I Wanted to Love This Book But…

**Please note that there MAY BE SPOILERS in this blog post. Whether it’s for this book, or for The Secret Garden.**

I wanted to love this book. Really I did.

And I tried. I even managed to finish it, in hopes that I would like it.

return-to-secret-gardenThe book in question? Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb.

Sigh.

I started to write out my typical review: What’s Cool / What’s Not Cool. And I just kept coming up with points for What’s Not Cool.  I’m not sure I had a single point for What’s Cool.

So, I’m writing this post instead.

This is one of those books that couldn’t survive without the original. In fact, that’s why we (the reader) pick it up. To return to a book world we love. In this case, the classic story of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The best thing for me about this book (the Holly Webb sequel) was figuring out the connections. Like who’s Martha? And Dickon? Colin was an easy one to figure out (since he’s obviously the “new” Mr. Craven). And I will admit, I kept reading to find out how/when Mary comes into the story. (So, I guess I have a point for What’s Cool after all!)

Sigh. But then…

The MC (Emmie) is not very likable. Not that this is weird in and of itself. Because Mary Lennox of the original is not very likable either, especially at the opening of the original story. But Mary grows on you. The author tried to do this with Emmie, and it sort of works, but not like it did with Mary. In fact, I felt the comparison between the two girls a little heavy-handed!

And then there’s the problem of identical plot points. A grouchy old gardener? Check. A sympathetic robin? Check. Ghostly cries in the night? You better believe we got those as well! (Can you see my eyes rolling?)

First of all, that last one (the ghostly cries) worked in original book because of the SECRET of Colin Craven. (Mary’s not supposed to know about him.  And she doesn’t—and we don’t either—until she discovers the secret.)

This new book doesn’t have a secret like that. And the revelation? (Can you see my eyes rolling again?)

Mary does come into the story. I had suspicions quite early on about how this would happen. Cue more eye rolls. (I was hoping for something a little more original.)

And guess what! The garden isn’t so secret anymore either. I mean it sort of is, but not really. IMHO, that part of the story was also a bit of a bust.

I could go on, but I won’t.

I don’t know why I even bother with these types of books. (I had a similar experience a few years ago with Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson. I think I have a headache now.)

So, why do I even read these books? I think it’s because I know these authors must LOVE these stories as much as me. Why else would they want to write sequels or prequels or whatever. They want to bring us back to the characters we love so much. But sadly, it never quite works out that way.

Will I try another of these types of books in the future?

Maybe.

Because, at heart, I’m an optimist.

Although, maybe not for awhile.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it? Am I being too critical?

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What Do You Consider a Historical Novel?

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I love history. I love novels. Put those two together, and you’ve got one of my favourite things: Historical Novels!

But what exactly makes a novel “historical”?

Jane Austen’s books are set in the 1800s, but that doesn’t make them “historical novels”. And yet Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered to be a historical novel simply because Dickens was writing about historical events that took place sixty-some years earlier.

But what about more recent history?

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As I was reading, I got the sense that this book wasn’t set in today’s world… a realization that was solidified with the mention that the sitting president was Bill Clinton. Aha, said my brain. It’s the 1990s!

little-fires-everywhere.jpgNow, as it turns out, Clinton’s presidency (or rather the Monica Lewinsky scandal) weaves its way into the book. Not that President Clinton is an actual character in the book—he’s not; nor is Monica—but he’s talked about, primarily by the narrator… for thematic purposes.

Okay, I reasoned… so, this book is a contemporary read. In fact, I’ve noticed that many bloggers categorize it as such. Which means it must have been written in the late 90s or early 2000s, right?

I checked the copyright date.

2017.

Wait a minute. That’s last year! In case, you didn’t already know. 😉

So, is this book considered contemporary fiction? Or is it historical fiction?

Historical fiction is usually defined as a book where the historical setting is important to the plot of the book. It’s easy to categorize a book set in Japan during World War II, or one set in London during the time of Elizabeth I.

I would argue that the historical references of the 1990s in this book are rather important to the plot. (And it isn’t just the stuff about Clinton. It’s also the timing with regards to test-tubes babies and the days when infertility was discussed in hushed whispers; the nature of Mia’s photography and art; the Jerry Springer talk show phenomenon; an era before smart phones existed.)

Your Turn…

My question is this… Does all this make the book historical fiction? The 90s really isn’t that long ago, and I get the sense that many people don’t like to think of the recent past as “historical”.

So, how would you classify it? Do you call it “historical fiction” if it’s history of the recent past? Or do you consider the 1990s (or even the 1980s or 1960s or 70s for that matter) to be too recent to be labelled “historical”? (And if so, where’s the cut off point for you?)

