because I think people will identify to different degrees with different parts of it, depending on their own life experiences.

So, an intense read but ultimately hope, maybe an eye-opener to this kind of abuse and a degree of satisfaction in the end.

Is there anything you’d like to tell kids/teens going through such emotionally turbulent times?

Anyone stuck in a situation like this – and judging from the reader emails I've received from adult women who lived through similar circumstances, this is unfortunately nowhere near as uncommon as people would like to believe – knows better than I do what they're enduring just to make it through. I'm not a professional counselor or a part of law enforcement but I'd tell them that no matter what the predator tells you it isn't your fault, and that there are safe, responsible, reliable adults out there who'll believe you and step between you and danger. There's help and professionals out there who care.

Does Meredith have a theme song by any chance? Have you given any thought to what her playlist would be?

'Heaven' by Los Lonely Boys was the only one mentioned but readers have suggested several Evanescence songs which seemed perfect. I love reader suggestions!

I found your opening lines to be very powerful, a great hook. “They promised me nine years of safety but only gave me three. Today my time has run out.” Did this come easily or did you struggle with getting the opening just right?

Those two lines have always been the beginning of Meredith's story because she was caught in the living nightmare right from the first page. And it speaks to what she sees as a major betrayal by the adult world that caught and convicted her father and knows what he is, yet goes and releases him anyway. She's not thinking of laws and probation or with adult logic; she's thinking of what happened to her, the horrendous, terrifying details and is scared to death that for some reason, it has all ceased to matter and he's free again.

Meredith felt very authentic, very real as a character. Did you struggle with any of your characters? Was it easy to bring the mom (with her denial and naivety) and dad (with his perversions) to life? Did writing it ever get to be too intense? What was the hardest scene to write?

Meredith arrived almost fully formed, a real girl stuck in a real hell with a story she wanted to tell and a voice that never wavered. Her parents were more difficult because I had to see through their eyes and spend time in their heads, and that was extremely disturbing and frustrating. Still, it was a great (if horrible) experience because the world is full of opposing POVs and different motivations, and ignoring or dismissing them doesn't mean they don't exist.

There were times though, usually while I was writing Meredith's father, that my skin actually crawled and I had to push away from the desk and get out of the room for a little bit, just to shake it off.

The other thing that got to me was researching the current 'real life' victim soul, a paralyzed girl here in the U.S. who has been laying in her bed being stared at for years (her mom converted the garage and put in a viewing window to her bed, to the best of my knowledge), while strangers from all over the country (and who knows, maybe the world) come to stare at her and (before she was windowed off) cry, touch her and beg her to cure their illnesses or save their loved ones, etc..

Imagine the burden of that, day in and day out for years just lying there unable to speak or escape, and having hundreds or thousands of strangers file past your bed or stare at you crying, pleading and begging you to absorb their pain and misery? She can't leave, she can't call for help, she can't sit up and say "Hey Mom, I'm done with this. Where are my jeans? I'm going out." The realization that some girl somewhere is actually living this way astounds me.

The hardest scene to write was the climax scene, I think, if only because I had to be in Meredith's head with the terror and the rage and desperation and the whole skin-crawling thing all over again. I was so freaked while I was writing it that when she was frantic, shaking and crying so was I, and in my mind heading toward that snap moment when, seemingly doomed and cornered, she turns and makes her last desperate stand.

The best part about that scene was that I didn't know what was going to happen or how it was going to play out until maybe the third draft. I was writing like a crazy person and suddenly, it was just…THERE. I was so amazed and excited that I called my parents (my mom had read the previous drafts), and said, "I know! I know what happens, and oh my GOD, you're not going to believe it!"

Then, after I got them all excited, I wouldn't tell them what the end was, only that I had to go and finish writing it. Terrible of me, but fun.

What was your first impression of the cover art for Such A Pretty Girl? Do you prefer the American or UK cover?

I love the covers. The first time I saw the U.S. cover I got a chill because it seemed so perfect. The U.K. cover is perfect for the market there, too. I couldn't be more pleased.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

I love the intriguing whisper of an idea, of a question I don't know the answer to, a character I want very badly to know, a story idea that lures me in and makes me laugh, cry, worry and cheer. I love ideas that make me furious, stories that evoke passionate responses, make me discover new ideas and opinions and ways of living outside of my own. I love offbeat characters, fringe characters, people who either choose or are thrust into lives outside of the mainstream and wrestle with all that comes with it.

