Monday, June 22, 2009

Dear Mr. Henshaw

by Beverly Cleary

Dear Ms. Cleary,

I read your book Dear Mr. Henshaw recently and enjoyed it. The first letter that Leigh wrote about "licking" Mr. Henshaw's book made me laugh. Leigh was an interesting boy, and I felt pretty sorry for him. Divorce is such a hard thing. Plus, it would be really hard always having your dad back out of things.

I did think that Leigh was a bit annoying at times. I hated how he didn't want to respond to Mr. Henshaw's questions so he was so rude about it. But, I guess if writing to my favorite author became more like a chore, I wouldn't want to do it either. However, Leigh is also pretty clever. The burglar alarm he made for his lunch box was really cool. I would have loved something like that when I was younger. My sisters were always getting in my stuff!

I just wanted to say that while it wasn't my favorite Newbery winner, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to friends.


3 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

summary from
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

I enjoyed this book very much. It reminded me quite a bit of 84 Charing Cross Road, which is also told through a series of letters (though that one is non fiction) and is the story of book lovers. I loved that even with only letters you get to know this funny little community well. The book just made me smile. I feel like everyone has read, reviewed, and praised this book so much that don't really need to do that. There were a few things that I didn't like as much so I will mention those.

Whenever there is a telegram the author used periods instead of STOP. I realize that is totally minute and doesn't really matter, but for some reason it really bothered me!

I also thought the ending was a bit cheesy. It came together so perfectly that it was just too much. I like happy endings, but I guess this one was a bit contrived for me.

That said, I really did enjoy the book. It is so fun to read about people of who love books and love to share books. Definitely recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

All The King's Men

by Robert Penn Warren

summary taken (in part) from
All the King's Men tells the story of Willie Stark, a southern-fried politician who builds support by appealing to the common man and playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. Though Stark quickly sheds his idealism, his right-hand man, Jack Burden -- who narrates the story -- retains it and proves to be a thorn in the new governor's side. Stark becomes a successful leader, but at a very high price.

This is one of those classics that I've tried and failed at several times. This time, I was determined to finish it, so when I got bogged down by the first chapter (which is nearly 50 pages long!) I just made a deal with myself to only read 20 pages a day. Once I actually got to the story of Willie Stark and his rise to political power, I had a hard time putting the story down, but it sure takes some work to get to the exciting part.

I really enjoyed this story. I love Jack, and I appreciate Willie. I really enjoyed watching Willie shift from politician who really wants to do what's best for his state (which is never mentioned by name, but is likely Louisiana) to the wheeling, dealing, dirty politician he becomes. The slide is there and obvious, but it does take some time for him to fall.

The story is loosely based in Huey Long (from Louisiana), who I know a bit about. It was enjoyable to see the comparisons.

The only real downfall to this book are the long drawn out sidetracks that Jack takes us on. Occasionally I wondered if Warren was getting paid by the word like Dickens did. There were some stories that I'm still not sure how they fit in. However, these are easily recognizable, so I suppose one could skim these sections if necessary.

On the whole, an enjoyable read. But, it would probably be less enjoyable for people who aren't super excited by politics (though I could be wrong there).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Tao of Pooh

by Benjamin Hoff

From the back cover:
The Tao of Pooh in which it is revealed that one of the world's great Taoist masters isn't Chinese...or a venerable philosopher...but is in fact none other than the simple bear created by A.A. Milne - Winnie the Pooh! While Eeyore frets... and Piglet hesitates...and Rabbit calculates... and Owl pontificates... Pooh just is. And that's his clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.

I read this book in conjunction with an online book club I participate in and found it to be an enjoyable little read. I have no knowledge of Taoism, so I can't tell you if it is even remotely accurate, but I felt like there were lots of interesting thoughts presented:

"It means that we need to recognize What's There. If you face the fact that you have weak muscles, say, then you can do the right things and eventually become strong. But if you ignore What's There and try to lift someone's car out of a ditch, what sort of condition will you be after a while?" (p43)

"The surest way to become Tense, Awkward, and Confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard -- one that thinks too much." (p77)

"Do you want to be really happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you've got. Do you want to be really miserable? You can begin by being discontented." (p137)

Following said thoughts were examples from the Pooh books of how Pooh represented the positive principles (and the other animals didn't).

While I didn't necessarily agree with everything that was said (I thought he was particularly hard on Rabbit), and none of the ideas are super thorough in there presentations, I thought it was worth the time. Apparently there is also a sequel: The Te of Piglet.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Twilight in Forks

Except it was more like 10:00 in the morning.

On a recent camping trip my husband and I drove through Forks, WA. Home of Twilight.

Every gas station beginning about 20 miles outside of Forks (granted, there were only like 3) had a sign saying something along the lines of: "Entering the Twilight Zone"

Eventually we made it to Forks.

All of the hotels/motels and several of the stores on the main street (also known as the only street we drove on) had signs referring to the Twilight series:

"Bella Shops Here!"
"Edward didn't sleep here"
"Vampires Welcome!"

We made a quick bathroom stop at the Chamber of Commerce.

Sitting outside of the Chamber of Commerce is Bella's truck.

If you look closely through the front windshield (I think you can click to enlarge) you'll notice that there's a bullet hole through the back windshield. Did that happen in the first book? I don't remember her being shot at, but it's been awhile since I read it.