These are genuine questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks for the Recommendation #1

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This blog post is a thank-you to all you book bloggers who bring various books to my attention. I particularly like that aspect of the blog community. So, here are three books that I read, thanks to you… (In turn, I recommend them to the rest of you!)


Phantom-TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth // by Norton Juster

Recommended by Kimberly @ Narnia to Neverland
Genre: MG Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: For some reason, I have not read this book before now.

The book is part Alice in Wonderland, part Pilgrim’s Progress. (Although, from what I understand, Juster had read neither of these books… so, that’s just a coincidence.) As somebody who loves wordplay, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It isn’t plot-heavy, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Milo and his gang ARE on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason (who have been banished). But it’s the journey, not so much the destination, that’s important.

Actually, that’s it. The book delights in imagination. And (minor SPOILER HERE), at the end of the book, when the tollbooth disappears, there’s the hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find the tollbooth in YOUR room.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

Here’s a taste of some of the wonderful words in this book. (There are really too many examples to list, so this is really just a small sample…)

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course.”

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 13)

and

“I am the Spelling Bee,” announced the Spelling Bee. “Don’t be alarmed — a-l-a-r-m-e-d.”

Tock ducked under the wagon, and Milo, who was not overly fond of normal-sized bees, began to back away slowly.

“I can spell anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g,” he boasted, testing his wings. “Try me, try me!”

“Can you spell goodby?” suggested Milo as he continued to back away.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 4)


letter-from-new-yorkLetter from New York // by Helene Hanff

Recommended by Laila @bigreadinglife
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction/Memoir
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book was brought to my attention in a comment on my blog post about how much I loved Helene Hanff’s book: 84, Charing Cross Road.

This is Hanff’s “love letter” to New York City. I used to live in New York in the early 2000s, and I’ve discovered that there’s something very real about that slogan: I Heart NY. It is so true that this city has the ability to worm its way into your heart! The book is set in the late 1970s and early 80s, but even so, I easily recognized New York City. It didn’t change that much 🙂

Now, I don’t think this book is as good at Hanff’s masterpiece, 84, Charing Cross Road. (Which, if you haven’t read, I highly recommend.) But it’s a delightful memoir that gives us a peek into one of the most famous cities in the world.

P.S. I keep thinking the book should be Letters from New York (plural), but no, it’s Letter from New York (singular). Which feels weird and somehow wrong to me. But, you know what? That’s just a minor complaint. Hanff’s writing is wonderful and engaging.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

First you queue up at Lord & Taylor’s to see their Christmas windows. This year’s windows feature Come Home for Christmas. One window has a replica of a JFK airport terminal, complete with life-like passengers, luggage and waiting room. Another has a replica of the George Washington Bridge, with the lights, the traffic—and a hapless driver stuck with a flat tire. My favorite window has a replica of a New York subway station, with crowds, a snack bar and a gent coming down the steps with a Christmas tree over his shoulder.   (1978, December)

A week later, there’s a high construction wall around each lot. But each wall has a hole in it large enough for two human eyes. New Yorkers think it’s their God-given right to supervise construction, and any builder who didn’t order a hole cut in the wall would find holes cut in it for him by volunteers. (1979, March)


HereHere // by Richard McGuire

Recommended by Zezee with Books
Genre: Adult, Graphic Novel
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book is a journey through the life of room in a house. I initially was thrown off by the fact that it is NOT in chronological order. Instead, the years jump all over the place. But I like the effect. I really liked the windows into the various time periods, even before the house is built!

One sequence I loved was the family of kids taking the yearly family portrait on the couch. From the time the children a little (in 1959) to them all grown up (in 1983). It was fun to see the technology change with the house. And the decor!

And finally, I liked the surprise cameo by Ben Franklin!

WARNING – This book is really meant for adults, not children. 95% of it would be fine for kids, however there ARE a couple “adult” scenes; nothing super graphic. But it may be cause for some awkward questions.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

Since it’s a graphic novel, I’ll have to post one of my favourite spreads in the book:

here-inside

6 Tips for that Hard-to-Read Classic

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Classics are books that tell such wonderful stories.

I read tons of classics back when I was in school. But I’ve noticed, I don’t read as many any more. Because, let’s face it, classics tend to be harder to read. The language is often more difficult. They’re wordy. And long-winded.

When I do read a classic, I realize there’s a reason so many people love it. The writing is amazing. In fact, it’s why we still read these books hundreds of years after they were published. These books are worth reading. They are worth the effort.

Which is why I’ve decided to write a post to discuss 6 tips to help you read classics.

First, a short story. It involves two books: Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. These books have been on my TBR for years. And as of this year, I have read them both… sort of.

About 20 years ago (has it been that long?) I managed to read about 3/4 of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. And, you know what? I don’t remember a thing about it. It was slow-going while I was reading it. My brain wandered as my eyes read each line. Chapter by chapter. I never really finished the book. And it’s has been sitting on my night table ever since.