I love stories that can wring me out emotionally because I care so much for the characters and want so badly for things to go well for them. For me, it's all about the characters. If I care about them, you've got me.

The easiest thing about writing is that when it's right, I get lost in it. I love it when the characters become real and take off and I get to follow them and be with them, listen to their dreams and desires and opinions, angst with them and write it all down.

The hardest part is learning not to protect them. To step back and let the story happen, no matter how bad it gets.

You write YA books, what do you love about the genre? Do you have any favorites past or present?

I love the endless possibilities, the 'firsts' and the evolution. I enjoy using kid-logic which is a lot of fun, fresh and intriguing, with way different boundaries, ins, outs and paths than experienced, adult logic.

I don't have any one favorite book. I love so many that it's impossible to list them, especially since I keep finding new ones!

Leftovers is being released in January 2008. What can you tell us about your new book?

From the back of the book:

Blair and Ardith are best friends who have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you'll have to understand why.
You'll have to listen as they describe parents who are alternately absent and smothering, classmates who mock and shun anyone different, and young men who are allowed to hurt and dominate without consequence.

You will have to learn what it's like to be a teenage girl who locks her bedroom door at night, who has been written off by the adults around her as damaged goods. A girl who has no one to trust except the one person she's forbidden to see.

You'll have to understand what it's really like to be forgotten and abandoned in America today.

Are you ready?
I was what-iffing about several things, including the difference between how these two girls would break if the pressure was great enough as opposed to how say, two guys might break. There are so many kids out there who become targeted by bullies and the daily torture just never ends and sometimes, ultimately and sadly, drives them to do desperate things just to try and make it stop.

I was also thinking about interpretation, how when adults say things it's almost like they assume their kids automatically value the same things they do and understand exactly what they mean by the orders or advice they give. The thing is, each person is an individual with a different set of wants or goals, secret dreams and desires, and I wanted to see what would happen when two girls with loves, hates, dreams and firsts of their own absorb the advice/values/lifestyles of their parents and then interpret them and use them to serve themselves in an entirely unintended way.

Are you excited that your novel, Such A Pretty Girl, has been nominated for a Cybil award? Does award-season (best of lists, awards, etc.) make you nervous or excited as a writer?

Oh yes, it's very exciting to be in such good company. The nominee list is impressive and it's an honor to even be on it! This is my first time with a personal stake in award season so now I'll be cheering on my friends and chewing my nails at the same time.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

I would go back in time and take care of unfinished business with people I cared about. For example, my grandparents are all deceased and I would have liked the opportunity to speak with them as a grown woman rather than in the semi-restricted role of granddaughter. I would have liked the chance to have been a peer and talk as a friend, if you know what I mean. So many rich moments lost because I never thought to ask.

With others there were moments when I could have apologized, been kinder or more patient, should have stood up for myself but didn't, picked the wrong battle and missed the more important opportunity, didn't think to ask the questions that I would now love to have the answered, listen closer to the opposing point of view…that sort of thing.

Try and resolve – or at least gain additional insight – into what (for me) will probably always remain unresolved but still, I'd love to give it a good try.

Thanks so much for this great interview, Becky. I appreciate the time spent and it's been wonderful speaking with you!

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Nonfiction Monday: I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree


Hillman, Laura. 2005. I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree.

"We are going to Brunnlitz, to Oskar Schindler's camp!" I recall the shouts of joy that filled the barrack at Plaszow. But the terrible place where I now stand is not that hoped-for refuge. It is Auschwitz. (1)

I Will Plant You A Lilac Tree is a memoir of one of the women saved by Oskar Schindler. Hannelore Wolff. Except for the two-page prologue, the book is a chronological account of Hannelore's life in Nazi Germany. The book opens with her attending a Jewish boarding school in Berlin. Since Hitler had come to power, it was dangerous for Jews to walk on public streets. In spite of the risk we walked along a tree-lined avenue in a suburb of Berlin, the ever-present yellow Stars of David sewn to our jackets. (3) One day she receives a letter from her mother with the news that her father has been taken by the Nazis and has died. Weeks later she receives another letter. A letter saying that her mother and two brothers will be deported to the East on May 8, 1942. In what could only be perceived as foolish-yet-brave behavior, Hannelore writes a letter to the Nazis saying that she wishes to be deported along with her family. They grant it. Now this family of four is facing the great unknown as they board a train that could lead them--probably will lead them--to their deaths.

