Frankenstein

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

At once a Gothic thriller, a romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. It was an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres. It not only tells a disturbing story, but also raises profound questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos.

My Review

I am a Halloween Scrooge. There. I said it. I despise the gruesome, gory, bloody, and scary. I hate haunted houses. The idea of putting out so much effort, walking around for hours in the cold, just to trade candy around the neighborhood never really made sense to me. I do like dressing up, but that’s the only aspect of Halloween that holds any appeal.

Which is probably why I never even considered reading Frankenstein until just a few weeks ago. I consider myself a fan of classic literature. I’ve read my fair share, most of it even by choice and not because of English class assignments. In my wanderings at Barnes and Noble I had noticed Frankenstein in the Classics section plenty of times, but I was not interested enough to even pick it up. I believed the pop culture version of Frankenstein and was just sure this “horror” story would have nothing to offer a detester of Halloween such as myself.

About 2 months ago I joined a book club and one of the members chose Frankenstein as the read for the month of October. Several members talked about how they remembered loving it in their high school English classes, but I was skeptical. Another member told about how Mary Shelley had come up with the story and that piqued my interest. Finding a copy for free on iBooks was a perk. I decided to have an open mind give the book a try.

Boy was it a whole lot different than what I thought it would be. First off I was immediately drawn in by the language. Such beauty and intelligence! There were words I had never heard or seen before and I enjoyed looking them up and expanding my vocabulary. I loved the imagery, depth of meaning, and perfect poetic word choice.

The references to ancient classic literature, history, and geography expanded my knowledge on interests as well. I found myself wishing I knew more about Milton’s Paradise Lost, the alchemists Victor studies, and Prometheus. A deeper understanding of these and the other literary and historical works and figures Shelley references would only heighten my appreciation of her book. I am in awe of her talent and intelligence, and her descriptions of Europe, particularly the lakes and mountains of the Alps had me ready to hop the next plane over the Atlantic.

As far as theme goes, Frankenstein couldn’t be further from a “horror” story. It truly is a study of humanity through tragic heroes and villains; in fact, the main characters fulfill both roles at various times. As a reader who appreciates and connects with characters first and foremost, this book spoke to my soul.

The book illuminates so many philosophical and moral questions: What makes someone or something a monster? How should we deal with the consequences of our actions? When does passion become obsession? When does it become dangerous? How should we balance the security and happiness of one or the few with the security and happiness of the many? What moral limitations should there be on discovery and science? I loved that Shelley poses these questions not through a sermon but only through presentation; which means she doesn’t provide an answer to any of the questions, just the food for thought.

I will admit that there were times when the introspection of all 3 of the narrators got a little long even for me who loves character insight. I was ready for the actual plot and mystery to move a little more quickly, but that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of this beautiful and tragic piece of true literature.

Age Recommendation: This one with the subject matter and classic prose is definitely better suited for mature readers.  18 and older would be my suggestion though 16 and 17 year olds with practice in the classics would appreciate it as well.

Appropriateness: Frankenstein is full of mental illness, murder, revenge, cruelty, and obsession, but none of that is glorified. These follies of natural man are used to educate and entertain combined with superb voice and skill with words make this completely appropriate for mature readers and an ideal choice for book clubs.  There is so much discussion material (see my review above for question ideas). Just reading other reviews on Goodreads and Amazon I could see the wide range of opinions about the characters and themes. I’m looking forward to discussing with my book club next week.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Frankenstein then I think you would also enjoy Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel both by Daphne Du Maurier, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

 

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Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.

Cash Valley

Cash ValleyCash Valley by Ryan K. Nelson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

When FBI Agent Alex Travis receives an anonymous phone call one morning in 1954 with a tip concerning the now cold case of the Cache County Bank robbery, it has his undivided attention. The tip leads Travis to the top of the secluded Green canyon in Logan, Utah, where he meets a young man named Jack Pepper.  Jack’s story spans two years from the time of the robbery, and involves his girlfriend, Kate Austin, and the crime of the century for the Cache valley. Travis must decide if he is dealing with the suspects or the victims of one of the largest bank robberies in U.S. history.

To get the answers, it will take one more trip up the canyon, to the entrance of the Spring Hollow mine, where the daylight ends and the cold dark begins.

My Review

I very much enjoyed the setting and premise of Cash Valley. I have tried to fight my connection to the mountains at times in my life, but I have finally come to accept and relish the fact that my happiness and peace in life is tied to my landscape. And mountains reign supreme in my world. The characters in Cash Valley share my love of wilderness so they felt like pals right away. The Cache Valley area of Utah is particularly beautiful in its wildness and the author captures the feel of that place perfectly.