So… How to finish a book like this?

The truth is, I’m going to have to start over.

I have found that I just need a plan of attack. Which is what I did most recently (and successfully) with the other book on my list: A Tale of Two Cities. (You can read my thoughts on this book here.)

I realize that I’ve used various tips throughout the years. Here is a compilation of 6 tips to try if you’re finding it hard to get through a classic:

Tip #1 – Listen to the Audiobook

I happen to love a good audiobook. Assuming it has a good reader, of course. I tend to prefer one reader as opposed to full cast recordings. It’s amazing what a really good reader (i.e. actor) is able to do with their voice. (This also works great for “re-reading” books. I’ve re-read such classics as Jane Eyre; all the books by Jane Austen; The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnAnne of Green Gables; etc. etc.)

Warning: Not all audiobooks are created equal. I have quit audiobooks because of the reader. This can be very expensive if you’re buying audiobooks. I get mine from the library. The only drawback of the library is that they don’t always have the audiobook you want.

Tip #2 – Audiobook + Physical Book

Okay, so this was a real break-through for me! This is how I read A Tale of Two Cities and it worked like wonders! I did a chapter or two at a time, sometimes more.

You’ll need a unabridged copy of the audiobook, plus an unabridged copy of the physical book. Then follow along as the audiobook plays. This really helps for concentration. You’re seeing and hearing!

Tip #3 – The Perks of Spark’s Notes

Now, no cheating here. Read the book!

But as you’re reading, check out a copy of Spark’s Notes (or similar). You can find them online. After finishing a chapter of the book, go to the corresponding section of Spark’s Notes. Read the summary and analysis.

Guess what? It’s like having a little mini professor give you insight into what you’ve just read… 

Tip #4 – Digest the Book in Small Chunks

Read the book in installments. Don’t try to rush things.

There’s no prize for speed reading! What I find, when I read a book too fast, I don’t remember or digest what I’ve read. Then, what’s the point? We read these classics to enjoy the story being told. Take advantage of that.

Tip #5 – Consider an Abridged Version

Let’s face it. There are some classic books that have a lot of verbiage that could be tightened up.

Years ago, I read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. And I loved it. I got right to the meat of the story.

I also could have read an abridged version of Les Miserables. I didn’t, I could have. What I did read was the full book in all its glory. (Unabridged AND with annotations… Oh my!) But there were definitely a bunch of chapters that had nothing to do with the plot that could have been eliminated easily. Even Victor Hugo’s editor thought so… (I know this because I read the annotation for that!) Alas, M. Hugo wouldn’t listen to reason…

Tip #6 – Try a Graphic Novelization

So, I did this with The Scarlet Letter. (Another book I read years ago but had trouble remembering what the book was about.) The graphic novel version was beautiful! And it also clarified a few things quite nicely for me!

For me, personally, I don’t think I will do this too often. I have too much love for the written word. I like graphic novels well-enough, but when I read a graphic novel, I often want more WORDS! However, if you (or somebody you know) is a more visual learner, than I highly recommend this avenue.

This can also work if you use the graphic novel in tandem with reading the abridged/unabridged version of the book.


Okay, so what are some classics I still want to tackle?

  • Middlemarch // by George Elliot
  • Heart of Darkness // by Joseph Conrad
  • North and South // by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • My Antonia // by Willa Cather
  • Watership Down // by Richard Adams
  • The Man in the Iron Mask // by Alexandre Dumas
  • Agnes Grey // by Anne Bronte

And yes…

  • Ivanhoe // by Sir Walter Scott

What about you? Do you have any tips to add? Are there any classics on your TBR that you’d like to tackle? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Judge a Book…

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We’ve all heard it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And yet we all do it anyway. We DO judge books by their covers! Whether we think we do or not.

Whenever I hear this phrase, my mind immediately goes to a particular book. Which book?

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame).

bluecastle.jpgI probably first read it when I was about 11 or 12 years old. This was the copy at our local library… (see image to your right.)

It was really and truly the UGLIEST book cover I had ever seen. It was so ugly, I did NOT want to read this book. So what if was by my favourite author!

Ugh! That cover.

But then, somehow, I did bring the book home.

And I did read it.

And… Well…

I loved it.

And you know what? Years later, my friends and I were discussing this book. (We all love this book!) And we discovered that we ALL had the same experience. (Being from the same small town, we all went to the same library.) We all hated the cover of this book! And we all didn’t want to read the book BECAUSE of the ugly, ugly cover. And finally, we all did read the book, in spite of the cover. And we all fell in love with it.

P.S. Now I look at the book cover and think to myself, it’s not quite as ugly as I remember. In fact, it’s bringing back fond memories. Nostalgic memories. I’m finding I rather like this book cover… now.

