Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love

Rushton, Rosie. The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

Do you remember the Dashwood family from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility? Well, author Rosie Rushton has brought them into the 21st century. Elinor is now Ellie. She still loves the unattainable guy. Marianne is transformed into Abby, still as flighty as ever. Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, is Georgie, but this time she has her own story to tell.

What I thought: I picked this book up on a whim. At best, I thought I could use it to introduce younger readers to the delights of Jane Austen. At worst, I knew it was chick lit. While the premise (bringing Austen into the 21st century) is commendable, I was less than pleased with Rushton's efforts. While no one can replace Austen, Rushton could perhaps have tried to give her novel the thoughtfulness and intimacy for which Austen's novels are so famous. My main complaint is the disjointed narrative. The author bounces between Ellie, Abby, and Georgie leaving the reader quite confused. I know multiple story lines can be successfully blended (Hilary McKay's Saffy's Angel is an excellent example.) When I read this book, it confirmed my worst fears, it is chick lit. When you accept that, it is an okay read.

A Different Kind of Vampire Novel

Hahn, Mary Downing. Look for Me By Moonlight. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Cynda goes to live with her dad at an isolated Maine inn. She finds life there predictable at best until an unexpected guest arrives. Vincent Moranthos is handsome, educated, and charismatic. Cynda finds herself drawn to him. Their relationship starts out innocently enough with moonlight walks. Cynda is infatuated with Vincent. Her infatuation blinds her to his flaws. Vincent is a vampire. He wants not her love, but her blood. Can Cynda break the unnatural hold Vincent has on her?

What I thought: In a world inoculated by the Twilight novels, this book came as quite a surprise. Hahn's book is a different sort of vampire novel. There are distinct similarities between Look for Me By Moonlight and Twilight.

Both Edward and Vincent are handsome and charismatic. They both know the power they can exercise over humans. The difference is that Vincent uses that power to his own advantage. Edward has ethics that prevent him from doing so.

Bella and Cynda both come from broken homes. They both go to live with their dads in remote locations. However, Bella is more astute than Cynda. She realizes quite quickly what Edward is and the fact that he won't intentionally hurt her. Cynda's infatuation with Vincent blinds her to the obvious clues that reveal what he is.

Vincent is comparable in nature to the nomad vampires in Twilight (James and Victoria). Too bad Cynda doesn't see how evil Vincent can be.

It would be interesting to recommend this book to Twilight fans. In Meyer's world, vampires can be and often are good. In Hahn's world, vampires are evil incarnate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Unexpected Christmas Story

Bauer, Joan. Stand Tall. New York: Speak, 2002.

In the days leading up to Christmas and after, Tree struggles to find his place in a world he no longer recognizes. As the youngest child of newly divorced parents, he wonders what went wrong. Every week he lives in one house or the other. His grandfather has recently had a leg amputated (from an old war wound), so Tree also has to help care for his recovering grandparent. These are just his problems on the home front. He doesn't fit in at school either. Tree is not his real name. It's a nickname. Tree is 12 years old. He measures 6 foot 3 inches in height. And he's not done growing. Tree finds that he's out of place both emotionally and physically. Tree's new friend Sophie asks him if he has a motto. In the course of the story, Tree finds that his motto is "stand tall." He can't change his height, so he might as well take pride in it.

What I thought: I liked this book. It was an unexpected Christmas story. Nothing on the cover or the blurb indicates that it takes place at Christmas. I always enjoy Joan Bauer's books. This one was a bit different from her books that have female protagonists (Hope Was Here, Rules of the Road, Squashed, and Backwater). In those books, the protagonists are the first-person narrators. Bauer tells Stand Tall in third person. (I wonder if female readers prefer first person narration while boy readers prefer third person narration.) This book is also for a slightly younger audience than Bauer's other books. I think Stand Tall will have wide appeal because it deals with a multitude of issues: divorce, differences, natural disasters, pets, friends, family, and the Vietnam War (from a survivor's point-of-view).

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Makes a Poem a Poem?: Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Jack struggles to write poetry. Even when he writes a poem, he's not sure that it is a poem. He also worries if his poems are any good. He doesn't want his teacher to put his name on his work when she posts it on the bulletin board. Here's an excerpt from Love That Dog:

Maybe the wheelbarrow poet
was just
making a picture
with words
someone else--
like maybe his teacher--
typed it up
and then people thought
it was a poem
because it looked like one
typed up like that.

