Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Ok, so this post is less of a “review” and more of a book talk. I mean, Shakespeare has been dead for how long? (395 years!) But I find this play's long-lasting fame a bit of a mystery.

There’s a lot to draw from Shakespeare’s plays especially if you read them as historical texts. It’s great fun to read the plays from a feminist perspective. The whole “women as commodities” lens is just too easy to apply. (For an in depth look at this idea read Luce Irigaray’s “Women on the Market.”) Of course, we could read through a Marxist lends or a psychoanalyst lens.

But let’s put these lenses aside and explore what a reading of Romeo and Juliet is to the modern reader who has no direct interest in Elizabethan England but just wants to read a good story. Immediately we have a problem. Romeo and Juliet is a play not a book. I think it loses its magic when there are no actors to interpret the text and put it in action.

The reading experience, having the original text side-by-side with a modern interpretation, was strange. I had to stop and read the modern version so often it severely altered the flow of the play. While it added to my understanding, the modern version lacked the linguistic beauty of the original. However, I think high school students might benefit from the modern version. If the original is just too cumbersome to read they will still get the gist of the story by reading the interpretation. But I find I prefer knowledgeable footnotes.

The story is pretty straight forward. Two powerful families are fighting and their respective son and daughter fall in love at first sight. The young lovers are unable to successfully run off together because they are kids without powerful enough connections and the romance turns tragic and they die. The families learn their lesson. End of story.

Why does Romeo and Juliet get so much attention? The story is just ok. The original prose is not as captivating as other plays. There are a couple great monologues by the two protagonists but otherwise the lines drag on. It’s a story of young love so I guess that’s why they teach it in high school. But what’s wrong with The Tempest?  Or As You Like It which is much funnier? 

What about you guys? Do you love Romeo and Juliet? What is your favorite Shakespeare play?

Publisher: Barron’s, 1984     Pages: 282
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: Purchased at Walden Books (right before they closed. Boo!)

Saturday, January 29, 2011


The winner of the Dusting My Bookcase giveaway is 

She'll be getting two gently used ARCs of
Numbers and Violet Wings.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Anticipated Books of 2011 at the Book Blogger Hop

This week's Hop question asks: "What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?"

Well, that's easy -  The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3) by James Dashner. I really enjoyed the The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials. I can't wait to see how Dashner ends the series. These book are really fun reading and great "escape" books for me. 

I don't often anticipate new books. I have a hard enough time getting to older books. I generally like to wait to hear some buzz about a book by readers (such as yourselves) before I pick up something "new."

In other news, my giveaway of Numbers by Rachel Ward and Violet Wings by Victoria Hanley ends today. Sign up here if you would like to win either or both! (U.S. only) If you're hopping by, thanks for the visit! What book are you anticipating this year?

Last Chance to Win!

Today is the last day to sign up to win Numbers by Rachel Ward and Violet Wings by Victoria Hanley. Open to U.S. Residents only. Not necessary to be a "follower" to enter.

If you would like to win either or both of these books fill out the form here!

Review: The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli

Creativity without direction, privilege without motivation, difficulty grieving, fear of isolation - these phrases define four children who are changed by a chance encounter with a library card. It’s blue, it’s plain and unmarked but somehow each child knows that the card is special. It appears at critical moments in their lives when things could easily turn for worse if no one, or nothing, intervenes. The card’s magical properties draw them to libraries they never knew existed where they encounter books and people who make a difference in their lives. In turn, the children begin to touch the lives of those around them. The Library Card is a sweet if somewhat dated homage to the power of books and librarians in the world of children.

Publisher: Scholastic, 1997     Pages: 148
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope

The American War of Independence takes on a whole new twist in Elizabeth Marie Pope’s classic young adult book The Sherwood Ring. Peggy lives in her uncle’s mansion, alone and bored when ancestral ghosts, dead for over a hundred years, appear to entertain her with stories of their victories and losses in battle and love during the Revolutionary War.

The young officer, Dick Grahame, eager to prove his worth in the Continental Army, is chosen by General George Washington to root out a Tory bandit, Peaceable Sherwood, who is stirring up trouble for rebel forces in New York. Like Robin of Locksley, Peaceable Sherwood is witty, cunning and altogether difficult to dislike. Sherwood slips through Grahame’s grasp time after time to Dick’s utter embarrassment.

An unlikely romance between a Rebel and Red Coat complicate Dick’s loyalty. By no coincidence (Pope loved Shakespeare), this romance mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet (without the dramatic deaths). Back in the present, Peggy is dealing with complications as Pat, a young scholar from England, pesters her uncle for family documents. Peggy’s relationship with Pat mirrors the romantic story told by the ghosts. It’s an enjoyable parallel even if it’s a bit predictable.