Do you consider the book cover above to be ugly? Would you pick it up to read? Let me know in the comments!

How about THESE covers? Which one catches your eye? (I really like the simplicity of the first one!)

 

BONUS: Have you read The Blue Castle? If so, feel free to gush about it in the comments!

P.S. The photo at the top of this blog post is my first-edition, hard back copy of The Blue Castle. Which I love! It’s falling apart, but that is partly what gives it its charm. (And there’s a bit of a story of how I got it. But perhaps that’s for a future post…)

Re-read: The Penderwicks series

The final book in The Penderwicks series was released just last week. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. So, while I wait to get my hands on the book, I decided to do a re-read of the other four books. Here are my thoughts…

**Note: This blog post MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. However, I have tried my best to keep things vague enough so that, in case you haven’t the books, there aren’t horrible secrets revealed.**

Book #1 // The Penderwicks

penderwicks1This is the book that starts it all. It’s highly inspired by Little Women and actually feels like it takes place in the past. (Although, Mr. Penderwick does have a computer, which tells us it is supposed to be happening in our present.)

We begin with the family, lost on their way to Arundel, where they are to spend their summer vacation. We meet Roselind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. (And there’s Mr. Penderwick, a head-in-the-clouds botanist who likes to quote phrases in Latin.) And it isn’t long before we get to meet Jeffrey, son of Mrs. Tiften, the owner of Arundel. Then we have some wonderful adventures, including a stand-off with a bull, missing bunny-rabbits, and a rope ladder that leads to Jeffrey’s bedroom.

One of the things I love about books like this is how it references other books. Like the whole “Penderwick family honor” thing. That’s a reference to the (motherless) Bastable children in E. Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers who are seeking to restore their own family’s honour. Birdsall does put her own spin on things. I love the Penderwicks’ little rituals and code words. The MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters), MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters), and the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) who’s supposed to keep an eye out for Batty.

On this re-read, the one thing I noticed is the vilification of Mrs. Tifton (and it extends to the other books as well!). Even before we meet Mrs. Tifton, she has a bad name… Harry the Tomato Man calls her “snooty as all get-out.” But we know that she loves Jeffrey. In fact, even though she has a hard time listening to Jeffrey, ultimately she does do what is best for him. BUT, for some reason, she is HATED throughout the books.

I mean ALL the books.

None of the kids like her at all. I wish Jeanne Birdsall had been a little more grey in her depiction. Not that Mrs. Tiften couldn’t be a source of friction. There are some wonderful moments where she obviously gets their names wrong (which shows us that she isn’t really paying attention to the children, even when they correct her). However this ends up as a bit of a plot hole when she greatly insults Roselind regarding Cagney. (From what I’ve been led to believe, I’m surprised Mrs. T even paid enough attention to notice!)

Here’s what I wish… Could Birdsall not have given her redemption in some way? Even if just for Jeffrey’s sake. (At least something to extend to the other books where she isn’t the primary antongist?)

My only other beef with this book (and with the next two books) is Sabrina Starr. I can’t stand Sabrina Starr! Come to think of it, Jane should be my favourite character, since I am drawn to writers (like Jo March). BUT, Jane’s creation of Sabrina Starr irks me. So. Much. And thus, so does Jane. (Sorry, Jane!)

Overall, I love the timeless quality of this book that starts it all. It gave me that feeling of reading Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables, or The Secret Garden or The Treasure Seekers… all books written 100+ years ago! I love the bond between the sisters. Really and truly, I found this book as much as a delight to read as the first time around.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This book is set on the grounds of Arundel, a beautiful, stately home with wonderful gardens.

On one side of the property, a high stone wall separated the cottage from its neighbors. Along the front and the other side ran a boundary hedge. Skye knew that Mrs. Tifton’s gardens were beyond that hedge. She could walk back up the driveway and through the break in the hedge. Boring, and likely to lead to being caughtit’s hard to hide on a driveway. Or she could crawl through the hedge and emerge in some sheltered garden nook where neither Mrs. Tifton nor anyone else would be likely to see her.

Definitely option two, Skye decided.

The Penderwicks (Chapter 2)


Book #2 // The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

penderwicks2The main story revolves around the Save Daddy Plan. In this book, we get a prologue where we learn that Mrs. Penderwick (who died of cancer shortly after Batty’s birth) has put in place a plan (with the help of Aunt Claire) to get Mr. Penderwick a new wife. This idea horrifies Roselind and she and her sisters go to some length to save their father from their aunt who is trying to get her brother (Mr. P) on some blind dates.

This book takes place at the Penderwicks’ home during the school year. If you’re expecting Jeffrey, he does come into the book, sort of. Instead, we get to know the neighbours across the street: Tommy and Nick Geiger. (They’ll play bigger roles later in the series.)

