Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Scary Stories illustrated by Barry Moser....Review

Scary Stories

Illustrated by Barry Moser

Published: 2006

This is a book of short stories compiled of different authors. There are twenty stories in all. This is the first time I have read a book of short stories by different authors, and I am so very glad I did! It made me want to read more of this kind. I found quite a few new authors that I want to read more of, and several scary stories that I really liked, although I didn’t like all of them. There weren’t any that I found awful, but I definitely had favorites and some that I didn’t care for.

My favorites were:

Kittens by Dean Koontz

The Bus-Conductor by E.F. Benson

The Terrible Old Man by H. P. Lovecraft

John Charrington’s Wedding by E. Nesbit

The Furnished Room by O. Henry

The Man Upstairs by Ray Bradbury

The Music on the Hill by Saki

There were several others I liked by Edgar Allan Poe, Truman Capote, Roald Dahl and a few others, but they weren’t favorites within this collection. There were only a couple I didn’t like, the main one of which was Thanksgiving by Joyce Carol Oates. It didn’t feel like a story, no real beginning or end, it felt more like an excerpt of a larger story.

Overall I really enjoyed reading these stories, they all had a good creepy feel to them without being too gruesome. It was shelved as Young Adult at my library, but I am not sure why, it didn’t feel Young Adult to me and most of the authors represented within it don’t write or haven’t written Young Adult books, It would be appropriate for young adults though. I would recommend this to anyone who likes short stories, especially spooky ones, and likes to look for new authors to read. It would also make a great gift for someone that likes to read haunting tales of various kinds.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Son of a Nutcracker!!

One of my VERY favorite Christmas traditions is going to watch The Nutcracker, performed by Texas Ballet Theater at Bass Hall every year. Everything about it is magical...the music, the costumes, the dancing, the other patrons dressed up in holiday dress, as well as dressing up ourselves. The feeling of Christmas is in the air!
      We sit in the upper gallery as usual to get a great view of the action. When the lights go out, the music starts, and the opening scenes begin, my eyes and heart get a thrill. I love seeing the Staulbaum family gathered for their Christmas party inside their house. There is a beautiful fireplace, Christmas tree, and grand staircase. Along with a large amount of floor space for all the dancing and carrying on. When Herr Drosselmeyer, Clara's godfather, arrives with the nutcracker the excitement kicks into overload.
      The Christmas tree really seems to grow bigger when Clara awakes a small girl in her dream and goes downstairs to find the nutcracker. The mice are funny but do a great job at scaring Clara, and the nutcracker is so wonderful as her rescuer. When he turns into the prince and transforms the mansion into the land of snow the theater starts to have snow falling down on the audience. This is one of my favorite parts, it doesn't actually fall on us in the upper gallery, but it is so magical to see it falling through the air in front of us.
      After intermission Clara and the prince arrive in the Kingdom of Sweets and the dances that are performed for her are an enchanting spectacle. The music makes me want to jump up and dance myself, even though I can't dance haha! When Clara awakes and the story is over I clap wildly and my smile is as wide as a Cheshire cat!!...but I am also sad I have to wait a whole year to see it again.
      The Nutcracker premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in December of 1892. Tchaikovsky's music was blended with the choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to form the ballet which is based on the story 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King' written in 1816 by German author E.T.A. Hoffman. The San Francisco Ballet premiered the ballet in America in 1944. I love that every year I get to be a part of something that has been making Christmas magical for people for that long. The only way it could get better for us is if the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra were to play the music live in the pit as we watched. My eldest wild thing and I lament that missing piece every year, but we don't lament long, it's just too good to worry about it.
      Another fun part of the evening is shopping before the show. They have all kinds of Nutcracker goodies set up in the foyer area of the Hall. We bought two ornaments this year, one of Clara with her nutcracker, her dress is made of real lace. The other is Herr Drosselmeyer with his nutcracker gift, his cape is real and velvety. We had a fun, enchanting evening at the show, full of magic and wonder....can't wait for next year!!
Merry Christmas everyone and  have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote...Review

A Christmas Memory
By Truman Capote
Original Copyright: 1956
Published as a book with illustrations by Beth Peck: 1989

