cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “reviews”

Review Round Up: January


I began a new Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2017 in January. I made my goal of 101 books (with a couple to spare) for 2016, so I thought “why not?” let’s see if I can achieve it again–maybe I’m pushing it. After all, to hit my goal I need to read at least eight books a month. So far so good. Of the eight books read in January here are my top picks:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

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The main problem with patterning a storyline after Hamlet is the knowledge there will be no happy ending. This is especially true when the main idea is about a boy and his dog–Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows–case in point.
However, I plunged ahead because I am always open to a Shakespeare retelling, especially if it’s Hamlet.
As a debut novel, it’s ambitious, to say the least. First of all, it takes on Hamlet. Secondly, it weaves the story around the complicated business of dog breeding. Then there is the unique physical attribute that Edgar (the story’s Hamlet) was born without a voice. What he saw he could not easily tell. Pun or a deep metaphor? I haven’t decided.
The story also provides unusual omniscient point of view chapters. We even hear what the dogs are thinking.
It works. (four stars)

 

Rory's Promise

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A fascinating insight into another historical aspect of the Orphan Train. The Foundling Society of New York administered by Catholic sisters provided a clean, safe environment for orphans, a much different perspective than the more widely known Children’s Aid Society who ran the Orphan Trains that went out West.

The protagonist, Rory, refuses to be separated from her sister and risks her life to keep her promise that she would watch over her.

Based on historical fact, and the meticulous research is evident in the story. (four star)

 

 

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A throwback to the days of Greyhound travels and 1950s culture and values, Last Bus to Wisdom is a coming of age novel busting with wry mirth. Seemingly a combination of Little Britches and Mark Twain adventuring, Ivan Doig’s last novel truly is a wise choice of reading. (four star)

 

These three novels got me through the bleak days of January’s wintry blah days of icy cold and snow. A good book (three–score!), a cup of cocoa, and a crackling fire. Hmm, that’s what I call Book Booster happiness.

(W)Hoopla


Sundays I look forward to my afternoon nappish time with a good book. During the week if I try to read I inevitably fall asleep due to the somnolent virtues of relaxing after a long day infusing enthusiasm for English with 75+ teens. Saturday is usually catch up on errands, laundry, bills, etc. So Sunday is my “aah” day.

The problem is that sometimes it becomes an “aww” day because I haven’t tried out my new book and if it doesn’t work out, I’m without a book. And yes, I usually do have a back up. Both pootered out. I did give them a decent trial, though. Honest.

This is when I haul out my iPad, plug in my headphones and Hoopla.A movie is not the best replacement for a good solid afternoon with a book. Not even. However, it’s fairly delicious when the selected movie is a quirky indie with a creative plot. Bonus when the acting is decent.

Let’s pause first. Hoopla? It’s a vendor through our local library. Free streaming movies. Granted, the movies are not first run features. They are a mix of fun oldies (a huge batch of 1950 era Disney family flicks) and some notables, The Giver, for instance. Some awful B- movies, lots of kid flicks, and a few films, make that lots of films, never even heard of. They’re free. I’m not complaining.

Dimensions Poster

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Skimming through titles I noticed Dimensions: an indie film–time traveling theme set in the 1920’s. I’m prone towards indie films. A throwback to my university days when we visited all the small cinemas watching foreign films and artsy cinematic experiments. I was well pleased with my choice. The movie resonated with me after the end titles rolled up and away. That’s always a good sign. It won several film festival awards. Never made the box theatres, that I know of–yet, it’s still a good little film. Not great. Definitely worthwhile.  Hope I’ve interested you. If not, try the trailer.

I did manage to restock my reading selections. I look forward to next Sunday. At least I have a back up to my back up plan. Books first. Always.

Anyone else Hoopla and find a treasure?

