Monday, May 30, 2011

May's Books

I've figured out that I don't much like waiting the whole month to tell you about the books I've read. I think in June I'm going to try writing it every two weeks instead. Still, this was a great month for reading! I read a lot of books I think both boys and girls would enjoy, which is always a plus for me. I hope you enjoy them!

A note about my rating system.
1=I couldn't finish it. Blech.
2=I finished it, but I wish I hadn't wasted my time.
3=I finished it, and I don't regret it, but I probably won't search out anything else by this author.
4=I loved it!
5= It is nearly impossible to get a 5. To get a 5 would almost always mean that it has taken its place among my favorites. Occasionally, to get a 5 might mean that it ought to take its place among my favorites, if only I had slightly better taste.



The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
by: John Flanagan
438 pages
published in 2010
 4.5/5 stars
This is a Book For Boys!
This is book 10 in The Ranger's Apprentice series, which starts with The Ruins of Gorlan. 
This is a great series for all YA teens, especially boys. I have no idea if the sword fighting is true to life, but I'd be surprised if it was not, it's so well thought out. I love the intelligent, interesting characters and their interactions, but it's really the action that makes these books exciting.

It took a book or two before I got used to the omniscient point of view. John Flanagan is from Australia, and writers from outside the US are not nearly as locked into the limited third as we are. I'm not sure whether the author's writing has actually improved, or if  I've simply gotten used to it.

The books are about a boy named Will who becomes apprenticed to the ranger named Halt in a magical world based on European medieval history.  The rangers are a select group of men who serve as the intelligence force and police for King Duncan. They are masters of camouflage and certain kinds of fighting, especially the saxe knife and the long bow. These stories are Will's adventures. In each book he is older and travels somewhere new. In this particular book, he is in Nihon-Ja, a country that reminds me of medieval Japan, though the fit is not perfect.  I highly recommend the series, but I think you need to start at book one.
 
(I read this for the Once Upon A Time Challenge)
A Tale Dark and Grim
by: Adam Gidwitz
192 pages
published in 2010
There is some confusion in my mind about who this is for. It's definitely for middle grades and up, but it's recommended as a read aloud for ages 6 and up. More on that in a moment. 
4 stars  (I loved it!)
This is a Book for Boys!

My oldest daughter started reading this to my younger children before I read the book. They were all completely entranced. I kept hearing little pieces of the story, and I would say, "Are you sure this is appropriate to read to little kids?" She would assure me that it was. Plus, every place I could find on-line said it was a great read for school age children. So I let it go.

And it was probably completely fine. This book is "“...well... awesome. But in a horrible, bloody kind of way." As if poor Hansel and Gretal didn't have it bad enough, Gidwitz has taken their story and added some of the more obscure and horrifying Grimm fairy tales and tied them into one gruesome tale.

In a world where most of the original tales have been softened and most of the uglier parts have been taken out, Gidwitz has "bloodied them back up." But his narrator has such a snarky sense of humor that it comes across as funny. Every gory scene has a warning in front of it, like this example: "Are there any small children in the room now?” he asks midway through the first tale, “If so, it would be best if we just...hurried them off to bed. Because this is where things start to get, well...awesome.” In addition, adding the horrific pieces back brings the meaning of the fairy tales back, and the narrator makes sure we get it.

So, as I read it, there were times when my eyes got big, and I turned to my daughter and said, "You REALLY read this part out loud?" But mostly I think it was great. All my kids, even my six year old, have picked that book up to read parts of it again.


The Magic Thief: Lost
The Magic Thief: Found












The Magic Thief (Books 2 and 3)
by: Sarah Prineas
416 pages and 384 pages respectively
Lost: published in 2010
Found: published in 2011
For middle grades, though I think YA readers would like them too!
These are Books for Boys!
4 stars

In April I reviewed the first book in this series. I had listened to it as a book on tape and I said that although I enjoyed it, I thought it went a little slow. I read the sequels instead of listening to them, and it completely solved the problem. These are such fun books! I finished them both in less than a day, and when I was done I wished I'd read them to my younger kids. 

