Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is just ... marvelous.  I know that sounds contrived, but really it isn't.  I adored this book.  Ophelia is an eleven-year-old girl who is spending her winter vacation in a cold, drafty museum while her father prepares an exhibit showcasing the world history of swords.  This is a difficult time for Ophelia, her sister Alice and their father.  The girls are mourning the loss of their mother and their father is unable to talk about her.  Ophelia's grief is made tangible by the many mentions of how long it has been since her mother's death.  Each time she looks at a clock or her watch, she thinks something similar to "it was exactly three months, nine days, and half an hour since her mother had died."  I found her exactness in remembering the time without her mother heartbreaking.

While wondering through this museum that is reportedly large enough for many children to have become lost and never found, Ophelia discovers a locked door that she cannot resist.  I knew I was going to love her character when she was described this way:  "Ophelia didn't consider herself  brave, but she was very curious."  Curiosity is a wonderful quality and leads to so many great adventures.  Once Ophelia peeks inside that keyhole, she is set for the adventure of her life. Inside she sees a young boy just her age, but she soon learns that he has been held captive inside that room for over seventy years, never aging.  In fact, his inability to age is exactly what makes him the Marvelous Boy.  Imprisoned by the Snow Queen, this boy needs Ophelia's help to escape and defeat the Snow Queen before she is able to destroy the world.

This is a very exciting book and just the kind of thing that I think my children would enjoy added to our summer reading list.  It is beautifully written and so much fun to read.  While I do often feel irked that fiction, be it books or movies (I'm looking at you, Disney) seem so often to kill off the mother, in this case it didn't bother me so much.  Perhaps that was because the mother was present throughout the book via flashback as Ophelia recalled her mother's illness.  It felt as though it were giving her, and so other young readers, an opportunity to come to terms with something so difficult.  I absolutely loved this book.  Pick this book up and save it for a chilly winter read or enjoy it now to counteract the heat of summer.  I hope you will love it, too.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards

Every summer, I pick a few books to read to my children who are currently seven and ten.  We've read some wonderful things together and I believe it helps foster a love of reading.  I am always happy when we can all get involved in a book together.  The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards was the first of our summer reading this year.  Sadly, it has taken us over a month to get through it.  Perhaps there is something I am missing because this book has an average rating of 4.25 on Goodreads, but we didn't like it at all.

I knew from the very first chapter that I wasn't going to be a fan when the children in the book meet a strange man at the zoo, then end up at his house on Halloween when they are trick-or-treating alone and go into his house.  Then I was even more unhappy when he promises to take them on a fantastic adventure, but they cannot tell their parents anything about it!  I understand that this is fiction and was written even before I was born and so it was a different time, but I have a hard time as a mother being sure that my own children can make the distinction.  I had to stop reading several times to remind them that it is a book and they are never to do what the children in this story were doing.  For me, that really takes something away from the experience.  

Also frustrating for us was that the storytelling style just seemed far too slow.  There was a lot of detail given, but it felt as if the narration went on and on with very little accomplished.  To be honest, we all felt that it was just terrible.  I am truly sorry to Mrs. Edwards.  We love Julie Andrews, but her book didn't work for us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The book club selection for July is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  Sadly, I must admit that this is my first Neil Gaiman read.  I have been hearing a lot about Fortunately, the Milk and The Graveyard Book but I haven't gotten to them yet.  After reading this one, I will have to be sure to bump them up my to-read list.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a man who returns to his hometown for a funeral.  As he takes a drive between services to clear his head, he finds himself at the home of a long lost friend, Lettie.  As he sits on a bench overlooking her backyard pond, he recalls the strange events surrounding their short friendship before she moved away.  Lettie called the pond an ocean and at first he can't remember why, but as he lingers he is bombarded by memories of the most unusual things.  

