Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tom Sawyer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain

I'm glad that I had to read this book for Omaha's winter reading club (I can get a coupon for the book sale and a free library bag if I read five books, one of them being Tom Sawyer). I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tom. It's funny how a character who is so self-obsessed can still be so charming! This is not just a children's book. It's a classic. Who could ever forget the hilarious whitewashing scene, or the part when Tom walks in on his own funeral? I love Tom's imagination. It makes me more determined to provide a less plugged-in childhood for my own kids. This is a brilliant book.

P.S. So...who shot Tom Sawyer? Well, the answer is...

No one.

I guess there's a possibility that it happens in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but we'll see. I have a sneaking suspicion (if you know Grandpa Wilde you wouldn't be surprised either) that his three questions for me are all trick questions.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

39 Clues - Take Two

The 39 Clues: One False Note

by Gordon Korman

Things going in favor of this book:

  • Two words: Vienna. Venice. I'm loving the travel/adventure elements of this series.

  • The fact that the clue was hidden in sheet music handwritten by Mozart. Yeah, I'm a music nerd.

  • That the plot had good continuity, despite the author switch.

  • That they're going to make movies out of the series and Steven Spielberg is going to direct.

Things going against it:

  • As I expected, the characters/dialogue didn't seem to be as strong. I blame it on the different author. Not that it wasn't well written, but, for me, writing is so personal. You really get to know the characters you invent, and having someone else take over for you would just be awkward. They (the characters) just seemed to be lacking the sparkle they had in the first.

  • The dialogue suffered a bit from what I call over-editorializing. Too much clutter. Example: "Blah, blah, blah, blah." (insert synonym for said here) (insert character name) (insert adverb). Understand? When every line is followed by a description of how it was said it tends to interrupt the flow of the conversation. Severely. Not to be punny, but the words should speak for themselves.

Overall, though, I liked it. I think the plot is great. I love a good mystery/adventure series. So long as they doesn't end like the Series of Unfortunate Events, I think I'm going to enjoy the next 8 books.

Monday, January 19, 2009



by Cornelia Funke

I always love coming to the end of a series. Closure is such a lovely thing. These are great books. A true book-lovers books. There are so many nods to the art and love of reading and so many fantastic quotes from great lit at the beginning of each chapter (not totally obscure things either, there were even a couple of Harry Potter quotes!). The premise itself is a book-lovers dream. A bookbinder named Mo discovers that when he reads out loud he can bring characters inside a book to life (and, as he discovers later, he can also read himself and others into a book). The series follows his adventures with his daughter Meggie (and other family members, as well as a whole host of characters from a book entitled Inkheart.) I won't reveal any of the plot from the third book, as it would most definitely contain spoilers for the first and second books.

I will say that I had to sludge a bit through the first half of this book. I was beginning to worry that it lacked the originality of the first book and the exciting new setting of the second. However, it picked up with a bang and ended brilliantly. I had at times thought the writing was a little awkward in the first two books (owing, no doubt, to their having been translated from German), but the problem seemed to be nonexistent in the third. I'd absolutely recommend it and I've added two other Cornelia Funke books to my long list of to-read's, The Thief Lord and Dragon Rider.



by Michael Grant

I read a really great review of this book (which is what made me want to read it). Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it like I was hoping I would. The premise is very interesting. All of sudden one day all the adults and teenagers 15 and older disappear. There's mass chaos, of course, as some step up to lead the others, some of the bullies try to exploit the situation and the rest have panic attacks or run wild. Things get even more complicated when some of the children develop extra powers (in a very X-Men-y way). There's quite the battle for control and the book is intense and flows well. The writing is very good.

Why didn't I like it?

Because it FREAKED ME OUT!

Everyone 14 and younger left to fend for themselves. Yeah, that includes babies and toddlers. As a young mother I almost couldn't make it past the first chapter because I was so worried about the little kids in this book. Someone did step up and take care of the little kids who were found alone in a daycare and others searched houses to look for others (which is why I was even able to bring myself to finish the book), but in my opinion they waited for too long to search out babies and toddlers left alone in houses. Maybe it shouldn't have bothered me so much, but I get really into books. As I was reading it, I'd look around at the three beautiful little ones around me and wonder what would happen if I (and all the other adults) just suddenly disappeared. Talk about terrifying! What kind of conscienceless author would pick such a horrible thing to write about? Just my opinion.
This would be a great book for older teens (who don't have that protective mother moose instinct yet). It has a very Lord of the Flies-ish educational quality about it too. The characters are great and I will probably read the sequel (because it ends on such a cliff-hanger!), but I do not recommend this one to my fellow young mothers (or young child sympathizers).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tess, Tess, and more Tess