This is the story of Connwaer after his locus magicalicus is destroyed. Without it, he can't communicate with the magic, and the magic desperately needs him. I especially enjoyed book 3. The magical world in these stories is so complex for a middle grade book. I love it when an author doesn't dumb things down for kids. I'm especially fascinated with Connwaer's relationship with Kerrn--the captain of the guard, who obviously respects Conn, yet doesn't flinch to have him arrested if that is her duty.

(I read this for the Once Upon A Time Challenge)
Waiting For Odysseus
by: Clemence McLaren
published in 2000
160 pages
Young Adult
2 stars
This is the story of the women who loved and waited for Odysseus--his nurse maid, Penelope, Circe, the king's daughter (whose name escapes me at the moment) and Athena. I love books with strong female protaganists, and I was excited to read more about the stories of these women. But this was not the story of these women. This is the story of them waiting around until they hear a story about Odysseus. It was just his story of them hearing stories about Odysseus, meeting him, falling in love with him and then pining away after he was gone. And you know, there was a lot of sex in the Odyssey, which is remarkably more obvious when being told from the point of view of the women he had sex with. Blech.

 Pirates!
Pirates
by Celia Rees
374 pages
published in 2003 
Young Adult (Mature)
4 stars!

Nancy Kington is a wealthy merchant's daughter living in Bristol, England in the early 1700s. She has promised to marry her childhood sweetheart, William. When her father dies, she is sent to live on her plantation in Jamaica, where she meets Minerva Sharpe, a black slave. Their lives entwine as they live through an attempted rape, an arranged marriage and a brutal murder. Together they escape to the high seas, where they live as pirates.

This book was exciting and well researched. I love stories set on ships, and found this to be a rollicking adventure. It's more mature in theme than a book like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and yet it has that same strong willed female protaganist that I love so much. The one thing I didn't like was that the overarching plot sometimes took a backseat to the action. 

 

Death Cloud: Sherlock Holmes, The Legend Begins
by: Andrew Lane
306 pages
published in 2010 
Young Adult
This is a Book for Boys!
4 stars

When Sherlock Holmes is fourteen, he spends the summer with his eccentric aunt and uncle, and spends his days wandering the English countryside with an orphan named Mattie. When two local people die with symptoms resembling the plague, Sherlock Holmes begins his investigative career. This is the first book about a teenage Sherlock Holmes to be endorsed by Conan Doyle's estate. It's attention to detail is remarkable. I love thinking about how Holmes became the man he was. 

I enjoyed this book every bit as much as I enjoy a good Sherlock Holmes story--which is to say, it's an occasional pleasure for me. The story was far fetched, as Sherlock Holmes stories often are, but the character development was well thought out and fun.



 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My House

Good old-fashioned superstition has kept me from posting a follow up to Help Me Find A House!

We found one, and I'm still afraid that by letting that information loose on the internet I will provoke some spiteful little nixies and the whole thing will fall through. Drat those little nixies. Hopefully, if everyone knocks on wood while they are reading this, the nixies will be none the wiser. Go ahead.

Thank you.

I love the house we've chosen. Not as much as I love the one we're in right now, but I like the location loads better. Hopefully we'll learn to love the new house as much as we've loved this one. It's on a great street, in a neighborhood I've never heard a bad thing about. A neighborhood! The stuff of dreams. There is a girl in the same grade as my oldest daughter right next door. Does that give you chills? And...she has a younger sister in the same grade as my oldest son. And...you won't believe this, I'm sure, but I swear it's true. They are not the only kids in the neighborhood.

We can walk to the library, or if my kids want to take karate or dance, we could walk there too. We could ride bikes to school, if we so desired, and we won't have to get up at 3:30 a.m. just to get to seminary on time.

In the words of  the famous scientist, Dr. Ray Stantz, "Wow. This place is great. When can we move in? You gotta try this pole. I'm gonna get my stuff. Hey. We should stay here. Tonight. Sleep here. You know, to try it out."

In later posts, I'll probably moan about all the things we're leaving behind--including my swimming pool, a great neighbor or two, and the hiking trails my dad built in the backyard. But for now, I want to celebrate where we're headed. A gorgeous backyard, a lovely sun-room and a music room. And people. I might not be able to stay in my pj's on computer mornings anymore. Who knows? A neighbor might stop by!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hawthorne or Alcott?