On the one hand, this book is completely charming and cute. There’s action, adventure, sword fights and romance. I enjoyed how the ghosts told their stories, creating a string of first person narratives to tell about a bigger picture. Yet there are some perplexing issues that arise.

Barbara Grahame is characterized as witty and sharp, a women of action, quick to think of solutions. Yet she pines hopelessly for her lover. Hmm, ok. I’m not sure what else she could have done.  And Peggy, dear Peggy, what trouble’s in store for her. Pat is not particularly nice to her calling her “idiot” and “lamb” more than once and she just takes it. They hardly know each other but at the end are engaged even though Peggy is only 17. Now, I’m a proponent of young love having married at 19 but...literally, they’ve only spent hours together.

One last issue. Pat repeats how his poor salary as a history professor means Peggy will live in a tiny house looking at a bad view darning his socks once they’re married. Geesh. Not a way to woo a woman. At least not in this century. This book was published in 1958 so at first I thought “well, it all makes better sense now.” But Pope had a Ph.D. and was a college professor for over 30 years. Was the pressure to write a culturally acceptable “domesticated” female character so strong that Pope felt obliged to write Peggy this way? Peggy has NO ambition and little self esteem. I am surprised that a women with Pope’s background wrote a character like this.

P.S. A note on the cover. When I began reading it took me some time to figure out when the story took place. By the cover I thought the entire story was in the 18th or 19th century. But as I looked closer I saw Peggy is not "in" the painting yet she looks painted. Despite the otherwise droll appearance, I thought this illusion was very clever of the artist. It symbolizes Peggy's relationship with the ghosts and their past pretty well. 

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1986     Pages: 266
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: In the Land of the Lawn Weenies by David Lubar

This is one of the most beat up books I’ve ever seen at my library. A large chunk of the cover’s right corner is missing. The spine is fraying. And there is an unidentifiable substance staining the end pages. In short: this book is being loved to death. If you have reluctant readers or want quick stories to read after recess In the Land of the Lawn Weenies may be just what you’re looking for.

In the Land of the Lawn Weenies is a collection of funny, outlandish and spine-chilling short stories for kids aged 9-12.  An enchanted battle ax transforms its bearer into a monomaniac intent on slaughter. Bullies are forced to face their worst nightmares. A substitute teacher revolts against jeering pupils. With its kafkaesque distortion of reality tempered with Lubar’s humor, this book will have kids laughing during the day but plugging in their nightlights before bed.

Publisher: Starscape, 2003.     Pages: 240
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Short Story Saturday: The Door by E.B. White

So, you think you know E.B. White, huh? Charlotte’s Web. Stuart Little. Both classic children’s stories. Who doesn’t love Wilbur? Well, creativity knows no bounds. Prepare yourself for an entirely different side of this beloved American author.

by E.B. White (1899-1985)
It should take about 7-8 minutes to read.

After reading the story what do you feel? What do you think? What are the words that come to mind?

Are you feeling confused? Perhaps a bit uneasy? Maybe even chuckling to yourself or thinking “huh, what was that?” Then not to worry. You totally got the story.

White takes us through a tormented mind and makes the reader experience the madness of the character. The reader begins to go crazy trying to keep up with the shifting point of view as the male protagonist describes modern life as a rat maze. We have so many choices but how real is our control? Can the chaos of life be conquered? Is reality what we make of it or, is reality out there regardless of whether or not we see clearly - that curb coming up to meet our foot? This story, first published in The New Yorker in 1939, is a great example in the shift from modernism to postmodernism in literature.

Not your average barnyard tale is it? I hope you enjoyed “The Door.” I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story!

50 Great Short Stories, pages 348-353. 
Publisher: Bantam Classics, 2005
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader examines adolescence, pubescence and sexuality while questioning what it means to be a grandchild of Nazi Germany. What should they feel towards elders who went along with or participated in the Nazi regime. What responsibility should they place on parents who were relatively powerless and did nothing. Are justice and assigning blame the same thing?  

The Reader is not concerned with answering these questions as much as it is with pointing out the complexity of the situation made more complex by the protagonist’s teenage love affair with a strange women twice his age with a murky past.

In the first part, the protagonist, Michael, is sexually assaulted but goes back for more. Calling it a love affair is misleading. It’s infatuation to the extreme. The second book revolves around the woman’s trial for alleged war crimes. The “twist” is that she is illiterate and had this been publicly known would have exonerated her. Who would go to prison for life rather than admit they can’t read? Totally unbelievable for me but then again I’ve had the luxury of an education. The third part continues with Michael’s selfish introspection on the the woman’s importance to him and how her absence is why he never had a stable relationship...whine, whine, whine. Slightly more thoughts on the role of his generation towards their parents.’ Dull writing screwed this book over. If the prose had been beautiful in German it did not translate well.

