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Archive for May, 2009

I’m a huge fan of the Cake Wrecks blog – the vast number of wreck-ish professional cakes is astounding (and hilarious) to me.  But I also love the Sunday Sweets series on Cake Wrecks, full of beautiful cakes by talented bakers.

So I was particularly excited that today’s post contains ‘Reading Rocks‘ cakes.  What a delicious trip through childhood reading memories – Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, Eric Carle!  Check it out.  You’ll be impressed.

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A Northern Light Title: A Northern Light (audiobook)

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Published: 2003

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Rating: 3 of 5

I sometimes worry that I miss things by listening to the audio version of a book.  In this case, I suspect that the audio version of A Northern Light created a different impression for me than if I had just read the book.

A Northern Light is about Mattie Gokey, a teenager in New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the early 1900s.  She is a farm girl bearing many family responsibilities after her mother’s death, but who secretly desires to go to college in NYC.  By chance, Mattie also comes to possess letters belonging to a young woman who suspiciously drowned at the local lake resort.

I didn’t love this book, which surprised me since it was recommended by a good friend who’s opinion I wholeheartedly trust.  If I’m honest, I never gave the book a fair chance.  The narrator’s voice was extremely annoying, and I often found myself cringing at both her voice attempts and her unusual inflection.  It can be difficult to divorce narration from the book itself, but I’ll try.

Jennifer Donnelly created an intelligent and likable main character in Mattie.  Unfortunately, her clear intelligence made it hard to believe her frequent obliviousness about people’s intentions and the events around her.  I was able to figure out every major plot twist long before it was revealed, but Mattie remained completely unaware each time.  Maybe this is a case of, as my sister says, a smart person having no common sense – but I was hoping for more out of Mattie.

Each thing I enjoyed about A Northern Light was like this – having a flip side that detracted from the book as well.  Donnelly did a great job of incorporating some timely racial issues into the story, but Weaver, the only black boy in the book, was disappointingly two-dimensional and predictable.  Mattie’s love of words allowed Donnelly to use interesting vocabulary, but it was done with a heavy hand and often felt forced.  The based-on-true-events drowning is a captivating story, but it is never truly connected to Mattie’s own story and it ends up feeling like two different books have been rather awkwardly crammed into one volume.

Due to the two-sided nature of this book, I gave it a middle-of-the-road 3 out of 5 rating.  More importantly, I still trust my friend’s opinion, because I can definitely see why she recommended A Northern Light.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about A Northern Light:

A Life in Books – Past and Present

Reviewer X – A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnolly

The Sleepy Reader – Book Review: A Northern Light

Sonderbooks – A Northern Light

The New York Times – A Northern Light

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While running errands today, we drove by a bunch of high schoolers with signs:  “GREEN CAR WASH!  UNDERWATER HOCKEY CLUB!”

Um.  What?  I’m all for the green car wash, but underwater hockey club?  Is this a joke?

Apparently not.

Truly awesome.

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Miraculously, R didn’t have to go in to the hospital at all on Memorial Day, so we took advantage of the rare day off together by taking a day trip!

We drove up to Dahlonega, GA which apparently was the location of the first major U.S. gold rush.  But more importantly, it is home to many of Georgia’s wineries – including Montaluce Winery and Estates, our destination.

Montaluce is a Tuscan-style winery and we could see the influence in the architecture, food, and estate design.  Driving through the property, we passed several beautiful buildings overlooking portions of the vineyard.  It almost felt like we were driving through the Tuscan countryside!

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We started with a tasting of Italian red wines.  (They were actually bottling Montaluce’s first harvest while we were there, so we didn’t have the opportunity to taste any of their wines.)  The bartender was great and kept throwing out ‘bonus’ tastes for us.

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To counter the effects of the tasting, we headed to the on-site restaurant, Le Vigne.  Between the delicious flatbread pizzas and Georgia peach bread pudding, we practically rolled our way through the winery tour that followed lunch.  The facilities and grounds at Montaluce were lovely – I hope to return sometime after their own wines are available for tasting!

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Afterward, we headed to Dahlonega’s historical square for some people watching and window shopping.  Finally, it was home for some homemade peach cobbler (first Georgia peaches of the season!) and Slumdog Millionaire (am I the only person who didn’t like that movie?).  What a fantastic date day!

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I Am the Messenger

No one sang The Book Thief‘s praises louder than I did – than I still do!  So it was with great disappointment and a lot of deliberation that I put down Markus Zusak’s previous book, I Am the Messenger.

Perhaps he was still developing his voice when he wrote this book, but I found it nearly impossible to find any commonalities between its matter-of-fact, almost crude, tone and the exquisite writing of The Book Thief.  By the 40th page, I realized that I didn’t know what the book was actually about – and I didn’t really care to find out.

Maybe this is a case of my elevated expectations leading me into frustration.  Still, I decided to move on and take this book off my reading queue.  But hey, I’ll always have The Book Thief.

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The Graveyard Book Title: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published: 2008

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 of 5

I have enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s books in the past, so when The Graveyard Book won this year’s Newbery Award, I quickly added my name to the growing list at my library.  Eventually my turn came and, after wrestling the copy away from my thieving brother, I was not disappointed.

The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s loose take on The Jungle Book.  It tells the story of Nobody Owens, Bod for short, who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and other cemetery-dwelling creatures.

At first, I was pretty unsure about the book.  The beginning pages depict the murder of Bod’s entire family, and although the descriptions are not overly gruesome, I was still surprised to find a children’s book open in this manner.  In fact, I asked my husband and brother to each read the first three pages.  They did and after I told them the book was a young adult novel, both said, “Are you serious?!”

As the book progressed, I became less concerned about the content and more enthralled by Gaiman’s incredible storytelling ability.  His descriptions created such atmosphere that in my mind I could almost see the mist swirling around the headstones.  While reading this book, I experienced the rare but lovely sensation of losing complete awareness of my own surroundings.  I still wouldn’t hand this book to a young child – it remains deliciously creepy throughout – but I would happily recommend it to a slightly older child reader.

My one complaint about The Graveyard Book actually stems from one of its strengths.  Gaiman employs a crisp and well-crafted simplicity in his narrative, which delivers much of the book’s charm.  But that very simplicity results in a slightly hasty resolution that left many backstory questions unanswered.  By the end, I felt like I had read only the very top of a giant glacier of a story.

Despite this minor flaw, I was pleased to see the Newbery bestowed on a book that departs from previous winners.  When I think of other Newbery novels, it occurs to me that their themes often circle around race, self-discovery, perserverance, and the importance of family.  The Graveyard Book highlights family as well, although ‘family’ for Bod means a motley mix of hundred-year old ghosts and Silas, his solemn but endearing guardian.  In addition to family, however, Gaiman threads questions of death and life, the supernatural, and even revenge through Bod’s story.

I would definitely recommend this book – it would be a particularly great read during a storm or late at night!

Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Graveyard Book:

Devourer of Books: The Graveyard Book – Book Review (includes a hilarious clip of Gaiman’s visit to The Colbert Report)

Shelf Love: The Graveyard Book

The New York Times: Raised By Ghosts

The Guardian: Ghost Stories

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