I love this book. Let me just say that again, "I love this book." It is so very sweet, and sad, and sweet, and sad. It is sadly sweet. Truman Capote does a wonderful job at putting the reader in the story. I can imagine and feel everything that happens. I am in the little old house, I am a seven year old boy but also a sixty-something year old woman. I am excited for Christmas, and fruitcake making, I love Queenie the dog and am completely enthralled in everything that happens and all of the preparations that have to be made in the story. Every word evokes the love that the two main characters have for one another, and the simple friendship that keeps their lives interesting and full, even though they don't travel far from their "kitchen with its view of a sky that stops". In fact it reminds me that to have a rich life one doesn't need to travel far or do extravagant things, all that is needed is a joyful and generous heart, gratitude for the people around us, and a cheerful imagination.
      The sixty-something year old woman in the story calls the seven year old boy Buddy, they are distant cousins and live together in a little old house that is "inhabited" by other relatives. She is "still a child" Buddy explains to us, he is the one that tells us the story. He explains that they do all sorts of things throughout the year to earn money so they can make fruitcakes at Christmas. A day in November comes when the woman declares it "fruitcake weather!". They gather, prepare, and buy everything they need and then make the fruitcakes. Their little rat terrier Queenie is with them throughout the story. They also cut down their own Christmas tree, make their own Christmas decorations, and their own presents. The other adults in the house are not always nice to them, but they stick together. The woman loves the Lord, always tries to do good, is always thinking of others, and is very superstitious with a funny little set of rules that she lives by. When she wishes she could get Buddy a bicycle for Christmas she tells him, "It's bad enough in life to do without something you want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want them to have."
      Tears come to my eyes several times throughout this story every time I read it. It is autobiographical to Capote's life, which makes it even better. My favorite quote from the book comes from the woman, at the end of Christmas day when they are flying the kites they made for each other she tells Buddy, "As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."
      I would recommend this for kids and adults alike. It is a favorite that I pull out each Christmas, and even read it at different times throughout the year.
Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Help for the Haunted by John Searles...Review

Help for the Haunted

By John Searles

Copyright 2013

In the novel Help for the Haunted, John Searles did a good job at keeping me interested and wanting to know what would happen next. There was a lot of suspense throughout the story, and many of the chapters ended in a cliff hanger so that I couldn’t wait to move to the next one. The main setting was a small town in Massachusetts called Dundalk. Most of the action took place in the main characters home which was the only home in a neighborhood of nothing but foundations where houses had been started and not finished. I could picture this lone home vividly as well as the abandoned neighborhood surrounding it. There were some other locations thrown in that added to the haunted feel of the book, an old church with looming statues and a dilapidated old theatre with faulty wiring. The atmosphere was a good one for anyone that likes to be put in an eerie and uncertain mood.

                The story begins with 14yo Sylvie lying awake at night hearing her parents talk to someone on the phone. They do this often, people call them at all hours to ask for help with their “haunted” problems, they are paranormal investigators. They agree to meet this person at an old church despite the fact that there is a snowstorm outside, they take Sylvie with them. First her father goes in the church leaving her and her mother in the car, when it takes him too long her mom follows and leaves Sylvie alone. She falls asleep, and when she awakes some time later they are still not back so she heads to the church to see why. Once inside something frightful happens that even Sylvie can’t quite explain despite the fact that she was there. With her parents now gone she ends up in the care of her 19yo hard to manage and irresponsible sister, Rose. The rest of the novel is made up of memories Sylvie slowly remembers, answers to questions she asks from others around her, and information she is able to dig up through haphazard research. I liked this process of learning about the story, it unfolded slowly but kept me interested most of the time. Sometimes I felt like I knew where things were going, then they would switch once Sylvie remembered something else. Sometimes Sylvie would realize something without telling the reader, I would have to wait in wonder for a chapter or so before I too would be shown the revelation.

                Now that I have said I liked the process of the story unfolding slowly, let me also say it felt a little too slow sometimes. There was a lot of detail to remember and refer back to, it was fun and the author did a good job at writing an intelligent mystery of sorts that kept me guessing, but at the same time it was so lengthy and detailed that by the time I got to the end I was glad it was over. My favorite books are the ones that leave me wishing for more. I felt like it had climbed toward a major climax, like a roller coaster slowly clicking its cars up a mountain, but then the climax didn’t seem as eventful after climbing for so long.

I liked the characters in the sense that they were multifaceted, they weren’t always good or always bad. Sylvie, Rose, and their parents had faults and things that drove me crazy about them, but they also had redeeming qualities which made me care about them. I felt the story and characters were believable, and the storyline stayed with reality all the way through. I was glad, I don’t like reading a book only to find in the end that it has impossible aspects thrown in after I’ve invested a ton of time in it thinking it was grounded in reality. I was worried about this all the way through, it had the potential to go either way. “For centuries humans have believed in God, Buddha, Yahweh, and so many forms of a higher power. And yet, not one can be seen. Why do the same people who believe in those deities doubt the existence of darker spirits? I ask all of you, how can a person believe in the light but not the dark? How, when all evidence points to the basic facts of dualities?” This quote sums up the theme of the story, and because of that the believability factor could have gone either way. So could the darkness factor. I don’t like stories that lean toward being dark, I was worried about that as I read along also, but this one wasn’t. It stayed light and leaned toward the good, never really making fun of religion or a person’s beliefs, just telling a neutral story about an interesting, and spooky topic. It always came back to the darkness that humans are capable of all on their own, no darker spirits needed.

I really enjoyed the perspective also, I had never thought about what it would be like to be the daughter of paranormal investigators. Sylvie doesn’t always have it easy with her peers, she is whispered about, made fun of, targeted for pranks, and her family is referred to as the Addams family. Her parents are not liked or understood by most people, many don’t agree with or believe in what they do. As a kid those things would be, and are for Sylvie, hard to deal with.  