Hannelore's story isn't always easy to read. Let's see if I can phrase this better. Those readers who aren't well-versed in Holocaust memoirs may find it difficult to read. The way the Jews are treated is despicable. It is callous. Hannelore's story is an account of some of the wrongs she faced, some of the wrongs she witnessed. But it is also a story of courage, of hope, of strength in a time of great despair. While sometimes surviving was a matter of luck--of chance--part of it had to do with will as well. Those that lost the will to live, those that gave up hope, those that gave in to despair... Starvation. Disease. Nazis. The Nazis were responsible either directly or indirectly for so many deaths. Hannelore's story of how she survived the various camps and came to be one of the lucky few saved by Schindler is amazing and fascinating and in places quite heartbreaking.

But this memoir isn't just a testament of survival, and it isn't just an account of the wrongs against the Jewish people. It is a love story as well, a story of how love can be found even in the darkest places, the most despairing times. A story of how one young man and one young woman found hope and love in each other. A story of how that love helped them endure.

I definitely recommend this one.

243 pages.

To read other Nonfiction Monday posts, visit the roundup.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

White Lilacs


Meyer, Carolyn. 1993. White Lilacs.

In the time before we knew that we would be driven away, our lives uprooted, and our people scattered, Grandfather Jim Williams spent every spare minute tending his beautiful garden in Freedomtown. He loved that garden, and I loved him. The garden was my favorite place.

Set in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, White Lilacs tells the story of a community within a community. Freedomtown, a community of African Americans (Though of course they weren't called that then, negroes or colored being the terminology then. Though Meyer does use the n* word later on when relations become more strained.) Our narrator is Rose Lee Jefferson, a twelve year old who is about to forced into growing up rather quickly. She is a girl that loves life, loves her family, loves to draw. She especially loves spending time with her grandfather. He is a gardener for the Bell family. Her Aunt Tillie works for the Bell family as well. (I believe as the cook.) One day, soon after our narrative opens, Rose is unexpectedly called into the Bell's kitchen by her aunt and told that she needs her to serve luncheon to the Bells and their guests. She had been having fun with her grandfather, and the garden was a place she felt at home, felt comfortable. But she does what she must. It's a day that will change her life forever. Why? She overhears that the white folks of the community are planning to force them out, force them to sell. They want a park, a library, a woman's club.

Throughout that summer, Rose works when she can and overhears as much as she dares. But by the middle of July, it's clear that the whites will have their way. Change is a coming. And coming fast. Knowing that it would be impossible to save their community, Rose acts quickly to preserve what she can--on paper. She draws what she can--the school, the churches, the homes, the businesses.

White Lilacs is a heartbreaking story of prejudice and hate. But it is also a story of a loving family, a family that holds onto hope, holds onto the good, that holds together.

Though fictional in nature, the book tells the all-too-real story of Quakertown. In the early 1920s, the African Americans of Quakertown were forced to sell their land so that the white folks of the city could have a park. You can read more about the actual Quakertown here and here. You can even watch a mini-documentary about it here. There is now a museum opened that tells the story of the community and documents its past.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Third day of Their Eyes Were Watching God


Yesterday was the third day of our discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God. You can join in the fun here. There is still time to play catch up if you want to join.