Tess of the D'Urbervilles:

A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

by Thomas Hardy


Normally, I will avoid spoilers on this blog, but as I tried to decide what to say about Tess I came to the conclusion that the best discussion on this book must include the whole book. Hopefully, being such a classic work of literature, most have either read it or have heard how it ends. Also, this blog got kind of long on me. I won't always be this long-winded but I had a lot of thoughts on Tess. Forgive me!


Tess of the D'Urbervilles is the story of a young woman named Tess Durbeyfield whose (poor working class) family discovers that they are descendents of a once great and rich family (the D'Urbervilles). Tess cares very little about the discovery, but her parents are thrilled and determined to use the knowledge to better their situation in life. They send her to visit some existing D'Urbervilles and claim kin, hoping to start their family on a path to better times. Instead, Tess herself starts down a path that leads to her complete ruination.

She begins to work for the D'Urbervilles, caring for their chickens. While there, she gets to know Alec D'Urberville (hereafter referred to as "jerk-face Alec") who - to put it delicately - robs her of her virtue. Tess returns home a complete mess. She bears a child, who dies shortly afterwards (and never contacts jerk-face about the baby - which I don't blame her for). After a short period, she leaves home again to be a dairymaid. She meets Angel Clare, an idealistic young gentleman who is trying to learn the art of farming. They fall in love and despite Tess's guilt about her past - and her attempts to inform Angel about it - they get married without Angel knowing the truth. After they get married, Tess confesses, and an infuriated Angel abandons Tess to go establish a farm in Brazil.

In the meantime, a hurt but too-proud-to-ask-for-monetary-help-from-the-in-laws Tess finds work at a farm under brutal conditions. None other than jerk-face Alec shows up, deciding he's madly in love with Tess. He begs her to come live with him as his mistress. Eventually he coerces her into doing so. She gives in mainly to help her now-widowed mother and multiple siblings. Of course Angel realizes how wrong he was, returns, seeks out Tess and is turned away by her. Tess finally snaps. She's lost the man she loves and can't bear to live with the man she hates, so she kills jerk-face Alec and runs to catch up with Angel. Angel is shocked but runs from the police with Tess. Eventually, though, they are caught and Tess is sentenced to death.

Those are the facts. Now let's talk.

No doubt about it, Tess's story is disturbing. Thomas Hardy subtitled his book "A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented" and I agree with him. Aside from her one act of violence, as I read the book I couldn't help but agree with Tess's every move. In my mind I viewed her as pure. Her intentions were always good. That's what maybe makes this story so disturbing. She's not a villain with a clear tragic flaw. Not a "Hi, my name is Voldemort and I'm incapable of understanding love." If Tess had a tragic flaw, it would be being a victim or striving to do the right thing. Which really doesn't count. It makes a person wonder, could I become like that, if the wrong circumstances occurred?

It reminds me of the story of Oedipus, who tries to avoid an oracle's prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, but ends up doing so in the end (thanks to a mix-up at birth which made him confused as to who his parents really were). Is the world really out to get us? Is it really inevitable that some people will destroy themselves even if they are trying their best to do the right thing? This is where I actually find Tess's story to be comforting. Why? Because I don't personally believe it to be possible. Forgive me for waxing spiritual for a moment. I do believe that there is a God who love us and that we are His children. I do believe in a certain scripture in Corinthians that promises us we will not be tried more than we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13). What a relief! I got the feeling that Hardy does not believe in God. I don't know, maybe because all three main characters embrace religion, only to completely discard it at various points of the book. I'm just grateful that I am blessed with my Christian convictions.

Let's look at Tess from a different angle. In reading a bit more about Thomas Hardy, I discovered that as well as being a naturalist, he was also a nature-lover. He was very anti the modernization of the world. Looking at Tess through his perspective I spotted an amazing amount of connections to nature in his book. Almost every major event in the story takes place out of doors. We have woods, farms, cows, chickens, birds, and rivers. When Angel first falls in love with Tess, her beauty moves him to call her Artemis (goddess of the hunt and the moon) and Demeter (mother of Persephone, whose sorrow about her daughter being with Hades during the winter is the "real" reason the seasons change.) The first time we meet Tess, she's doing a May Day dance, and the last time we see her she's laying down on an altar at Stonehenge, tired from running from the police (May Day and Stonehenge = serious paganism and nature worship). There are many other such details as well. I stumbled on an opinion online that some believe Thomas Hardy was writing as if Tess were the earth herself. Think about it... The earth being robbed of her innocence, being forsaken by those who profess to love her...I can see it. Not that the story is less tragic after we dehumanize it.