I was drawn in further by the history in the story. I enjoyed the tidbits of information the author gave about the time period and the location. And I just couldn’t pass up a plot involving a bank robbery in the wild west.

The characters are good people, heroic, but still flawed. I was rooting for the “star-crossed lovers.” The author’s voice is enjoyable. It is neither too flowery and puffed up, or too basic and juvenile. The author has several clever plays on words as well. His writing is perfect for this type of book – good, clean fun and excitement.

The only reason Cash Valley gets 3 stars instead of 4 is that I was disappointed in the method of storytelling use in the first half. For almost 100 pages the plot building and progression is done through characters telling other characters about events that happened in the past. It got a little old and was a little distracting because one of the characters told the events with much more detailed language than I think would be natural in that type of situation. The author also uses interruptions from the other character as a device to build suspense. It worked well the first few times, but after that I felt it distracted more from the flow and no longer achieved the purpose of suspense.

My wish is that the author had used more literary formats and devices than just a character retell and dialogue. Some flashbacks, maybe a written statement from characters, journal entries, or even just starting the story earlier in the events would have helped.

The pacing and flow definitely picked up after the character retelling was completed. It was a rush of excitement to the end.
Age Recommendation: I think ages 15 and up would enjoy and understand this book best.

Appropriateness: Fighting, gun-slinging bandits, thievery, and an intent to rape are part of the plot, but all is written tastefully with no crassness and no glorifying the violence and cruelty. I didn’t find anything offensive.

Other Book Recommendations: If Cash Valley interests you then you should also try Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Relic by Renee Collins, Enna Burning by Shannon Hale, Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn, and Charlotte’s Rose by Ann Edwards Cannon.

 

 

 

Q&A with Melanie Bateman

time-key_9781462118564-360x54014916626I was lucky to get to read The Time Key by Melanie Bateman and to participate in a blog tour. I also got to ask Melanie these questions:

1.Where did the idea for The Time Key come from?

Melanie: A lot of ideas from over the years went into writing The Time Key, but it really all came together just before my daughter turned one. My husband and I were having a discussion and he mentioned that if anything ever happened to our daughter and me he would probably turn into a miserable drunk. That’s when Stanley came to life for me, and the rest of the plot just came along as I wrote.

2. If you could go back in time and talk to your past self, is there a specific time you would go back to? What would you tell yourself? 

Melanie: That’s a hard one. I’d probably go back to when I was a little girl and all I wanted was to be an animator and work for Disney. I used to spend all day drawing horses, but it was a love-hate relationship because they just never seemed to turn out good enough (it still seems that way). I would probably tell myself to never give up on that dream. One day those beautiful drawings will illustrate a story, and you will be so proud.

3. Is there a part of The Time Key that was your favorite to write? Is there a part you are particularly proud of? 

Melanie: I always looked forward to writing scenes where Stanley and Lena interact with each other. I love their relationship.

I worked really hard on the voice of my narrator, and I think I achieved what I was trying to do with it. It all came together nicely at the end, and I’m very proud of it. If you’ve finished the story I think you’ll know what I mean.

4. Were any characters in the book inspired by real people? 

Melanie: Like I mentioned before, the idea of Stanley was inspired by husband, but they are nothing alike. Lena’s fiery personality I borrowed from my daughter, even though I began to write while she was a baby. But it’s been interesting to see how much feistier she is the older she gets. In a lot of ways, Lena is very much like my daughter.

5. What kind of research did you do for the settings in the past? Have you been to London before? 

Melanie: Just a lot of reading. I’ve never been to London, so I had to research a lot about the area to get the details right (memoirs, articles, blogs, etc.). The London part was easy compared to researching Andalucía and the Roma community there, since I wanted to borrow facts about real people to match a fantasy theme, while trying to remain respectful to their culture and traditions. I read a lot of books from the time period as well, and that helped me get the right tone. And because this is a time travel story with different dimensions, I left a few clues here and there to give away that maybe this story is set in a different dimension from the one we know.

6. Do you have any plans for more books? 

Melanie: When I started The Time Key I had an idea for three stories that are linked together. I’m currently researching the second story. I wanted to write them as stand-alone books, however, so you don’t necessarily need to read the first one to understand the next one. Nothing set in stone, though.

Check out my review of The Time Key here.