The plot is all about little deceptions. First we have Roselind and Tommy, who won’t admit their feelings to each other. Then there’s the story of Jane and Skye flipping homework assignments. Jane writes a play for Skye called Sisters and Sacrifice (with Skye as the supposed playwright). But then Skye gets the surprise of her life when her teacher wants present “Skye’s play”, with her in the leading role! Hilarity ensues. Ultimately, this all comes back to Mr. Penderwick’s own little deception.

Which brings me to Marianne.

Yes, when Mr. Penderwick tells the girls about how he is seeing Marianne, I remember guessing right away what was happening here. When Aunt Claire asks Marianne’s last name, he definitely gives it away. (At least to an adult’s eyes.) Although, for some reason Aunt Claire doesn’t get the reference. (And I’m surprised the girls don’t do a search online and figure it out. But, although we do live in a modern world that includes laptops, these girls don’t seem to know about Google…)

Ah, yes. We get a little Parent Trap in this book… (I love The Parent Trap, so this isn’t a problem for me!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Mr. Penderwick is about to go on his second blind date, which has been set up by the girls as part of the Save Daddy Plan. (They are attempting to give him such awful dates that he’ll want to quit dating forever.)

“What did Daddy say in Latin, Skye? Mendax, mendax—?”

Skye was relieved. Latin was easier than feelings. “Mendax, mendax, bracae tuae con—something.”

Conflagrant, I think,” said Rosalind, flipping pages. “I’ll start with mendax. M-e-n-d-e-x. It means liar. Daddy called me a liar!”

“You’d just told him his tie looked great.”

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Chapter 9)


Book #3 // The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

penderwicks3In this book, Skye is the OAP… the Oldest Available Penderwick. In fact, I can almost see Birdsall saying to herself… Hmm, how do we get Skye to go crazy in this book? Well, let’s make her the OAP. Let’s get rid of the parents (and baby Ben). Let’s take Roselind out of the picture (by sending her to New Jersey). We’ll have to put an adult in (Aunt Claire), but we’ll take her out as soon as we can (with a badly sprained ankle). Let’s get rid of Skye’s special list of instructions (on how to take care of Batty). And bam! Skye’s in a perfect storm for a meltdown.

Like the first book, this is another vacation book. But the absence of Roselind does make things a little more chaotic. One of the funniest parts comes at the beginning before they even leave. Roselind is giving instructions about taking care of Batty. “Rule Five: Batty wears this [life preserver] whenever she’s near the ocean.” Skye points out that since they’re staying on the coast, Batty will ALWAYS be near the ocean. “Then she will always wear it,” insists Roselind. AND the younger Penderwicks (including Batty) completely accept this!

Skye is my favourite Penderwick, so I really did like this book. I loved seeing her stretched to her limit and how she manages to survive her OAP-hood.

By the way, Jeffrey’s back in this book! We see a beautiful mentorship begin between him and Batty as they discover that Batty is actually musical. I love how nobody (in the Penderwick family) believes this musicality is even possible since nobody else in the family has the talent for music. But Jeffrey and Batty have a surprise up their sleeve.

And, come to think of it, so does Birdsall, with regards to the neighbour, Alex. (Although, again, I remember guessing fairly early on, even on my first re-through, what was going to happen.)

Fortunately, this is the final time Sabrina Starr comes into the books. (Unless she makes an appearance in the final book, which I have yet to read.) I still can’t stand Sabrina Starr!

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Jane is trying to write her first book about romance. But, she realizes that she has no experience with romance. So, she comes up with a Love Survey…

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked out loud.

“Jane, what are you talking about?” It was Skye again, but this time she was only a few feet away. Jane had caught up without noticing.

“She wants to know if we believe in love at first sight,” said Jeffrey.

“More love,” said Skye, now hitting Jane with the paper towels. “As the OAP, I demand you don’t mention love for the whole rest of the day.”

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (Chapter 5)


Book #4 // The Penderwicks in Spring

penderwicks4 Fast forward several years. When I first read this book, it took me awhile to realize that quite a few years had passed since the events of the previous book. (The one set at Point Mouette.)

In fact, in this book, the three oldest Penderwicks are hardly in it. I mean, they are, but they are not the protagonists. Actually, Skye (my favourite!) has the role of sort-of antagonist in this book. :/

Instead, Batty is the now “oldest” along with brother Ben, and little sister, Lydia. She starts a dog-walking business to help pay for singing lessons. Except the singing lessons are a secret, one she’s not even ready to share with Ben!

Batty and Ben have a nice relationship going. Batty is excitedly awaiting her birthday, but her older sisters make life difficult. Roselind brings home some crazy boyfriend from college. Skye is angry with Jeffrey and won’t let him come visit, much to Batty’s disappointment. And then Batty overhears something that throws her into turmoil.