When my husband and I went to Boston for the weekend, we hiked on the Battle Trail--a 5.5 mile trail that marks the path taken by British soldiers marching from Boston to Concord.

It's a gorgeous trail in early May, especially if you're coming from Maine, where green hasn't yet asserted itself as the dominant spring color. All the trees along the trail are arrayed in the vivid greens of brand new leaves, and the meadows are covered in spring wildflowers. It's a feast for my winter weary eyes. We pass tourists and joggers, and one incredibly tough woman jogging uphill while pushing two children in a stroller.

On the map of the Battle Trail, it mentions a place called The Wayside, where you can visit the home of authors Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Sidney. I love Louisa May Alcott, and so we decided to stop there. I was expecting a little neighborhood--and I thought how incredible that one neighborhood could boast of so many famous authors. But it wasn't one neighborhood. It was one house. Seriously. The Wayside is the name of a home that was originally built in 1717. And not only famous authors lived there. Samuel Whitney was living there in 1775. He was the Muster Master for the Concord Minutemen during the Revolutionary War, and munitions were hidden in this house.

 Bronson Alcott bought the house from him and named it The Hillside. I never thought that I had much of a problem distinguishing fiction from reality, but as I looked around the house, I couldn't figure out exactly where Teddy's grandfather's mansion would have been. To the left of the home were paths through a woods that had been there since before Louisa's time, and to the right was an old barn. Teddy couldn't have looked through his window to spy on the March's house. O.K. Melanie! No matter how similar Louisa's personality was to Jo March, it doesn't make Little Women an exact autobiography. Get over it.

Nathaniel Hawthorne bought the home from the Alcotts for $1,500. After buying the house, Hawthorne wrote, "Mr Alcott... had wasted a good deal of money in fitting it up to suit his own taste—all of which improvements I get for little or nothing. Having been much neglected, the place is the raggedest in the world but it will make, sooner or later, a comfortable and sufficiently pleasant home."[1] Nathaniel renamed it "The Wayside" 'because it stood so close to the road that it could have been mistaken for a coach stop.' Doesn't he sound like a pleasant fellow?

Daniel and Harriet Lothrop bought the house in 1883. Harriet Lothrop used the pen name Margaret Sidney, which didn't mean anything to me until a few minutes ago when I was doing a little research for this blog post. Margaret Sidney is the author of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew! I love that book! What an awesome thing to find out the author wrote it while living in Louisa May Alcott's house.

I loved seeing the home and thinking about its unique history. Look at this picture though:



Notice how Nathaniel Hawthorne's name is written in big block letters? Humph.

My husband says I need to reread The Scarlet Letter before I say this, but in my opinion, Louisa May Alcott's work is so much more important to our society today than Nathaniel Hawthorne's books are. His works are definitely valuable! Yikes, I don't want to start that battle. But Louisa May Alcott is a voice our children need to read today, to be transported back to a time when people spent time with each other and played together.

I wish I knew how old this sign was, and why his name is so much larger than hers. I suppose he may have been much more famous at some point in his life. But is he now? Or maybe it was because he was a man. Or maybe my perception is just skewed.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Help Me Find A House!

I knew I wasn't going to be writing as much for a while, but I didn't expect to stop so abruptly. My mind is so confused lately that I'm finding it hard to complete sentences, let alone blog posts. In spite a lot of prayer, the heavens seem determined to wait until I make a decision on my own. So I'm opening up my mind to that collective conscience called the internet. How do people cope with this thing called moving?

There are two truths battling for supremacy in my mind. We've found a house that will cost us almost exactly the same amount as we're paying right now. We're not exactly house poor, but we say no to a lot more things than I wish we had to. I'd hoped to buy a house that would free up some money. I have dreams of buying new furniture, and a new-to-me car. We'd love to have money to spend on doing things and going places. And don't forget the days of college and missions, which are marching inexorably closer.

So we could keep looking for a house that costs less. But I've seen what's out there. To have a house cost less would mean giving up a great location, giving up a nice yard, and that we'd have to spend a lot of time on fixing up a house with problems. I honestly don't know what the best choice is.

If you were me, what would you do?