Monday, June 28, 2010


From My Memory
As soon as I decided to begin my Childhood Challenge, I sat down and started making a list of the books I wanted to re-read (and, in many cases, find and re-buy). One book in particular snuck into the back of my mind and stayed there, tickling my memories and giving me vague impressions of a book I used to love. The details that sporadically came to me were vague and not very helpful in my quest to find the book: a boy tried to help a woman trapped in a house; the police didn't believe him; the boy is a student; I was pretty sure the boy was searching for his teacher and found her locked in an old mansion. After frustrating searches, another--more helpful--detail popped into my head: The woman's name was Miss Peacock.

That aided in my search, and yet, you might find it surprising how many books have peacock and disappearance in their titles (I was convinced the book was called The Disappearance of Miss Peacock or some similar title). It took some patience and a lot of searching on Google and Amazon before I found the book I was looking for: Mystery at Peacock Place by M.F. Craig.

It was a good thing I remembered the cover of the book and that I recognized it when I saw it because I was off by a few details. Miss Peacock was not the boy's teacher, nor did the boy being a student have anything to do with the plot. After thinking about my confusion, the only thing I could come up with was that I was mixing this book with Matilda by Roald Dahl (Matilda's teacher is held captive by the mean principle).

At any rate, I was looking forward to re-reading this book, if for no other reason than I couldn't remember what actually happened in the book.

After Re-Reading the Book

As an adult reader, I have to say that the book is a bit contrived in places (e.g., Hobie, the main character, is trapped at one point, and his best friend and sister show up at midnight--on a horse, no less--to save him), but I think younger readers would get a kick out of the mystery and suspense of the story. As I was reading it, I could see why I had liked it so much when I was younger because it moved at a quick pace, had some intriguing twists, and had suspense without being anywhere close to "horror" or "scary." It was a safe sort of suspense.

My adult mind got a bit in the way of being able to just enjoy the story, though. One example is that Hobie often comments on his babysitter's cooking and how it isn't as good as his mother's cooking. He would then go on to describe the dishes his mother prepared and how she did it. The primary thought going through my head is that Hobie's mother's cooking is a heart attack waiting to happen. I got a little queasy reading some of those descriptions, but if you're not a health nut, then it probably wouldn't bother you.

It also gets distracting that so many key points are repeated, which gets redundant for adult readers but could be necessary for younger readers to remember certain important details. Another thing that bothered me is that some descriptions were not thorough enough to truly understand the context; for example, there is a fight scene at the stable, but it was elusive. I wasn't quite sure who was doing what and how Hobie ended up where he did. I would've liked more detail in the fight to bring it to life, but, then again, too much detail could scare younger readers (especially if they read before going to bed).

I have my adult issues with the book, but I wouldn't hesitate to tell a young reader to borrow it from the library (or buy it on Amazon, where copies are selling for as little as $0.50). The reviews I found online tend to be on the negative side for the book, which leaves me wondering if I was able to connect with the story because I remember liking it when I was younger or if it’s just a story you’re either going to like/dislike. I don't think it deserves a negative review, but I would say it is for younger readers and not more mature ones.

What have you re-read lately?

Happy re-reading!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why I Love Paige Turner

Amanda Matetsky writes the Paige Turner mystery books, a series that follows the fictitious Paige Turner as she blazes her way through solving crimes in New York City in the mid-1950s. So far, there are five books in the series, and I own every one of them.

Today I finished reading the fifth (and latest) book in the series: Dial Me for Murder. My love affair with Paige Turner continues.

I originally discovered the books quite by accident--I was bored one afternoon and decided to spend my time perusing the shelves at my local Borders store. I saw Murderers Prefer Blondes in the mystery section and fell in love with the cover. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a sort of fascination with the 1950s that stems from my love of I Love Lucy. The book cover and its description fit in nicely with my 1950s fixation, and at the time, I was looking for fun mystery/suspense books (not grisly ones).

After finishing the first Paige Turner book, I went back to the store and bought the second book: Murder is a Girl's Best Friend. After that, I had to wait until Amanda Matetsky wrote more books, and over the last few years, I regularly check Amazon to see if she's written more books. Needless to say, I'll buy the sixth as soon as it comes out.

I like reading the Paige Turner books primarily because Paige Turner (the female lead of the series) is so darn cute. She blunders her way into solving cases often before the police are able to figure them out, she holds down a job at a magazine and is trying to work her way into often-uncharted territory for a woman in the 50s, and she's fierce and loyal and isn't afraid of going against the grain. At the same time, she's still a woman. She has emotional meltdowns that make me roll my eyes or laugh out loud (depending on the meltdown), and even though she's determined to do everything herself, she often has to reach out for help from side characters who are just as lovable as she is.