One of the stars of this book is the neighbour, Nick Geiger. He’s home, on leave from the Army. He’s sports-crazy, but surprisingly he has a wonderful bond with Batty (who has NO interest in sports, whatsoever!) And, to tell you the truth, I think his character has developed much more than Tommy. Or even Jeffrey, at this point!

(Hooray! Sabrina Starr is gone!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This is a conversation between Batty and Ben, two of the “younger” Penderwicks (not including 2-year-old Lydia).

But Batty was already blocking the door again, wedging a chair under the doorknob. Then she turned down the music so that they could better hear each other. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m calling a MOYPS.”

“Another one? we just had one.”

… “MOYPS come to

“What about Lydia? She should be here if it’s a meeting of the younger Penderwicks.”

“This is really just for you. We’ll call it a MOBAB, Meeting of Batty and Ben, okay? Please?”

The Penderwicks in Spring (Chapter 18)


Book #5 // The Penderwicks at Last

penderwicks5And this brings me to the final book… which I haven’t read yet.

I don’t know if I’m setting myself up for disappointment… Perhaps. I don’t always like final books in series. So, I’m trying not to think too much about what this book might be about. (I have my suspicions about what she’s going to do.)

The only thing I will say here is that I really like how they designed all the covers for the series. The silhouettes are beautiful. I think perhaps that is partly what helps give the books their old-fashioned feel.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read these books? Which Penderwick is your favourite? Do you hate Sabrina Starr as much as I do? (Or, maybe you love Sabrina Starr!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And if you’ve already read The Penderwicks at Last, please don’t give me any spoilers!)

The Magic of Mary Poppins

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I just finished listening to the audio book for Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers.

(By the way, Sophie Thompson, an amazingly gifted actor, reads the story. I love it!)

mary-poppinsAnd as I was listening, I got to thinking about all the magical elements to the story, and particularly Mary Poppins herself. I guess this is an early incarnation of what we now know as the Magical Realism genre.

Okay, so I have a question for you. If you could choose ONE of the following Mary Poppins attributes, which would it be?

  1. The ability to slide UP the banister.
  2. The carpet bag that weighs nothing and looks like it has nothing in it, but can carry just about anything.
  3. The power to float up like a balloon (as MP does to join Mr. Wigg and the children for their tea near the ceiling).
  4. The ability to speak to and understand animals (as MP does with Andrew the Dog).

So, which would YOU choose?

As for me, I think I’d pick #2… the carpet bag. Just think of the things you could carry without straining your back!

P.S. The photo above is the real umbrella from P.L. Travers that inspired Mary Poppins’ own umbrella. Its home is now at the New York Public Library in Manhattan (along with Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends).

5 Reasons Why I Liked A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens always amazes me. I’ve been meaning to read this book for some 20 years. Maybe longer. Why did I wait this long? I ask you…

Five stars. Yes, there’s a reason why this book is so famous. And after (finally) reading, I’m in complete agreement. It was wonderful. And without further adieu, I’ll give my 5 reasons why I loved this book…

A Tale of Two Cities // by Charles Dickens

#1 – The Purple Prose

tale-of-two-citesI don’t always like purple prose. But Charles Dickens is the master. And yes, there’s a lot of purple prose in this book. Just look at the opening lines… possibly the most famous lines Dickens ever wrote (although A Christmas Carol might give this one a run for its money)… These lines are absolutely beautiful.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

(Book the First, Chapter 1)

What’s amazing about those lines is that they actually mean something to the story. Sure, it’s purple prose, but it demonstrates the dual-nature, the good and the bad, of the French Revolution. Dickens’ point is that the peasants needed relief from the tyranny of the aristocrats… But the bloody results made this the worst of the times.

But, that’s not our only example. This book is chock-full. Here’s a less familiar quote, but it’s equally just as poignant:

He had never seen the instrument that was to terminate his life. How high it was from the ground, how many steps it had, where he would be stood, how he would be touched, whether the touching hands would be dyed red, which way his face would be turned, whether he would be the first, or might be the last: these and many similar questions, in nowise directed by his will, obtruded themselves over and over again, countless times…

The hours went on as he walked to and fro, and the clocks struck the numbers he would never hear again. Nine gone for ever, ten gone for ever, eleven gone for ever, twelve coming on to pass away.

(Book the Third, Chapter 13)

If you love words, you’re in for a treat.

#2 – The Characters

I loved old Mr. Lorry (that man of business!). And the Doctor. And Lucie and Darnay. And Sydney Carton. Okay, Sydney was my favourite from early on in the book… in spite of the fact that he drinks too much!