Monday, February 18th. Chapters 1-4
Wednesday, February 20th. Chapters 5-6
Friday, February 22nd. Chapters 7-12
Monday, February 25th. Chapters 13-17
Wednesday, February 27th. Chapters 18-20

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Finished 3rd Challenge of 08; Winter Reading Challenge


Some of you may be shaking your heads and thinking, "What on earth is Becky doing joining another challenge when she has so so so so so much to do????" My answer, well, I'm going to be reading these books anyway, I might as well lump them together and say they're challenge reads. (The challenge goes through February)

A is for Angst by Barbara Haworth-Attard
The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
Revolution is Not A Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine
While Shepherds Watched by Steven Roberts
Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
Right Behind You by Gail Giles
Dawn and Dusk by Alice Mead
Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Lessons From A Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
Old Twentieth by Joe Haldeman
The Fold by An Na.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

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The Entertainer and the Dybbuk



Fleischman, Sid. 2008. The Entertainer and the Dybbuk.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman won the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Award in the category of books for older readers. Fleischman won the Newbery in 1987 for The Whipping Boy. Set in the late 1940s, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk is the story of an American ventriloquist, the Great Freddie, who while on his tour of Europe becomes haunted or possessed by the spirit of a Jewish child slain in the Holocaust. This boy, Avrom Amos Poliakov, now a dybbuk or spirit, has unfinished business and he needs this former American soldier's help to be at peace. Now inhabited by this friendly, often sarcastic, mournful soul, his act has become better than ever. The dybbuk is winning the hearts of the crowds. The crowds of course don't realize that this isn't all an act put on by The Great Freddie. He's gone almost overnight from a mediocre-at-best performer to a real crowd-drawing attraction. But being possessed isn't all fun, the dybbuk means business. And he'll stop at nothing to accomplish his goals.

The book is very good, and I definitely recommend it.

First sentence: "In the gray, bombed-out city of Vienna, Austria, an American ventriloquist opened the closet door of his hotel. Still in his tuxedo and overcoat, The Great Freddie intended to put away the battered suitcase in which he carried his silent wooden dummy. But there on the floor sat a gaunt man with arms folded across his knees, waiting."

180 pages

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Joe Haldeman's Old Twentieth


Haldeman, Joe. 2005. Old Twentieth.

This is my second Haldeman novel. My first was The Accidental Time Machine. I loved The Accidental Time Machine. Loved it. My expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. Depending on your expectations, you may love or hate Old Twentieth. Like so many great science fiction stories (dystopian ones especially), it is not so concerned with having that happily-ever-after ending. [The Amazon reviews seemed to be mixed. Some "getting" it, some not. But such is the case I suppose.]

I haven't read much science fiction excluding Orson Scott Card and H.G. Wells. (Unless you count the Star Wars novels. I've read about six or seven of those. I've also read some Isaac Asimov. But his body of work is so extensive, that my few books seem to be a minuscule representation.) My love for the genre stems more from loving Star Trek TNG, Stargate SG-1, and The Twilight Zone. So I don't have that much to compare it with--the plot, the characters, the setting. But in my opinion, Old Twentieth was great. Great in a completely different way than The Accidental Time Machine.

There have been many many books--science fiction books--about the collapse of humanity and society. Books where technological advancements lead men into making foolish choices, lead men into taking the wrong path. (You can also replace the word books with movies and tv shows.) Old Twentieth is just one of many I suppose. Another familiar theme? Humans finding a way to defeat death. Finding a way to become immortal. Finding a way to live forever. Again, such is the case with Old Twentieth. This immortality comes via a drug called BCP. But this drug was expensive. It led to a war between the haves and the have nots. This war was dirty, vicious, ugly. "Lot 92 was a biological agent that killed 7 billion people in a month leaving the world safe for 200 million immortals." But the war had unexpected consequences--the downfall of society. If all of the workers, all the working class, all the ones with little money and little respect and little appreciation--were wiped out it leaves the lazy upper class that are lacking in skills to do the menial tasks that society needs to survive. Usher in more death, more violence, more despair.

Fortunately, Old Twentieth doesn't focus on that past. No, these are distant memories now. The narrative follows the lives of those individuals who have chosen to leave Earth in search of another home, a home on a newly discovered planet that seemingly appears to be compatible for hosting human life. It will take a thousand years and five space ships for these brave (some would say crazy) individuals to arrive. Perhaps longer to set up a colony. (Yes, there are plenty of science fiction novels about humans establishing colonies on other planets.) But first they have to get there. Something that seemed so simple--immortal humans traveling for a thousand years--became a bit more complex along the way.

What do humans do to pass the time? What could you possibly do in relatively cramped quarters for that many years? Sure you could probably entertain yourself a year or two by reading, painting, dancing, playing the guitar, etc. But a thousand years? The ships' entertainment comes from a virtual reality machine nicknamed "The Time Machine." The machine takes humans--five at a time--to various destinations. Each year of the twentieth century, for example, is a separate destination. Humans can experience twenty hours at a time what life was like--using all five senses--in the past. The twentieth century is the playground, the virtual playground, of these passengers.