While I like reading books that are deep and delve into topics that really make me think and question my own beliefs, sometimes I need books like the Paige Turner books that are on your shelf simply because they make you smile. Paige Turner and her plucky red beret make me smile.

Here's a big thank you to Amanda Matetsky for writing a series that puts a smile on my face.

What books have put a smile your face lately?

Happy reading!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

BTRN Poll (Round 2) and LOVELY BONES

The voting is complete for round 2 of which book I should read next, and the winner is Chronicles of Narnia. I'm still reading Dial Me for Murder by Amanda Matetsky (I'm bogged down by teaching a summer course while trying to get through my reading list), but as soon as I finish it (hopefully in the next couple of days), I will begin reading Chronicles of Narnia.

I must be in a movie-watching mood because lately, I've been spending my free time decompressing by watching movies. I've gone through quite a few of them over the past couple weeks, and the other day, I watched yet another movie that was based on a book: The Lovely Bones.

I read the book quite a while ago (at least four years ago), so I didn't remember a lot of specific details about the book before I watched the movie. I remember that I didn't necessarily like the book, but at the same time, it was a book that made me think--and cry. It was one of those weird "I can't figure out how I feel about this book" kind of feelings once I finished it. From what I can remember of the book, though, I think the movie stayed pretty faithful to the overall plot while cutting out a lot of specifics (e.g., it didn't go into detail about what Susie was thinking as she watched her family go on without her) for time constraints.

After watching the movie, I had the same feelings as I had after reading the book--I'm not quite sure if I liked it or not. It was touching (I even cried at a couple points), but something is off about the story. It bothers me that I haven't been able to figure out what bothers me about it, but whatever it is, that element is in both the book and the movie.

I like the ideas that Alice Sebold explores--the middle ground between heaven and earth, what it means to move on, the pain of watching life go on without you mixed with the joy of watching those you love succeed in life, the ugliness of revenge, the potential evil in humans juxtaposed with the potential goodness... I didn't remember having a problem with writing style, and I thought Sebold had a good voice for her main character, Susie Salmon. And yet, something was missing. Any connections I made with the story and characters were purely superficial, and the book didn't have long-term effects on me. But I wanted it to.

Have you ever read a book that left you feeling like you wished you could say you loved it, but you couldn't? Can you figure out what held you back from being able to connect with the book on deeper levels?

As a side note, one outstanding thought I had after watching the movie version of The Lovely Bones is that Stanley Tucci deserves some sort of award for his acting. I watched the entire thing, thinking I should know who was playing the role of Mr. Harvey but never figuring out who it was until I watched the closing credits. He did an amazing job.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Quite a few years ago, I picked up the book Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I had already read Mystic River, and I rather enjoyed that book, so I thought I'd try another one of his books. Shutter Island fascinated me--its plot is thick and twisted, and it is a psychological thriller that left me so deep in its grip when it ended that I had to re-read the book just to make sure I got it all. (This is the same effect that the movie The Prestige had on me--I had to re-watch the end of the movie several times to make sure I understood what had just happened.)

One of the thoughts I had after finishing to book was that it could be turned into a great movie. And so, when I heard that other people must have agreed with me because a movie was indeed being made, I was excited about it. I did have a few reservations because I knew it would be difficult for a movie to replicate everything that happens in Shutter Island--especially since so much of the story puts the reader in Teddy's (the main character's) head. In a movie, it's difficult to get that seclusion of point of view. The story isn't told in the first person, but it is definitely Teddy's story.

This past weekend, I received Shutter Island the movie from Netflix, and on Saturday, I took the afternoon off to watch the two-and-a-half hour film.

About half an hour in, I started getting bored. I played on my iPad, got a little work done, did some light chores--all while watching the movie. I think part of the problem is that I knew the ending. Watching that movie while knowing the ending is a bit like watching The Sixth Sense while knowing the ending. It becomes far less interesting when you know exactly what's happening.

I was so disappointed in my inability to get into the movie, that I can't even comment on whether the movie was actually good or not. I'd have to ask someone who's never read the book to watch it for me and tell me whether it's a good movie. Two things fascinate me about my boredom with the movie Shutter Island:

  1. I have re-read the book Shutter Island several times without ever getting bored with it--even though I know the ending.
  2. I loved the movie Mystic River (as well as the book), which is also dependent on the viewer not knowing the ending.
That leaves me thinking that perhaps the Shutter Island movie just wasn't done as well or that perhaps for the Shutter Island storyline to succeed, the viewer/reader needs to be further in Teddy's head than a movie could take us. Whatever the case, I was disappointed by the movie.

If any of you have seen the movie but not read the book, I'd be interested to hear what you think of the movie. Also, if you've both read the book and seen the movie, I'd be interested in hearing if you had a similar experience.