To sum up, Tess is some heavy lit. It's not my usual read. I disliked the story itself, but loved how much it make me think after I'd finished it.

Coming next, something significantly lighter (with a rather shorter review, I'd guess). Inkdeath! I'm almost finished.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

" There's more of gravy than the grave about you."

...says Scrooge to Marley, trying to brush him off as indigestion as opposed to an apparition.

Picture of the title page from the first edition courtesy of Wikipedia.
A Christmas Carol: In Prose
by Charles Dickens

For my first book post I'm going back to the last book I read in 2008 - just because it's an awesome book. And because I've only read one book so far this year and I want to watch the second segment of the movie on PBS Sunday before I write my review (hooray for a new season of Masterpiece!).

I LOVED this book. Having seen many versions of this story on stage and in movies I decided I was overdue to read this book. And I was surprised by it. My Dickens experiences in the past have been positive, but I've had a hard time getting fully into them. Dickens is a masterful writer, but the other novels I've read have had pages and pages of dreary details on social injustice as well as intricate and appealing plot elements. A Christmas Carol is short, to the point, and bursting with classic Dickens wit. There's certainly more Dickens gravy than graveness in this book. Jon and I read it out loud together, finishing up on Christmas Eve. We were surprised by how many times we were laughing out loud. There are so many perfectly scrumptiously quotable moments that I can't pick one to share with you. You'll have to just read it yourself next Christmas. You won't be disappointed.

P.S. The title being A Christmas "Carol", there were several musical analogies made in this book (which made the musician in me very happy). For example, there are 5 chapters which are called staves instead of chapters (music is notated on 5 staves). Very cool!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Do you pass the Grandpa Wilde test?

My husband's grandpa (former english teacher and super smart) recently gave me a quiz which I failed flat-out. Zero out of three! Looks like I have some homework to do. He told me that he used to ask these questions to his children's suitors as a worthiness test.

Question #1:

Who shot Tom Sawyer?

Sheesh! I'm so embarrassed that I don't remember this! It's been years since I've read it. If you know, though, don't tell me!

Question #2:

How many wives did Pierre have in War & Peace?


Question #3:

Which of the brothers Karamazov killed his father?

I hope I spelled Karamazov right.

Looks like I have some pretty heavy lit to conquer, but I'm determined that the next time I see him I'm going to have answers!

2008 Archive

2008 Book Goal - 100 books
Books read - 96

December Reads
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Ever by Gail Carson Levine.
The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
The Princess Tales (The Fairy's Mistake, The Princess Test, Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, and Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep) by Gail Carson Levine.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.
Brisingr by Christopher Paolini.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

November Reads
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis.
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis.
Inkspell by Cornelia Funke.
Rumors by Anna Godberson.

October Reads
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George.
Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George.
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.
The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.
The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis.

September Reads
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale.
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.

August Reads
Extras by Scott Westerfeld.
The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan.
The Sweet and Far Thing by Libba Bray.
Rebel Angels by Libba Bray.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray.
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer.
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

July Reads
River Secrets by Shannon Hale.
Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull.
The Wish by Gail Carson Levine.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine.
The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull.
Fablehaven: The Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull.
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.
The Luxe by Anna Godberson.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.
Austenland by Shannon Hale.
Enna Burning by Shannon Hale.

June Reads
Deception Point by Dan Brown.
Uglies, Pretties, and Specials by Scott Westerfeld.
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman.
Jacob, Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.
The Princess and the Hound by Mettie Ivie Harrison.

May Reads
The Host by Stephenie Meyer.
Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.
Two Histories of England by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

April Reads
A Room With A View by E.M. Forster.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

March Reads
Holes by Louis Sachar.
Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier.
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
Persuasion by Jane Austen.

February Reads
The Call of the Wild by Jack London.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares.
Emma by Jane Austen.

January Reads
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
The Spiderwick Chronicles #1-5 by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan.
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.