 

Review Round Up: December


December proved an excellent month for reading. Pushing to complete my Goodreads Challenge of 101 books for the year, I tried to finish off with books that had meaning and were enjoyable, which is actually what I try to do with all my reading. Here are my top picks for December:

The Tipping Point by Malcolm GladwellGladwell presents complicated sociological ideas in such a conversational manner that once the chapter is finished there is a satisfying acknowledgment of understanding what has been discussed. He presents the topic, performs a seemingly unrelated side excursion of information and then neatly links it back to the first topic. This explains his popularity. I’m looking forward to reading his other books as well.

The Girls' Book: How To Be The Best At EverythingA seriously fun book for 9-11 year olds who will enjoy the mixture of goofy and practical activities ranging from surviving being in a horror movie to making a friendship bracelet. Or it could be considered a present for thirty-something women who seriously have fun reading these nostalgia guides.

Raising an Original by Julie Lyles  Carr A mother of eight children, all who are featured prominently in the chapters, Carr weaves together advice, experience, anecdotes, scriptures, and a healthy dose of charming humor founded in likable reality. One aspect that is notably artful is her ability to take a metaphor, be it lace-making or her daddy’s signature blue dress shirt, and apply it to parenting techniques. Her book reads well. It’s engaging and thought-provoking.

You're the Cream in My Coffee by Jennifer Lamont LeoI knew Marjorie when she just a sweet little rough draft–so fun to come across her all grown up into a novel. Jenny’s novel took shape from idea to rough draft to publisher hunt to Hurrah! of acceptance in our writing group. I kind of feel like an aunt at a christening…
Marjorie is that small town girl who goes off to the city and makes changes. She changes her looks, her ambitions, her love interest. Chicago does that to the 1920’s kind of girl.
The humorous situations that Marjorie often finds herself in are reminiscent of a Shakespearean plot filled with misunderstandings, thwarted lovers, and secret identities. A well-researched novel that focuses on the alcohol issues related to Prohibition, WWI and PTSD, plus a look at the advent of the independent working girl, this is a “bees knees” of a debut read.

 

 

Review Round Up


This last month has definitely been hodgish-podgish in reading. I’m transitioning from summer reading to preparing for school while trying to wrap up a major writing project. This involves reading for fun, reading for class, and reading for facts. I’m a bit dizzified at the stretch of diversity. Here are the top reads from this last month:

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

image: GoodReads

I picked this up along with Tey’s Daughter of Time, which was about Richard III. In the back of my mind nudged the basic plot of Brat Farrar. I hadn’t read it, or had I? I seemed to know how it was going to turn out. Than the “aha” tinkle bell sounded. I had watched it as a BBC series, ages ago. Books are always different from the film adaptation, and as I became more involved in the story I realized I didn’t remember the ending after all. I do so enjoy books, especially mysteries that I can’t guess the ending. Tey does an excellent job of twisting and turning the plot. One of the most satisfying reads of the summer. Intrigue, betrayal, double identities, red herrings, hinted romance, and horses–I’m trying to find the BBC series now.

 

 

My Memoirs

 by Alexandre Dumas

image: GoodReads

The man who brought The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask didn’t just write about adventures, he lived them. As part of of my author/cat project, I needed to read up on Dumas and found a slim adapted volume of his memoirs (the original ran to about thirty). He accounts for his life just up to the point of receiving acclaim for his novels. Like all really great biographies featuring rags to riches stories, Dumas begins his story sadly. His father, a Creole general in Napoleon’s army is tossed into prison, and upon release his health fails and dies when Dumas is four. Thrown into poverty, he, along with his mother and sister moves in with his grandparents. From their Dumas recounts how he preferred hunting to school and eventually makes his way to Paris with hopes of becoming a playwright. He brashly secures a clerk position in order to pay bills, while still trying to get his plays published. With success comes recognition and a life filled with all sorts of escapades including involvement in a revolution and a duel. I better understand why the action in his books is so mesmerizing–he knew adventure first hand.