Happy reading!

Monday, June 7, 2010

What I've Been Reading

I've had an incredibly productive reading week, which reflects the fact that I've had a pretty slow week otherwise (in other words, all the work on my to-do list has been effectively pushed back to this week as I enjoyed sticking my nose in book after book).

After finishing Pride and Prejudice, I decided to read the other books I had listed in the first poll while anxiously awaiting results of the second Book-To-Read-Next Poll (which is up and running in the left-hand sidebar). First, I read Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding.

It was rather fitting to read Bridget Jones after having finished Pride and Prejudice, as the core of the first book's plot (Bridget Jones's Diary) is based on Pride and Prejudice. The second book focuses on what happens after our modern-day Elizabeth Bennet (Bridget Jones) gets her Mr. Darcy (Mark Darcy). I found that with both the Bridget Jones's books, it took me a while to get into a reading groove--I think the diary-style writing presents a shift in writing style that takes my brain a bit to catch on to--but by around page 50, I had found my groove and immensely enjoyed the book. I might go so far as to say that I like Edge of Reason better than the first book, which I find interesting because I didn't like the movie based on the second book as much as I liked the movie based on the first book. Just another argument for reading the books that movies are based on instead of relying solely on the movie version...

The second book, like the first, is filled with instances that had me laughing and my son asking, "What's so funny? Can I see?" I would show my son the page and explain that the words were funny, but he'd just shake his head at me, probably thinking I'm a bit over the edge of reason. One of my favorite snippets from Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason is when Bridget realizes that she accidentally threw her friend Tom's phone into one of the dumpsters (dustbins, in British English) when she took her trash out, but she doesn't know which dumpster it's in:

Ended up flinging long leather jacket on top of bra and knickers and going out into street to wait till Tom rang the phone so could find out which it was in. Was just standing on wall peering into the dustbins when a familiar voice said, "Hello."
Turned round and there was Mark Darcy.
He glanced down and I realized was standing with--fortunately coordinated--underwear on full display.
"What are you doing?" he said.
"I'm waiting for the dustbin to ring," I replied with dignity, pulling jacket around self.
"I see." There was a pause. "Have you been waiting . . . long?"
"No," I said carefully. "A normal amount of time."
Just then one of the dustbins started to ring. "Ah, that'll be for me," I said... (224)
I love the laid-back sense of humor Helen Fielding uses in her Bridget Jones's books; the scenarios Bridget gets herself into are over the top but believable at the same time.

Once I finished reading Bridget Jones, I moved straight into another Pride and Prejudice-themed book: According to Jane by Marilyn Brant.

I thought the book looked cute--definitely chick lit--making it an appropriate read for summer break. Unfortunately, it bored me. I couldn't get into it, and I found myself skimming more often than not and counting down the pages until the story wrapped up. The premise of the story is that one day Jane Austen's spirit/ghost/voice pops into a modern girl's head, giving her advice on life--specifically on her love life. The modern-day girl is appropriately named Ellie Barnett and is dealing with situations with men in her life that resemble some love themes from Pride and Prejudice. I didn't find the characters believable, which made it difficult for me to make any sort of connection with the book. Not only did I not like Ellie Barnett by the end of the story, I also didn't like Brant's version of Jane Austen by the end of the story.

After being disappointed by According to Jane, I was looking forward to the next book on my list, which I thought held a lot of promise: One Week in December by Holly Chamberlin.

One Week in December is based on a woman (Becca) in her early 30s who, when she was sixteen, had a daughter (Rain) and let her brother and his wife (James and Naomi) adopt her daughter. Now that Becca is in her 30s, though, and completely alone in life, she has decided that she is ready to tell her niece/daughter Rain the truth about her parentage. Rain is 16 and has no idea that the two people who raised her are not her birth parents. The rest of the family is appalled, and so the story focuses on the shifting relationships among the family during their week together for Christmas. I started the book with so much hope for it but ended up doing more skimming in this book than I had done with According to Jane. Chamberlin spends far too much time expanding details that don't matter (I don't care what the characters are wearing!) and attempts to create cliff hangers, but the outcomes to those hangers are obvious, so they failed. And felt cheesy. At one point, Becca thinks to herself that the week with her family wouldn't be "worthy of the Hallmark Channel." That's a bit of planted irony, I suppose, since the story ends up being exactly what you'd expect for a Hallmark Channel movie--including a rushed new love forming between Becca and the good-looking, mysterious neighbor.

And so after reading two disappointing books, one right after the other, I'm moving forward with another book that I hope won't disappoint: Dial Me for Murder by Amanda Matetsky, the fifth book in the Paige Turner mysteries.

What have you been reading lately?

Happy reading!