Our main hero, our narrator, is Jacob Brewer. The time machine is his job--maintaining and overseeing its functionality its use. He has many assistants that help him out as well. A group of five or six individuals who are "experts" in playing this virtual reality game and fixing any technological hiccups when they occur. And they do begin to occur more frequently throughout the novel.

I'm not going to say too much more. If I do, it might color your expectations one way or the other. I certainly approached it like it would be an episode of Star Trek where the holodeck would malfunction. And on the surface, it's a fair comparison. But it is so much more than that. It borders closer to the Twilight Zone and The Matrix. I picked up the Twilight Zone vibes fairly early. And since I love The Twilight Zone, it was a pleasurable experience. I didn't pick up the Matrix vibes until after I finished it. (Then again, I've only watched that trilogy once. And it's not something I think about often. I honestly can't remember what happens in the third movie at the end.)

This is a novel that is in a way deliciously creepy and freaky. It's world is one that is nice to visit for the duration of the book, but that you'd never want to live in yourself!

First sentence of prologue: The smell of death is always with you, like a rotten oily stain in the back of your mouth. Rum won't burn it out and a cheap cigar won't cover it. An unwelcome condiment with every mouthful of rations.

First sentence of chapter one: My family has a tradition, going back to the nineteenth century, that whenever a child was born (only a male child, originally), the father would buy a case of promising wine of that year's vintage.

Joe Haldeman's official site. (His bibliography--which is looking like it might just as well be titled Becky's TBR pile--can be found here.)

272 pages.

S
P
O
I
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****Avoid reading if you're even remotely interested in reading the novel*******

This is one of those stories that explore the philosophical aspect of life, of living, of existence, questioning what it means to be "alive" to "exist." One of those stories that border between merely strange dream and full-out nightmare. One of those that ask how do you know you're really awake and not dreaming. One of those that has characters questioning their reality, their very existence.

Here are some SG-1 episodes that it vaguely reminds me of:

[Tin Man, The Gamekeeper, Forever In A Day, The Changeling, Avatar]

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Poetry Friday: I'm My Own Grandpa



It sounds funny, I know,
But it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

I'm my own grandpa.
I'm my own grandpa.
It sounds funny, I know,
But it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

Now many, many years ago, when I was twenty-three,
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be.
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.
My father fell in love with her, and soon they, too, were wed.

This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life,
My daughter was my mother, cause she was my father's wife.
To complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy,
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to Dad,
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad.
For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother
Of the widow's grown-up daughter, who, of course, was my stepmother.

Father's wife then had a son who kept him on the run,
And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter's son.
My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue,
Because, although she is my wife, she's my grandmother, too.

Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I'm her grandchild,
And everytime I think of it, it nearly drives me wild,
For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa!

I'm my own grandpa.
I'm my own grandpa.
It sounds funny, I know, but it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Four Legged Friend Challenge


Kailana of Written World hosted a challenge, the Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge. It officially began on September 20, 2007 and it ends February 26, 2007.

There are--if I recall--no set number of books we had to have read. So far, I've read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and Babe by Dick King-Smith. I've also read Animals in the House, a great nonfiction book. I've also read Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek. All three feature Jack rather prominently so I'm thinking these should count for the challenge.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brian.

And here's a picture book I'm recommending for EVERYONE.

Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. It will be released April 2008. It is a must-read for pet lovers of all ages.

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The Moffats


Estes, Eleanor. 1941. The Moffats.

The Moffats may not be the most exciting, thrilling, page-turning book I've ever read, but it is enjoyable none the less in its quiet, subtle, gentle way. The book focuses on the Moffat family. A mother raising her kids alone. The family is not rich--as you can imagine--but there is a loving, caring atmosphere that makes for a very happy home. The book is episodic. The narrator or main character changes from chapter to chapter. And there is no one connecting plot that threads them altogether. (Well, maybe that isn't quite true. If there is such a plot it would be that their landlord has put their house up for sale. This occurs in the first or second chapter. And the house is sold and the Moffats have to move in the last chapter.) Each chapter is a story of sorts about what life is like--daily life around the house, around school, around town, etc. The stories are mostly lighthearted and fun. But there are some serious moments as well, some moments that border on being a lesson in morality. For readers looking for family-oriented, family-friending reading material, The Moffats is sure to satisfy.