Everything’s An Argument by Andrea Lunsford

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image: GoodReads

Okay, so reading a textbook may not be on your TBR list. If I wasn’t slated to teach AP Language for the first time I probably wouldn’t have read this book either. Teaching AP Lang is going to be very, very different for me. I’m not a huge nonfiction reader, only doing so for research, not so for pleasure. Yet, as I waded into this book I became more fascinated by the fact that everything truly is an argument. We live in a world where everyone is trying to convince someone of their point of view and there are strategies for doing so. If interested in learning more how you are influenced, I’d suggest this as a means of getting more insight in how argument is something we need to reckon with.

Classic Movie Nights


Daytime in the summer is mainly working on my writing projects, wslking, yard work, and of course, reading, reading, and more reading.

Around seven o’clock the hubs looks at me and asks: “So what do you want to do tonight?”

There aren’t many options in a town of 6,000. It usually comes down to watching a movie. 

Our smalltown boasts one theater. It’s not fancy. It’s not AMC. The seats tip back because the springs are stressed. The floors are s bit sticky. The rows are offside instead of center screen. We have to really, really want to see a movie and not be willing to drive an hour away to the mega-complex to go.

There is also the fact if we wait a couple of months the movie comes out on DVD. Then we rent it for a buck fifty at the grocery store instead of paying box office prices. We start the movie when we want, pause it, subtitle it, enjoy it in our kickback loungers. We even sleep through the boring parts. I can catch up on my phone stuff. Or play another level of Candy Mania.

Why wouldn’t we choose to watch movies at home? 

Another option is that our local library has a HUGE movie section complete with TV series. I’m ever so patiently waiting for The Hollow Crown. We aren’t hooked up to commercial channels. The TV is basically a movie screen. That’s a whole  different post.

Being Baby Boomers, the hubs and I are partial to films where actors versus CGI is the primary billing.This means we tend to watch a lot of  classics. It’s like visiting with old, favorite friends when  we settle in to watch Cary Grant, Hepburns Audrey/Katherine, John Wayne and the rest of the screen star crew.

Some favorites this summer we’ve revisted:

Now and then a new movie comes along that’s based on an old classic. From some reason, we were won over by: 


mainly because we grew up with:

Guy Ritchie got it right. The light-hearted, comically serious tone, the Bondian flavor, the sixties style. Henry totally got Robert Vaughn and Hammer did his own Ilya. How come the critics didn’t get it? Then again, if I paid attention to the critics I wouldn’t watch movies at all. They either love something I don’t get or, like above, they pan what I deem brillaint. And that’s another post as well.

So–a couple of questions, if I may:

1. Do you prefer classics to new?

2. Do you prefer DVD to big screen?

3. Any new  films  you think might become classics?

A Frosty Choice


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ah, Frost’s famous lines that celebrate and embrace individualism. The encouragement to go against the grain, to strive beyond mediocrity, to go where few have bothered to travel. It’s the stuff of graduation speeches, self-help tomes, greeting cards, posters, coffee mugs, t-shirts, and it even helps to sell cars.
According to David Orr in his literary/biography/analysis, The Road Not Taken, we have got it all wrong. The subtitle clues us in: Finding America in the Poem Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong. 

Surprise Reading*

In Orr’s introduction he asserts and emphasizes that the roads are equally traveled, that the two roads are interchangeable. The speaker admits the other road “just as fair” and “the passing there/Had worn them really about the same…” The speaker further notes: “And both that morning equally lay/In leaves no step had trodden black.”

To me it’s all saying: “Hey, which way should I go? I have no idea. They look both the same.”

David Orr would tell us this is perhaps right, then again maybe not. After all, poetry is a matter of perspective. He states that the poem “is a literary oddity and a philosophical puzzle, but more than anything else it’s a way of framing the paradoxical and massively influential culture in which it both begins and ends.”

Maybe Orr is the only one who does get it right because after reading his illuminating, worthwhile, and fascinating treatise on Frost’s poem, I still think it’s all about making choices and living out the decisions we’ve made–no regrets.