Initially intended as a short story, Gaiman's tale grew until it necessitated a novel of its own.  This is a short book that only took me three days of short reads to finish. I was pulled in to the story and was anxious to discover the truth behind the mysteries.  I do feel slightly dissatisfied with the answers at the end.  I was hoping for more detail, more clarity.  Perhaps the reader is meant to invent her own solutions.  This was a fun book to read and I enjoy a good fairy tale, but I wouldn't call this one you just have to add to your collection.  Check it out at the library, read it and return it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Wow!  Occasionally, as a reader we come across something truly original, something extraordinary.  The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is just that.  I will admit that it was a bit of a slow start for me and at the beginning of summer when things are busy I didn't have the time to devote to it that I had wished. Once I was able to really sink my teeth into it, I was hooked.  

Sometime in the not too distant future we have become dependent upon our personal electronic devises, known as Memes in Graedon's novel.  Memes are our phones, our contact lists, they order our groceries and hail our taxis.  More than that, they are an extension of our memories, remembering things and people for us.  Some people have taken it a step further and had a microchip implanted in their brains and the newest upgrade is a device that attaches directly to one's forehead that interacts with one's brain function, supplying a constant stream of information ranging from the current temperature to the names of the other people in the room.  It even serves to replay memories complete with sounds, tastes and smells.  As we have become more and more digitized, print has neared extinction.  Newspapers no longer exist, books are a rarity and libraries have become private museums.  One character said this: "And I tried, for about two minutes, to read a book, until my mind collapsed in boredom."  Adding irony to it all, I read this on my Kindle so each time a character mentioned how unusual reading from books had become, I felt slightly chastened.  

As people have continued to use their Memes to communicate, play games and conduct business, it seems their intellectual capabilities have weakened.  "Our facility for refection has dimmed, taking with it our skill for deep and unfettered thinking."  The Word Exchange is actually the way people look up the definitions on their Memes as they have increasingly forgotten their meanings.  Each definition has a cost of course.  "Suffice it to say that as our idiom shrinks, the Word Exchange has become far more lucrative."  One of the features I like about my Kindle is the option to look up any words I don't know.  Graedon intentionally included many obscure words and I found myself clicking define often.  See if you recognize any of these:

discrete (no, not discreet)

That's quite a list, isn't it?

Unfortunately for the users of this technology, a virus is being spread only it isn't your typical computer virus.  This one, called the Word Flu, involves code fusing with your DNA.  Symptoms include fever, nausea, muscle aches and aphasia- the inability to speak coherently. Victims usually don't realize their speech has altered and it is spread simply by hearing an infected person speak even over the phone or the television.  The word flu can be fatal, but even those who survive are rendered mute.  And who is responsible for this?  Hackers?  A nefarious corporation hoping to capitalize on society's Meme addictions?  The conspiracy theories abound and add to the excitement.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was brilliantly conceived and expertly executed.  It was not an easy read, my brain was certainly stretched, but as made clear by the plot that is a good thing.  This is exactly the kind of book that I wish had been a book club selection because I would love to have a nice long discussion about it.  There are so many interesting points that it deserves thorough analysis.  If you read it, let me know.  I would really love to discuss it with you! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is a book that intrigued me from the moment I saw it on the bookshelf.  I love historical fiction and I was interested when I read the synopsis.  Francis Osgood is a writer and a mother who has recently been abandoned by her husband in 1845 New York.  Taken in by friends, she continues to write and participate in society under the guise that her husband is only away for a while, working as a portrait painter.  While in attendance at a literary salon, she meets Edgar Poe and his young wife.  At the time, everyone is fascinated with the recent publication of "The Raven."  Mrs. Poe and her mother often entertain Mrs. Osgood and it is through these visits that she and Mr. Poe come to know one another and quickly fall in love.  Mrs. Osgood's writing improves as she and Mr. Poe anonymously send love poems to one another through publication in his literary magazine. 

At first I was really enjoying this book, but it didn't take long to begin to annoy me.  I love the historical aspect of it and I was interested when it seemed as though the relationship between Mr. Poe and Mrs. Osgood was going to remain purely literary.  I was disappointed when it did not.  I will say that I was amused when, typical of myself, I did not see coming the Poe-like twist at the end.  The novel wrapped up strangely and the true facts of the characters did not leave Ms. Cullen much opportunity for a happily ever after.