And maybe
that's the same thing
that happened with
Mr. Robert Frost.
Maybe he was just
making pictures with words
about the snowy woods
and the pasture--
and his teacher
typed them up
and they looked like poems
so people thought
they were poems (22-23).

Jack makes a valid point. How can anyone really know what makes a poem a poem? Who decides? I think Jack eventually comes to the conclusion that the writer decides.

What I thought: This was a fantastic book! It was a very fast read. I read it in 30 minutes. I really loved hearing Jack's voice come out through his poems. The premise (writing poetry in a classroom setting) reminded me a lot of Jacqueline Woodson's Locomotion. Creech's book would be great to use to introduce kids to poetry. As a poet, I find myself struggling with the same issues that Jack does. I sometimes look at my poems and ask, "What makes this a poem?" I suppose I do as I'm the one who wrote it and dared to call it poetry.

Book Review: Here Today

Martin, Ann M. Here Today. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

In 1960s era New York State, Ellie's life is far from perfect. Her dad works all the time. Her mom, who insists her children call her Doris, is always scheming to make something of herself. Doris' scheming and discontent with her current situation leads her to leave her family for the glamour of New York City. On top of these family problems, Ellie and her best friend Holly are being teased unmercifully and cruelly at school.

What I thought: Here Today is another great book by Ann M. Martin. She effortlessly captures the feel of the 1960s. Watching Ellie struggle was heart wrenching. Teasing is something to which most everyone can relate whether they were the teaser or the object of the teasing. The book is quite long (308 pages), but it kept my interest throughout. I was anxious to see what Doris would do next and how Ellie would deal with the newest problem.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn

Weyn, Suzanne. The Crimson Thread: A Retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin." New York: Simon Pulse, 2008.

Weyn takes a classic fairy tale and gives it new life. The characters are not peasants but Irish immigrants. The setting is 1880s New York City.

Bridget finds herself torn between two men: the suave son of a rich man and the mysterious and magical Ray.

If you thought Rumpelstiltskin was about babies, you had it wrong. This story is about love.

To find out where Bridget's heart leads her, read The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gift Ideas from Books

For years, my literary cousin and I had Christmas gift exchanges that always had 1 gift that was book related. For this purpose, I went through some of my favorite books (Little Women and Little House) to see what the characters gave and/or received as gifts. So here's the list.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
house shoes, gloves, handkerchiefs, cologne, books, sheet music, drawing pencils, piano, snowman, fruit, flowers, afghan, picture, ribbon, ice cream, wrapper, silk dress, charm (for a bracelet, necklace, etc.), "ink bib," hard gingerbread, flannels

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
carved wooden bracket, read & whit knit mittens, peppermint candy, red mittens,m rag doll, apple studded with cloves, needle book (silk cover with flannel pages)

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
tin cup, peppermint candy, heart-shaped cake, penny, sweet potatoes

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
button string, candy, horses, popcorn balls, shawl, rag doll, mittens, muffler, fur cape & muff, Bible verse booklet, china dog, white china jewel box (tea pot on top)

By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
knit socks, silk tie, candy, apron, handkerchief, bed shoes, mittens, swan's down hood & coat, knitted wristlets

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
cross-stitched picture frame, knitted lace, hair receiver, suspenders, jumping jack toy, candy, dress, flannels, fine wool stockings, coat, hood, mittensd, silk shawl, shirts, cap, ABC book, Mother Goose book, yarn embroidery thread, turkey

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
wool nubia, doll cradle (with sheets, pillow, and patchwork quilt), silver thimble, necktie, Tennyson's Poems, Stories of the Moorland, lace collar, handkerchiefs, ribbon

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
candy, oranges, gold bar pin

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
candy, glassware, clock, undershirt

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
cap, muffler, horehound candy, mittens, oranges, dried figs, jack knife, locket, earrings, lace collars, lace mitts, leather wallet

If you're surprised by some of the items listed, I suggest you read the books. If you choose to give someone a gift inspired by a book (or their favorite book), I recommend writing out or typing up the passage from the book that goes along with it.