Then again, Frost might be having the last laugh. Apparently the poem is his gentle poke at how his good friend, Edward Thomas, a British poet, had considerable difficulties selecting which way to go when he and Frost would ramble around the English countryside together. Thomas would lament how the other direction had just as many lovely sights to see. In other words, they were both good choices, yet Thomas always felt a bit of regret for not having gone the other way. It seems Frost’s poem gently chides his friend to be happy with the choice made, to be satisfied.

Frost’s poem is perhaps not so much a celebration of marching boldly through the tangled bracken of life, tripping over logs of distraction and despair, rather it’s a quiet reflection of accepting the road that is taken, and not lamenting over the one that was not taken.

Overall, for such a slim volume (weighing in less than 200 pages), it is filled with solid bits of reflective insights:

  • Frost originally titled the poem “Two Roads”–that changes things, a bit.
  • He specifically used roads, not paths and emphatically noted the difference upon hearing someone begin a recitation replacing “paths” for “roads.”
  • This is very much an American poem, written by an American poet extolling the ponderation of choice, something Americans have historically and culturally embraced, yet the poem is based upon a time when Frost resided in England.
  • Frost admitted that he did not always consciously make  decisions: “I never know what is going to happen next because I don’t dare to let myself formulate a foolish hope.”
  • I learned about “confabulation”–the concept about artful lying (my interpretation).
  • The big question Orr asks is this: if we don’t know why we made the decision, is the choice made a meaningful one?
  • Frost liked being a bit of a mystery to his public and biographers, which is reflected in his poetry.
  • The poem might also have its foundation upon an actual incident where Frost was walking upon a road and met a man coming in the other diection. Frost felt this man to be his mirror image and should they converge and intersect he would grow stronger in his last part of his journey home.
  • The poem, its twenty or so lines, is considered one of the most popular pieces of literature written by an American–Google search stats tells us so.

It’s said that while William Wordsworth desired his poetry to be of a man speaking to men, wanting to speak lyrically from experience, from the heart, Robert Frost, asserts Orr, wanted to speak with men. Frost included the reader in his metered musings by having a conversation with us. I think Frost wanted to assert a warmth in poems by including us into his writing, which he achieved with his casual conversational tone and second person pronoun usage. His writings remain popular because they are so relatable. He includes us, wanting us to share in his experience.

If allowed, I would like to celebrate and propose this thought: combine two of Fost’s popular poems. Take  the individualism “The Road Not Taken” inspires and the idea of sharing the decision of choice with the reader, and add in the joy of  discovery found in “The Pasture,” so that the universality of realizing we are all on a journey together is made more readily apparent.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

And I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference–you come, too.

 

*BtW: am I the only one who realizes YouTube videos can’t be uploaded unless I upgrade my plan?  Huh? When did that happen?

Ka-Powell’s


For years I’ve heard about Portland’s Powell’s Bookstore. And people were amazed I hadn’t been or even knew of it’s existence. 

I can now say I’ve been Ka-Powelled after today. Ka-pow like being knocked out. Being booked up takes on new meaning. 

Doing my Pacific Northwest summer tour usually includes a dabble into Portland, but not too deeply since I am long out of practice of navigating city blocks and rush hour traffic.

Today I jumped in, with Siri’s help, and found my way into the heart of Portland. With my bag of books I and a three block walk, because city parking is a grab-it-when-you -see-a-spot, I wandered into the used book line.

And waited. There were four buyers, with seven sellers ahead of me (one guy had SIX boxes on a handtruck!?!), and more lining up behind me. Who says people don’t read anymore? 

After obtaining my store credit voucher I went shopping. The store was amazingly flush with customers. This place is like a Disneyland for bibliophiles. If you have yet to visit or are perhaps wondering–here are some Powell’s facts courtesy of Wikipedia (as with image):

  • Considered to be the world’s largest independent bookstore
  •  Buys around 3,000 used books a day
  • The building takes up a full city block.
  • The business started with a Powell and is still under ownership of a Powell.
  • Founded in 1971.
  • Five locations in Oregon.
  • Two million book inventory.
  • Employer of 530+ people.
  • Considered to be one of Portland’s top attractions.