What are we to take away from The Reader? Michael’s selfishness and moral misgivings prevent him from forgiving the woman enough to genuinely demonstrate his love for her. He makes it clear there will always be a barrier separating them - one he feels neither he nor anyone else can remove. Is this supposed to be symbolic of the divide between generations? Any thoughts? 

Another thing that struck me is the lack of forgiveness in this novel. Blame and punishment are doled out. Regrets are voiced. But not much forgiveness. How can one who is wronged heal if he cannot forgive? How can one who has wronged another be changed if they never ask for forgiveness? Saying "I'm sorry" is easy. Saying, "Will you please forgive me" is hard. It puts oneself at the mercy of another. Does Hanna, the woman, ever really ask for forgiveness? Does she ever receive forgiveness? 

Publisher: Vintage, 2008     Pages: 218
Rating: 2.5 Stars                 Source: IC Public Library

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Forgive me if this post seems a little…phony. Apparently, since I’m an adult it can’t be helped. Or so says Holden Caulfield, teenage wise guy extraordinaire. Did you ever wish as a child that you would never grow up? I know I did. I thought life was as close to perfect as it was going to get and any change could only be bad.

Holden is experiencing this fear of change, too, but on a grander scale. He’s lost his little brother to cancer, a friend has committed suicide and he’s failing school. He is growing up and can’t put adulthood off much longer. Life is sucking. This is where we find Holden when the book opens.

While Holden thinks that nobody understands him countless readers have identified with him throughout the book’s life. The first time I read The Cather in the Rye I disliked it. It was hard for me to feel sorry for a spoiled rich boy who can’t seem to think of anyone but himself. On my second read, I was surprised to find how funny and perceptive Holden is. Granted, his views are tainted with teenage angst and attitude. But much of what Holden perceives as “phony” does warrant criticism. The problem is, Holden has trouble seeing his own phoniness.

The Cather in the Rye brings mortality to the present. Death is always in the future tense (especially for teens) - I will a distant future so far I never need to think about it. However, death is always around us and cares not for time frames. The good news is death tends to leave life in it’s wake. When  you’re grieving, though, the circle-of-life kind of theorizing doesn’t help much. For many survivors who have lost loved ones, life can feel phony.

What Holden experiences is far from phony. Perhaps Holden is not typical, but certainly his experiences with friends, teachers, parents, sexuality and death have an undercurrent of truth which reflect many reader’s feelings.

Publisher: Little, Brown, 2001    Pages: 277
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: IC Public Library

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that, despite the general raving about this text in the blogosphere and elsewhere, I did not like The Handmaid’s Tale.

The fictional regime, “looking out” for women, screws them over and the majority seems to go along with it. Really? It felt like I was reading about Iran's current government, not America. The American attitude about individuals' rights is so ingrained in us that I really don’t ever see something as incredible as Atwood’s dystopia ever existing here, thank goodness. Anywho, the plausibility factor was at zero for me concerning the plot in The Handmaid’s Tale.

As a dysopian novel, all the factors were there. An uber terrifying government and a brainwashed, messed up society: check.
Summary: "Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gildead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in a age of declinning births, Offred and the other Handmiads are valued only if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...

Funny, unexpeted, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid's Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force."
A character getting the boot from said society who knows there's soemthing wrong: check. Crushing of said character's soul: check. Atwood is great with description. Maybe too great. There was at least one disgusting, revolting description of the handmaid's "ceremony," a.k.a. having sex with the Commander while his wife is present to demonstrate her consent (gag). It's graphic and bizarre. I wanted to see Offred revolt and burn the house down.
Spoiler Alert! **************************************************************************

I kept reading to see what, if anything, Offred was going to do. The ending was, I felt, very disappointing. Rescue? By the chauffeur/Offred’s sex outlet? Realistically, she would have been apprehended, killed, whatever. The text leaves a teeny tiny bit of room to believe Offred was caught while escaping but most everything points towards her success.
End Spoiler ***************************************************************************
As a cautionary tale about protecting the rights we women have it somewhat succeeded. As a story it was boring and unbelievable. The writing was just ok (Offred's point of view didn't endear her to me). I’m not completely turned off by Atwood though and suspect I might like her other books. She certainly has imagination and a flare for description (another reason why I kept reading). My suggestion: skip The Handmaid’s Tale and read 1984. It will be much more rewarding and interesting.   

Publisher: Harcourt, 1998     Pages: 320
Rating: 2 Stars     Source: Purchased through Amazon Storefront

Friday, January 7, 2011

Can Books Change Your Life?

Two memes in one week - that's strange for me. But hey, I'm feeling crazy! If you're hopping by check out my giveaway of Numbers and Violet Wings! (U.S. only).

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:
 "What book influenced or changed your life? How did it influence/change you?"

I think this is a great question to put to book readers. I once heard an English literature major say she didn't believe books changed people's lives, that a book could not inspire or prompt someone to change. That made me sad for her and made me wonder why she thought literature was important enough to teach if it could not do anything but entertain. 