And then we have an assortment of true Dickensian characters. You know the ones. The caricatures… the larger-than-life creatures that inhabit every novel by Charles Dickens. There’s the old codger, Jerry Cruncher (who made me furious with how he treated his wife!)… And Miss Pross (who plays a role in the story I didn’t anticipate)… And the three Jacques (who inhabitant of the wine shop in Paris)…

Which bring me to the antagonists of the book: M. and Mme. Defarge. What complex feelings they stirred within me. One minute, I was hating them, and another minute, feeling pity for their long-suffering. (I have hope for M. Defarge at the end of the book, although his fate after the last chapter is untold.)

And most of all… I loved seeing how all the characters come together at the end. It never ceases to impress me how Dickens manages it all.

#3 – The Themes and Symbols

Reading this book brought me back to my course of study at university: Literature! We studied other works by Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield), but not this one. What I love about writers like Dickens is that there is so much to be digested in terms of themes and the symbolism he works into his novels.

The symbolism of twos. Two cities. Two heroes. Even Miss Pross and Mr. Cruncher make an interesting two-some!

The symbolism of feet and shoes. Lucie hears phantom footsteps. Doctor Manette, in time of great distress, sets to work making shoes. The fact that time ever marches forward, marking out our path in life. (I feel an essay coming on!)

Then there’s the images of wine and blood that permeate the story. After all, it IS the French Revolution.

But best of all, I loved the theme of resurrection that runs through the book. The story starts with Doctor Manette being “recalled to life”. And the theme keeps popping up. Even in the macabre grave-robbing scene involving Mr. Cruncher. And finally to Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. (Note: I did a blog post earlier this year about the theme of resurrection in books. Here’s one more book to add to that list!)

#4 – The History

This book was a historical novel even in Dickens’ day. And boy, does it bring to life the reality of the French Revolution like no other. The chapters devoted to the Storming of the Bastille, the frenzied state of Paris, the blood-soaked paving stones gives us a vivid picture of the Reign of Terror. It’s not like reading the history books. (Maybe it’s all that purple prose!)

And yet, it feels so real. It doesn’t feel like a historical novel. At least not like the historical novels written today. (Sometimes, those books just feel like they’re historical novels.)

And finally, let’s just say that reading this book makes me very glad I am not living in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Or as Dickens would say: “The new era… the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death…” (Book the Third, Chapter 4)

#5 – The Ending

This is a wonderful story of sacrifice. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t give spoilers. But if you have, you will know what I mean. As I was reading, it reminded me of the movie, Casablanca. I love that movie because of the sacrifice at the end of the story.

Back to A Tale of Two Cities. I did guess (partly) what would happen by the story’s end, although, there were various possibilities. The suspense was well-played. Which brings me to my next comparison: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Perhaps this is just a French Revolution thing going on here, but trying to get our characters out of the city of Paris (with their heads intact) is a harrowing read.

I also love the glimpse into the future that we get at the very end.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

Books About Brainwashing

I find that books about brainwashing are hard to read. The type of book where the main character firmly believes that some horrible truth is actually good.

And yet, I find I’m drawn to these books.

I grew up on the stories of my own grandmother who lived in the Soviet Union. Her father and grandfather died in Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s. My grandmother made it out. And even though she was intrigued by the thought of one day going back to visit the places of her childhood, she never would actually go back. Out of fear that they would keep her there.

So, I’m fascinated by how children particularly are taught to blindly follow an ideology, without any sort of questioning. Usually it’s the first parts of these books, then, that are hard to read… because the child is so trusting. But then, as the book continues, the cracks begin to show. The child begins to see and hear things that don’t quite mesh with what they’ve been taught.

The children start to see that, maybe, there’s another way of life.

Below is a list of three Middle Grade books that deal with children who have been brainwashed. Interestingly, they are based in three distinct settings. But they all have some very common elements to them.


Breaking Stalin Nose // by Eugene Yelchin

breaking stalins noseSetting: Communist Russia under Stalin (late 1940s)

Young Zaichik is on the eve of realizing his dream of becoming a Young Pioneer. Of wearing the red scarf for Comrade Stalin himself. Of making his father (a top party member) proud to have such a son who is dedicated to the Great Communist Cause. But then, there’s a “mistake”, and his father is arrested in a night raid. However Zaichik is confident that Comrade Stalin will soon put things right. What follows is a day at school… a day that involves an accident, accusations, assemblies, and… a nose. Stalin’s nose.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In an earlier scene, Zaichik is eating a carrot…

I take small bites of the carrot to make it last; the carrot is delicious…

When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone. But still, it’s good to have something tasty to eat now and then. I wonder what it’s like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if children there had never even tasted a carrot.