Okay–reality factor. How many cities  can name a bookstore as a tourist attraction?

Feeling rather overwhelmed with all the choices, people,and sheer amazingness of it all, I finally    managed to use most of my store credit and stagger out an hour and a half later with five books in hand. I barely explored the offerings since there was too much to see. My brain froze at the totality of it all. Books, books, books. It was ever so lovely.

Anyone else been Powelled? 

Reader Round Up


As I prime for lots of unfettered summer reading I’ve been able to start my freed-from-grading daze with a few truly amazing books, an eclectic mix of non-fiction and novels.


First up is an Audrey book. I’m not much for reading full-blown biographies because they often reveal aspects of the person which might change my comfortable opinion. So when I spied this petite photo biography about Audrey Hepburn and her style relationship with Givenchy, how could I refuse when it practically hopped into my library book bag? If you are an Audrey fan, this is a must read.


This title was circled as a “want to read” selection in my Book Page circular. Be Frank with Me almost falls into “seen this before” trope of precocious kid, odd famous parent, and the Mary Poppins who is hired to bring order to chaos. Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying this fast read. One reason is it has that forties comedy film feel to it with its madcap, impossible hijinks, situations, and characters. I simply accepted the break in versimilitude and let the show roll.


Yet another DE Stevenson. My list of her forty or so published titles is rapidly approaching completed unless her granddaughter finds more manuscripts in the attic. This one is post-war Britain and has Young Mrs Savage dealing with widowhood and four children all under the age of eight, and she’s not even thirty yet. There’s mystery, a variety of suitors, and delightful Scottish pluck and scenery. There is even a snarky set of villianesses to boo at.  I also adore the old school cover art.


Another non-fiction involved a flashback to my past, all the way to 1962 and the Seattle World’s Fair. Being a young thing then, the memories are a bit sketchy, so I definitely added this coffee-table photo historical to my checkouts.I reveled in forgotten exhibits, vendors, and magic moments of the fair. There is also that behind-the-scenes info the feeds my  craving for trivia snacking. Seattle remains a top fave for favorite cities, in case anyone is doing a poll. It’s such a unique, iconic landmark and I have some of the best family memories involving that futuristic trademark of the Emerald City. 

As of Monday afternoon I shall be released from the classroom and will gladly kick into summer vacation mode. Woo hoo!

Any other teachers out there ready to get their summer on?

Review Roundup


I catch up on my blogs through my iPhone reader which means I miss any goodies that enhance that web page. And that means people miss my little extras as well, such as my Good Reads update feed. So, a new addition to my line up of features shall step forth: the Review Roundup in which I lasso a couple of books from my Completed Reads Corral and trot them out for all to admire. I’m in the midst of Cormac’s All the Pretty Horses, so horsing around is a given.

Last year I thought 50 books to be a good goal and I nearly doubled it by reaching 92 reads. This year I decided to go for 101. So far, so good as I read 11 books in January. Here’s my top three picks of January:

Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favorite Songs

Fair is the song that remains in the heart,
That soothes the savage scorns that love inflicts,
Or brings joy to our lips as does the lark,
Causing fingers to snap and heels to click.Songs. Sonnets. Put them together, as has the very clever and talented Erik Didriksen, and you have a collection that is memorable and marvelous. His book started out as a weekly sonnet post on Tumblr which grew a following and garnered him a publishing contract. Ooh, I love those kind of success stories.

There is indeed something for everyone, from The Beatles to Cyndi Lauper to Frank Sinatra–sing the praises of Pop Sonnets.