In my experience, works of fiction have a slow effect. They might not readily alter my way of thinking, but they do get me to think about other ideas. Fictional works also tend to have small effects but they can certainly shift the way I think about something and consequently my actions. Here's an example. It's been years since I've read Steinbeck's East of Eden but I remember this quote:  
I know that it might be better for you to come out from under your might-have-beens, into the winds of the world. And while I tell you, I am myself sifting my memories, the way men pan the dirt under a barroom floor for the bits of gold dust that fall between the cracks. It's small mining - small mining. You're too young a man to be panning memories, Adam. You should be getting yourself some new ones, so that the mining will be richer when you come to age. (294)
At the time I read that I needed a push to stop feeling sorry for myself and to stop wishing things had been different and to just move forward and  make my life what I wanted it to be. This book also prompted me to take my first literature course which was the first step towards the road I'm now on. =)

What about you? Have you encountered a work of fiction that has changed your life? It seems non-fiction definitely resonates with people and inspires them. But as a heavy fiction readers, why do we read them? They must mean something to us, right?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Third Sentence Thursday: "Weird"

Third Sentence ThursdayThis is my first time participating in Third Sentence Thursday, a weekly meme which is a summit for third sentences in books, hosted by Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books.

This week's theme is Weirdest Sentence:
1) Find a book with a weird third sentence!
2) Post a link to your sentence here or if you don't have a blog, just post it in the comments.
3) Prepare for next week's theme: Third sentence that best describes your mood.

Here's my sentence: "He gave such a strange account of himself that he was supposed demented." - The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. I thought I could count on Wells to be weird. =)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: Mistwood by Leah Cypess

Mistwood was a fast read as many young adult books are. I enjoy their generally quick pace. However, I’ve noticed that such a focus on plot, keeping the story swiftly moving, can make it difficult to leave room for deep character development. This is one book I really would have liked more character development, especially with the secondary characters like the wizard and the princess. I think these characters were interesting and if more time had been given to them they could have added richness to the story. There were a few moments when Cypess uses the dialog or a character’s gestures to bring the characters to life. These were great moments and made reading the book fun. I wanted more of those moments and less flat description.

The point of view is third person and shifted continuously to look at different characters. Several paragraphs would be
Summary: "The Shifter is an immortal creature bound by an ancient spell to protect the kings of Samorna. When the realm is peaceful, she retreats to the Mistwood. But when she is needed she always comes.

Isabel remembers nothing. Nothing before the prince rode into her forest to take her back to the castle. Nothing about who she is supposed to be, or the powers she is supposed to have."
written from Isabel’s perspective –what she was thinking and feeling – then a couple paragraphs from Prince Roken’s, then quickly a few paragraphs from yet another character’s viewpoint. It gave the book a choppy feel. Since Mistwood is all about the Shifter, who and what she is, I think the book would have been stronger with Isabel as a first person narrator.

Isabel’s indecision about which prince to support lasted longer than I would have liked. There were several lines which felt like repeat as she sorted out her emotions and conflicted feelings. I could have done without that much deliberation. And I was somewhat confused by her ultimate decision. I saw it coming – the romantic suggestions being too heavy to leave much doubt – but I was still surprised by the way things concluded. But it was a crazy situation Cypess created for Isabel to figure out.

I liked the story’s ability to surprise me. The political intrigue was fun to follow as the Shifter searched for the truth in the mist surrounding the castle. I like “legends” and the myths about the Shifter were fun. I wish the legends had been explored deeper since they were important to the story. I liked Mistwood but it kept me wanting more – more character, more legend, more imagery. There’s a good beginning here and I have hopes the next book will be even better. 

Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 2010     Pages: 304
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: I won this book from Arena at The Nerd’s Wife. Thanks!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dear Miss Austen

Dear Miss Austen,

It is with regret I am putting your book, Mansfield Park, aside. I am 35% of the way done and I may come back to it. I intend to finish it some day. I want you to know how much I admire you as an author. Your wit and sense of humor, your social commentary, not to mention the pure pleasure of reading your prose, makes this difficult to say. Mansfield Park is lacking that fire and cleverness you have so powerfully displayed in Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and even Persuasion. I'm just not sure what you're trying to do with Fanny Price or Edmund or the Crawfords in this novel. This issue about the play... I can't get interested in the whole affair and it seems to be dragging on. Must Fanny be so sensitive and odd? She's not the type of heroine I can root for.

I do hope you'll forgive me but my leisure time is limitted and so I must turn my attention to a more amusing plot and dialog. Perhaps I am in the wrong mood and Mansfield Park will become more engaging a few weeks or months from now. Maybe I would benefit from a lively discussion with yourself and your admirers about the novel and what it is I'm missing?