Breaking Stalin Nose, Chapter 3


Red Scarf Girl // by Ji-li Jiang

Red-Scarf-Girl.jpgSetting: Communist China under Mao (1960s)

Ji-li is 12 years old when the Cultural Revolution hits China in 1966. She’s a staunch supporter of Chairman Mao. What she doesn’t know is that her family has a “black” past. Her dead grandfather was… horrors!… a landlord. Her father is taken to confess, and the family is constantly under the threat of persecution from the Red Guard. But through it all, Ji-li remains loyal to Chairman Mao and her greatest desire is to help move China forward in the great Communist experiment.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Ji-li and her friends watch as two men are struggling to remove a sign from a local grocery store. The reason? The store is called the Great Prosperity Market. But that name is considered to be “Four Olds”…

Our beloved Chairman Mao had started the Cultural Revolution in May. Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits…

The Great Prosperity Market sign is finally toppled to the ground.

Everyone cheered. People rushed forward to stamp on what remained of the sign. An Yi and I had found a few classmates in the crowd, and we all embraced, jumped, and shouted. Although what we had smashed was no more than a piece of wood, we felt we had won a victory in a real battle.

Red Scarf Girl, “Destroy the Four Olds”


The Giver // by Lois Lowry

giverSetting: Some “Utopian” Future

Jonas lives in a utopian Community, one that dictates the lives of each of its citizens. Jonas turns twelve, and receives his life assignment. He is to be the New Receiver of Memories. He is introduced to the Giver and starts his apprenticeship. And this is when Jonas begins to realize that there are truths hiding in this perfect world… where sameness is celebrated to the point where these people can’t even see colour. Jonas, like everybody else, does not question the ways of the community… at least not until his eyes are opened by his time with the Giver.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, the Giver has just given Jonas his favourite memory… A scene of a family around a Christmas tree. A family that includes “grandparents”, a concept that is foreign to Jonas. (There are no grandparents in the Community.) The Giver then explains to Jonas that the emotion in the memory was the feeling of love.

Jonas nodded. “I liked the feeling of love,” he confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.

The Giver, Chapter 16


Have you read these books? Do you like to read these types of books? Are there any other titles you could add to these three?

What’s in a Name?

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It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! But really the only Shakespeare reference in this blogpost is the title. What I really want to talk about is… names.

There are certain names I cannot stand.

Other names that I just don’t really care for.

When I stop to think about it, I realize that these names fall under two categories:

1) As a kid, I knew somebody with that name. (Most likely a person that wasn’t particularly nice to me. So, I have somehow come to associate the name with meanness or hurt feelings.)

2) The name was given to an “evil” character in a book or movie. Again, usually dating back to my childhood. (When I really think about it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the name Ursula. Except I associate it with a certain sea-witch. Thanks, Disney!)

Interestingly enough, this goes both ways. I LOVE certain names because of certain people. And this extends to the book world. There are names I love because of certain books.

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Apparently, I liked to wear hot pink pants. You can see the same pants in the pic below. (It was the ’90s)

When I was 16, I lived for a year in Spain with my grandparents. It was something that I wanted to do. And it was a great opportunity. My grandmother and I had a great relationship. My grandfather spoiled my with chocolate and churros. We walked everywhere. We spent time at the beach (we lived on the Mediterranean). We did our weekly shopping at the open air market.

But I was an ocean away from my family-family. I was living in a place that did not speak English. And I did not have access to many English books. (I was learning Spanish, so I did read Spanish books. Starting with “baby” books and eventually graduating to the Spanish editions of The Babysitters Club!)

So, at times I was lonely. Homesick. (Not that I EVER admitted that. However, when I look back, that’s really what I was.)

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The garden where “my cats” hung out. Too bad I never got a photo of the cats.

There were these feral cats that lived in the garden at the base of our apartment building. A mother cat with a “teenaged” kitten, and twin baby kittens. I would sit at our balcony on the second floor and watch them come and go from their home in the hedge. (You can see the hedge in the photo.)

I decided to name those cats. The mother (a black and white cat) was called “Marilla” and the teen cat (a black cat) was “Anne”. The twin kittens were “Davy” and “Dora”. (Can you tell that I was, and am, an Anne of Green Gables fan?)

And then there was “Mr. Phillips”.

He was a male cat that came by every once in a while. He was orange. And I did NOT like him. (For some reason, I am not crazy about orange cats.) And so I gave him the name “Mr. Phillips”. It was the nastiest name I could think of. Meant to be an utter insult. (Once my grandmother pointed out that perhaps Mr. Phillips was the father of the Davy and Dora. Never! I cried to her. Never say such a thing!)

Come to think of it, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with name Phillip, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I would never bestow that name on any creature (real or fictitious) that I like. (My apologies to all the Phillips out there!)

What’s in a name? Shakespeare claims a name doesn’t matter. And it probably shouldn’t. But somehow, it does.

And sometimes, our reasons for liking or not liking a name may not exactly make a lot of sense.

YOUR TURN…

Do you find certain names are a turn-off? Are there other names to bring you happiness? Do you think a character’s name can ever affect the way you view a book?