While we were inside the building, a school bus full of Asian tourists pulled up for pictures. Then quickly drove off.

The lady doing inside the Chamber of Commerce asked if we were "Twihards" Even if I was a big Twilight fan, I would not call myself a "Twihard." What a terrible term!

We weren't really there for the Twilight tour - it was more a matter of getting to our destination. But, we did take a minute to drive by the high school:

We also picked up a brochure that marks all of the significant Twilight locations in Forks (the high school, the hospital, the store where Bella works, etc.). The best part of the brochure was most definitely the advertisements though:
  • Eat at Pacific Pizza where they serve: Bellasagna which comes with Edbread and Swan Salad (love at first bite!!!!). Bella & Edward's Wedding Soup also served weekly!!
    Note: I used the same number of exclamations used in the add
  • Shop at Odyssey Bookshop: Preferred by 73% of Vampires and 68% of Shape-Shifters (from an in-house poll)
We laughed for quite a while over Edbread. That sounds so wrong.

In all, it was a fairly enjoyable stop. I can't really believe people go to Forks simply for the Twilight tour, but it was a nice 20 minute rest stop on our way to the rain forest.

On a side note. We spent some time in Port Angeles too, and while it wasn't nearly as Twilight crazed, we saw several stores mentioning Twilight. One was even called "Dazzled by Twilight"

Friday, June 5, 2009


by Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel was supposed to be freed when her mistress died, but through a series of events she and her sister and sold to a fairly nasty loyalist couple and shipped to New York. It's early 1776 and a war with England is brewing. Isabel is told by a fellow slave that if she spies on her loyalist owners and reports the information to the Colonists she will have a chance at freedom. Things start falling apart and something terrible happens to Isabel's sister. Isabel finds herself having to solve her problems alone.

This book covers a subject I knew little about - slavery before the Revolutionary War. I knew it existed, but I tend to think of slavery in context with the Civil War. The amount of history that Anderson is able to weave into the story is pretty amazing. It was easy to fall into the story and feel like I was in New York with Isabel.

Chains is also somewhat horrifying to read. Isabel's loyalty bounces between the colonies and England hoping that one will grant her freedom. At some point she says something along the lines (I don't have the book in front of me) "Why should I care which side wins the revolution when I have to fight for my own freedom?" And, knowing the whole time that she (or at least slaves in general) won't be granted freedom when the Colonies win the war eats at you after a while.

While the story itself isn't necessarily a fun read, Chains is fascinating and the writing is incredible.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


by Tracy Lynn

summary from
The Duchess Jessica's childhood began with a tragedy: her mother's death. Her father, heartbroken at the loss of his beloved wife, could not bear to raise the child. Largely ignored, Jessica spent the first eleven years of her life running free on the family estate, cared for only by the servants. Then her father decides to remarry, bringing an end to Jessica's independence. At first her new stepmother just seems overly strict. But as Jessica grows into a beautiful young woman, it becomes clear that her stepmother is also wildly -- and murderously -- jealous of her. Jessica escapes to London. Going by the name Snow to hide from her family, she falls in love with an odd band of outcasts who accept her into their makeshift family. But when her stepmother appears in the city, repentant and seeking her forgiveness, Jessica will have to decide whom to trust...with her life.

I read this book for the first time about 3 years ago and I remember liking it; however, since then, I have read fairy tale re-tellings by several other authors (Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George) and now I think I'm a bit more demanding. The writing isn't fantastic and didn't draw me in like others have. And, while I realize it's completely unfair to this book in comparison to others I've read that's what I found myself doing the entire time I read it.

The story itself isn't bad. It's a fairly strange re-telling, and while it's apparent which story it is based in (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) it takes some liberties (there are only 5 lonely ones instead of 7 dwarfs, etc). However, I enjoyed the characters (mostly the lonely ones - I found Snow a bit annoying) and the strangeness wasn't a total put off. It was just well. . . strange.

If you enjoy fairy tale re-tellings, it is worth checking Snow out. But, it's definitely not the best example of one that I have read.

3 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 1, 2009

May Books

Picture Books
Ladybug Girl, by
David Somar and Jackie Davis
Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, by David Somar and Jackie Davis

Juvenile Books

The Unnameables, by Ellen Booraem
  • I'm still somewhat undecided about this book
Treasure of Blackbird Rock, by Julian Press

Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy, by Kimberly Willis Holt
  • meh
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
  • nice enough story, but I can't really figure out why it won a Newbery
The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas * (audio book) (re-read)
  • Fun
The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan

Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, by
Wendelin Van Draanen *
  • still love Sammy
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson *
  • Fascinating. Hopefully a real review will be posted soon...
I So Don't Do Mysteries, by Barrie Summy
  • I wanted to like this one so much more than I actually did

Young Adult Books
The Dragonfly Pool, by Eva I
  • enjoyable
Snow, by Tracy Lynn (re-read)
  • it's ok. I'm working on a review for this one too.
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson *

Flipped, by
Wendelin Van Draanen *

What I Saw and How I Lied, by
Judy Blundell
  • I have no idea why this beat Frankie for the National Book Award
The Smile, by Donna Jo Napoli
  • interesting take on the Mona Lisa
Adult Books
The Language of Bees, by Laurie R. King *