I am in the middle of my “chase-down-every-D.E. Stevenson-book-I-can-find” adventure. I may owe our public library’s inter-library loan department some compensation once I reach my goal of finding all 40 plus novels. I am a professed Dessie. Stevenson’s books are old-fashioned, yet hold up well for story-telling. A big bonus is that many take place in Scotland, the land of my ancestors. I do like her plucky heroines. Here is a new fave:
Kate Hardy buys a country house unseen and makes her move from London to the dull quiet life so she can continue writing her popular hero-action books. Yet, life in the country is far from dull. Strange letters, neighborhood dramas, tangled romances, along with irritating relatives visiting, interrupt Kate’s solitude. And she doesn’t mind one iota.
A thoroughly likable plot and heroine, the book would have garnered five stars except for the ending. DES is terrible about her loose endings. Everything comes crashing to a big finale but she tends to leave loose bits trailing in the breeze. My hope is that Kate Hardy continues on in another book.
The Renaissance is an age like no other. There were so many accomplishments in so many areas of the humanities and sciences, it merits study to better appreciate the genius behind the works. One area of accomplishment, one that still leaves the world in appreciative awe is the art and artists of the Renaissance.
Barter’s reference book provides background and insights on several of the prominent artists of the time such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Raphael. Surprisingly, Botticelli is not part of the group; however, the artists featured provide a satisfying study into some of the most influential talent of that time period. A great reference for students, or for those looking for a quick, in-depth study.
Have you read any of these? Better yet, what was your favorite January read?
 

A Good Year for Reading


January is a month of reflection. This is probably due to January being the default month since it is between Christmas past and Valentine’s Day to be. While working off Christmas treats in order to succumb to anticipated chocolate hearts I have decided to give my 2015 year of reading a closer examination. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have done much more than said “Cool. I met and surpassed my Goodreads Reading Challenge.” Since they took the time and trouble to send me such an attractive report, I shall share the highlights with you all. If the pontification of accomplishments is not within your scheduled viewing, I am absolutely not offended if you drift off to the next blog in your reader. However, I am hoping you will stick around.

First Off:
Books Read: 91
I set my Reading Challenge at 50 books, thinking “Hmm, that’s about one per week–that’s doable.” With so many great recommendations from so many dedicated Book Boosters like Heather and The Paperback Princess, I kept adding to my “To-Read” list and kept reading. I still have about 73 books on my TBR list. *Sigh* I have need to read issues.

Secondly:
The Short and Long of It
Shortest book: 96 pages

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep

by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin

Reading books to kids at bedtime is a lovely routine, a cozy bonding time, and a way to pass on the joy of words to children. I anticipated this sort of connection when I requested Ehrlin’s The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep and was sorely disappointed when I discovered the text to be a form a hypnosis-inducing sleep tool. The purposely scripted story is almost a little scary in its intent. Instead of waving a golden watch and chanting, “You are growing sleepy” a fuzzy bunny becomes the stuff dreams are made of.

While some may like a lab technique to put kids asleep, I’ll go for the classic lullaby of cuddle and lulling words.

                                                             LONGEST BOOK
                                                                  624 pages
                                                                   Jane Eyre
                                                         by Charlotte Brontë

Average Page Length: 305 pages

Most Popular Book:

4,019,963

people also read

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
I decided to reread the entire series in one dedicated weekend as a preparation for the last installment of the film adaptation. I do think JLaw IS Katniss.

Least Read Book:

2

people also read

Sky Blue Pink
by Pam Lippi 
This is a self-published fictional memoir and it is a fun little read about two seventeen year old girls who travel around Europe after graduating from high school. This was back in the days of the seventies when bell-bottoms and adventures were part of the culture.

Benediction:

Completed square

You read 86 out of 50 books. [I actually snuck in 5 more after this]
172%
Congratulations! You’re really good at reading, and probably a lot of other things, too!
Not a bad year for my Goodreads [a litotes, if there ever was]
Okay–your turn…
How was your 2015 year of reading?
Favorite book?
Definitely won’t be recommending?

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