Want to buy The Time Key? You can do that from Amazon here and from Barnes and Noble here. 

Find out more about Melanie and her book at melaniebateman.com

Follow along with the blog tour and find out what others have been saying about The Time Key: 

“The Time Key” blog tour schedule:
June 16: Community Bookstop
June 17: Jodi Woody
June 18: Making Life a Bliss Complete
June 19: Kaylee Baldwin
June 20: Rockin’ Book Reviews
June 21: 2 Kids and Tired Books
June 22: Choco Meiske | Literature Approved | Fire and Ice
June 23: Bookworm Lisa
June 24: The Reader’s Salon
June 25: Bookworm Nation
June 26: Wishful Endings
June 27: Connie’s Bookmark
June 28: Once Upon a Time
June 29: Storyweaver
June 30: The Unabridged Girl
July 1: Mel’s Shelves
July 2: Blooming with Books
July 3: The Book Addict | Inklings and Notions
July 4: Novel-ties
July 5: Singing Librarian Books
July 6: Reading Lark
July 7: Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews 

The Time Key and my First Blog Tour

time-key_9781462118564-360x540I’m so excited! Melanie Bateman is the author of The Time Key and she invited me to participate in a blog tour.  I can’t wait to get wrapped up in this time travel adventure.  I’ll be posting on June 24 as part of the blog tour.

Check out my review here.  And don’t miss out on my interview with the author here.

Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

finished this book for the umpteenth time over 4 months ago, and I loved it just as much as every other time that I’ve read it. So you’d think a review would have been easy, but this is a complicated book to talk about without giving too much away. I tried getting my thoughts in order right after finishing it but with moving into a new house about the same time, taking care of 4 kids, and training for a marathon I just ran out of time and brain power for awhile. Now the marathon is over and there seems to be a brief calm in the storm of house and yard projects so I think I might have enough focus for a review. I’m sure the package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Oreos I just finished off will help me focus too.

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

A young and inexperienced lady’s maid is quickly and surprisingly swept of her feet by the wealthy and charming widower, Maxim de Winter. They are married quickly and return to his estate where the new Mrs. de Winter tries to find her place in a way of life she knows nothing about, and where the memory of Max’s first wife seems to overshadow every room, conversation, and event.  Rebecca’s power from beyond the grave haunts the new, timid bride until all hope for the marriage seems lost. But when the past resurfaces assumptions are questioned and hard choices have to be made.

My Review

This time reading Rebecca I noticed much more how little action there really is in the plot and yet I still consider this one of the greatest and suspense books of all time. So I have to ask myself, what is it that rivets me? What really makes it so great?

Well to start the writing is a work of art. Such intelligent and insightful description without being pompous or overdone. On the first page we read, “Nature had come into her own again and little by little in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers.” Describing an overgrown driveway like this gives not only a visual, but also a feeling. Giving nature a persona, making it a character, continues throughout the book. The descriptions truly give nature power and influence in not just the setting but in the events as well. Nature also plays the role of clairvoyant; it provides omens of the events to come, good or bad.

The method of plot development is also very unique. As I said, not that much actually happens in the book. There are a few events that occur, but the true conflict in the story is rooted in something that happened in the characters’ pasts. To reveal that past and to develop how it affects the present there is so much storytelling that happens within the head of the first-person narrator. Her own misconceptions provide the plot base for pretty much the whole first half of the book and then a major revelation and her having to realign her misconceptions is essentially the plot for the second half. That could sound pretty boring – a story happening inside a character’s mind much of the time – but Du Maurier masterfully builds tension through description that makes the pages come alive and characterizations that resurrect ghosts.

Some of the most intriguing characterization comes from the contrast in the narrator and Rebecca. Just their names give insight – the first name of our plain, quiet, unassuming narrator is never given. After she and Max are married she is Mrs. de Winter and we are given no other title with which to identify her. She is the narrator and main character, but the title of the book is “Rebecca.” Rebecca is the name we all know and love, or dread depending on the perspective. Just this little detail in the use of character names reveals so much about the characters themselves as well as the book’s themes.

Ah, and the themes in this book! This is where it becomes difficult to not give too much away. My previous post discussed one theme – choices and consequences and how misconceptions affect both. Mrs. De Winter spends so much time living out “what if’s” in her mind, playing out elaborate scenarios which have such detail that we as readers and the narrator take them to be reality.