First sentences: The way Mama could peel apples! A few turns of the knife and there the apple was, all skinned! Jane could not take her eyes from her mother's hands. They had a way of doing things, peeling apples, sprinkling salt, counting pennies, that fascinated her.

224 pages

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Shades of Gray


James, Jessica. 2008. Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War in Virginia.

A piercing blast from a bugle preceded the sound of galloping horses by seconds. Captain Alexander Hunter tore his eyes away from the horse and rider he pursued and focused on a Federal calvary unit now pursuing him.

The title is key here. It lets you know what to expect, and what not to expect. Civil War. Virginia. Any time a novel is set during the Civil War, expect bloodshed. Especially if it's set in Virginia. Shades of Gray. This is of course alluding (is alluding the right word???) to the ethics and morals of war. Not black. Not white. Not even just gray. But shades of gray. So expect lots of ethical dilemmas and 'hard' conversations on what is morally right and wrong and honorable and dishonorable. The first sentence is also important. It lets you know that this isn't a novel about Northern women or Southern women on the home front waiting and praying while their men go off to fight. The narrative places you right in the action.

We have two main characters. One man. One woman. But what you might not be expecting is that both have already been mentioned in that first sentence. One directly, one indirectly. Our hero is a Confederate. A Virginian. Alex Hunter. Our heroine. Well, she goes by many many different names. Andrew Sinclair. Yes, Andrew. Though the Federal army mostly just calls her "Sinclair." Maryann Marlow. Andrea Evans. All but the last being code names. You see, our spunky young heroine (17 when the story opens) is a spy for the Union army. She didn't start out as a spy, not exactly, but her work as a messenger naturally developed into much much more. She is fearless. She is reckless. She is very spirited. She is well matched to oppose Captain Alex Hunter. The two are enemies. Definitely enemies.

The novel is all about torn loyalties, torn allegiances, conflicting interests. The Civil War did tear families apart. It wasn't unheard of for brothers to be on opposite sides facing each other in battle. Immediate and extended families could be torn apart. And lovers. Was it so difficult to imagine that the heart might have its own loyalties? That love might come in unexpected places, in unexpected ways? Alex Hunter does have a brother in the Union army. And this brother is loved. He even goes to his brother's bedside when he is injured. He makes him a promise, a solemn promise to take care of his brother's love, his 'unofficial' betrothed. This woman? None other than Andrea Evans. Though I believe she is going under a different name at the time. She is there too. By his side. He recognizes her not as the boy who has given him chase in the past, but as a woman living in Richmond, Virginia. A woman he's danced with and flirted with. He realizes then that appearances can be deceiving.

Shades of Gray is 524 pages in length. It is complex. The characters are well fleshed out. The plot has many twists and turns. It is an engaging read. Especially the first half of the novel. I didn't want to put it down at all. My eyes kept getting heavier and heavier, but I wanted to keep going. I told myself "just one more chapter" at least half a dozen times. For me, the second half of the novel wasn't quite as good. The plot became a bit messier. The ending, well, I'm not going to have any spoilers but I think the ending should have come 24 pages sooner. If the narrative had ended with the Civil War, I feel it would have been a stronger conclusion. As it is, there are two chapters that serve as an epilogue of sorts. A fifteen years later. And a twenty-five years later (ten years after the fifteen years chapter, but twenty-five years from the Civil War).

Did I like it? Did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it? Yes. Yes. Mostly. I enjoyed this one. I couldn't put it down for the most part. And while the ending left me slightly unsatisfied, the last twenty-four pages do not negate the five hundred pages that I did enjoy. It is still a thoroughly enjoyable read. It was good. I think for those that love Civil War novels it would definitely satisfy. Of course not every one loves historical fiction. And of those that love historical fiction not everyone loves the Civil War setting. And of those that love Civil War settings, not everyone loves those that take place on and off the battlefields. So I think the book definitely should be recommended to those that fall into that area, that target group.

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Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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