All in all I thought this was a good read, a little long and drawn out, but good! I would recommend it for anyone who likes suspense and a paranormal, ghostly feel to their stories.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Who Wants a Dragon? by James Mayhew...Review

Who Wants a Dragon?
By James Mayhew
Illustrated by Lindsey Gardiner
Copyright: 2004

This is a sweet and simple little book with BEAUTIFUL illustrations. I have to say, for me, the illustrator steals the show in this book. There is a small amount of text about a poor lost little dragon that no one wants. He tries to make friends with several different characters at the castle, but it isn't until his mommy finds him at the end that he ends up with someone who will, "cuddle him, and kiss him, and help him sleep tight." Cute! Very sweet! The wow factor though are the drawings. So bright, adorable, whimsical, and full of fun little details. If I were having a baby now, or if I had when I bought this several years ago, I would decorate the babies room in these illustrations. Bravo to the artist!!!
     My kids enjoyed this book also, and it is simple enough that they could read it when they were early readers just learning how. The illustrations helped there too as they really liked looking them over as they went along. It is a great book to read aloud to preschool age, as it is short and sweet with vivid pictures to hold their attention.
Happy Reading!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke...Review

The Hottest State

By Ethan Hawke

Copyright 1996

The very first thing I must say about ‘The Hottest State’ is that its author, Ethan Hawke, pleasantly surprised me. It was good! I wanted to read this for several reasons, none of which were that I like romances (because I don't for the most part), or that I thought it would be good. I wanted to read it because as a teenager I LOVED the actor Ethan Hawke, he was so handsome and cool, on screen and off, his characters were always exactly what I wanted in a boyfriend. Then I saw an ad a couple of months ago that he had written a book (a different one, he has three now), and was doing an author meet a couple hours from my home. WHAT?!?! I was going to have a chance to meet Ethan Hawke?! I am an adult not really thinking about boyfriends now, but I still like him as an actor. He is still handsome, has stayed pretty Ethan-esque, same cool guy personae he had 20 years ago, and as far as I know hasn’t gone off the deep end like a lot of actors do over time. So, I wanted to meet him, and as a reader I wanted to have read at least one of his books when I met him, but I wasn’t really expecting much.

                The story is told by William, a young actor born in Texas but living in New York. He isn’t a big time actor, but works enough at small parts to pay his bills. Although he has lived in New York and New Jersey since he was about six, when his mother left his father and moved east, he thinks a lot about his dad and the time that he spent in Texas. He meets Sarah, a young, shy, and self-conscience girl trying to make it as a singer. Sarah isn’t conventionally pretty, but he falls in love with her quirky looks and personality. A simple-for-him, but complicated-for-her, love story makes up the rest of the novel. “Back at my window, looking out at what was now HER door, I had the profound feeling that my life had changed. I did. Like when a kid lying in bed late at night stares at his dark ceiling and figures out for the first time that he, yes, even he will die.” William is mad about Sarah, but she can’t figure out why, or be confident in his feelings for her. He can’t figure out why she can’t just be happy they found each other, and move forward with their relationship. He tries all kinds of things he thinks she will find romantic to win her over.

It was a very sweet story, but tinged with sadness throughout, not just the love story but also the thoughts and memories William has about his childhood and his relationship with his mother and father, as well as how he feels about himself at times. “I saw any success I had as an actor as the mark of my greatest character flaw. The one thing I was good at was pretending to be someone else. I was disappointed that there was a market for it.” William’s character felt autobiographical to Ethan. I was able to hear his voice as a writer loud and clear through the whole novel, sometimes I felt like I was sitting and listening to him tell it over coffee. I read his biography and many things about William were the same as himself. I couldn’t shake the feeling that many of the thoughts and feelings William had, maybe not the story itself, but the emotions and reactions William had to people, circumstances, and situations were torn from Ethan’s own experiences and heart.

The story was well structured, short and simple, but had a richly textured depth to it. His characters were believable and I found myself invested in them and their story. I smiled at the end, was glad that I had read it, will try one of his others, and had a different view on Ethan Hawke. I was very disappointed because I did not get to go to the author meet after all. The timing of it didn’t work out for me, but I will NOT miss the next one if there is one, and I truly hope there is. If I get another chance I will be there in line, but not to meet Ethan Hawke the actor, it will be to meet Ethan Hawke the writer.
As an extra bit of goodness…being the nerdy reader I am I read a book from cover to cover once I decide to invest in it. So, I read the acknowledgements, and I thought he put cute ones in there to his mom and dad: “Special thanks go to my father, James Hawke, for being so accepting of all the baggage that accompanies a son who aspires to a life in the arts. And finally, I thank my mother, Leslie Green Hawke: Lost Princess of Abilene, Queen of the River, and Patron Saint of my favorite bird, the lark.” *smile*