The theme that makes this book unique and, so I’ve been told, even controversial in some book clubs, is determining the morality of the character’s actions. Do their motivations matter? Should the choices of others be taken into consideration? Is justice served at the end? Not only do we analyze the character’s choices and the resulting consequences, but we get to ask ourselves how we feel about them. We know what is wrong and right according to law and our conscience. Do the events of this book go against that knowledge? Is your heart reacting differently than you think it should? I have spoken with some who were uncomfortable confronting these kind of “greys” in the moral spectrum, but they are what take this book beyond being just a beautifully written and suspenseful romance and into the realm of a Classic.

Age Recommendation: High School age and older. Definitely for mature readers. I wouldn’t say the writing is difficult to read, but it is more “old-fashioned” and intelligent than your average work of fiction. The themes and events of the book also need a discerning mind.

Appropriateness: I would recommend it for any book club or high school and college English class, but as I said, there are some who have found it more controversial. But that just gives even more material for great discussion! No offensive or off-color language that I remember. No detailed sexual content, just married couple kissing and some reference that indicates a married couple were intimate.

Book Recommendations: If you like Rebecca I recommend Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel both by Daphme Du Maurier. You may also like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak,  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Eruption by Adrienne Quintana.

If you have already read the book….

Here some of the ingenious aspects and insights that I loved reading Rebecca this time:

  1. On page 36 The narrator talks about wanting to bottle memory and I could so relate! There are just those perfect moments that you wish you could somehow keep forever just the way they are. How would it be to uncork the memory at some later date and have it to relive all over again? But isn’t that the irony?  Those moments are so perfect because we are completely IN them.  We are present, not worried about the past or future, just there. I can relate to the narrator’s melancholy that comes afterward as well, when you realize you can’t bottle the memory and it will fade. The joy and sadness combined make the moment that much more powerful.
  2. On page 44 the narrator describes how traveling changes you.  You leave something behind whenever you a leave a place while at the same time part of that place comes with you and makes you a different person than you were before.  I love that about traveling.  And I love that reading books can have the same effect.
  3. In Chapter 15 Mrs. De Winter goes to visit Maxim’s grandmother.  She compares the elderly to children. They can both be a hassle and tiring, but we try to be polite anyway. She points out though, that we can remember being children and so can better understand them; maybe that gives us more patience.  We have not been old yet and so may not be able to relate as well. But as Mrs. De Winter thinks about how the grandmother may have been as a young lady, it gives her more sympathy.  My grandmother is declining with alzheimer’s and I could completely relate to the thoughts and feelings expressed.
  4. It’s fascinating how reading the book for the first time you can get caught up in the idea that Maxim must still be in love with Rebecca. The way Mrs. De Winter perceives all the events, descriptions, and interactions sure makes it seem that way.  And Rebecca played her deception well. But when you read it again know the truth there are so many hints and clues to the true nature of Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship.
  5. I have always been amazed at the clear picture of Rebecca that is painted for us and for Mrs. De Winter. She is dead from the start of the book and yet we learn more about her than we do of the narrator.  Of course because she is dead, all we know about Rebecca comes from people’s descriptions of her beauty and talents, and from the things she left behind. Her handwriting, her clothes, her coat, her smell, her habits as described by the staff, and her style still left at Manderley give Rebecca presence and influence even beyond the grave.  However, none of these things reveal her character and so we can be misled just like Mrs. De Winter.

View all my reviews

Rebecca – just a little taste

Rhododendron – you’ll never look at them the same after reading this book.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  These words are like an old friend. They set the stage for the beautiful mystery that is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

We moved to a new house a few weeks ago so reading has been a luxury I’ve given up the last month or so in order to do packing and unpacking. But tonight I wanted to escape into a story for awhile.  Maybe because my focus has been on our house recently I was drawn to a story in which a house plays such a significant role. You could say that the Manderley estate is one of the characters in Rebecca.  It’s the first thing we are introduced to; it’s the first chapter and the first line.

I was only able to read a chapter and a half tonight, but the beauty of the prose and the genius description in just those few pages completely pulled me in. “Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers.” Talk about perfection in verb and adjective usage. Du Maurier was an artist; she knew how to paint a picture with words.

This book makes it into my top 5 favorites. I have read it so many times I’ve lost count, and I can’t wait to get lost in its pages again. I’m looking forward to having a forum this time in which I can share the greatness of Rebecca with others, so I will keep my actual book review for after I finish, but this book is just SO GOOD right from the start that I had to share some love now. If you haven’t read Rebecca pick it up and let’s journey through it’s intricate characterization and haunting beauty together.