Monthly Archives: October 2008

“Ramona’s World” by Beverly Cleary & “The Best Halloween Ever” by Barbara Robinson

Ramona’s World

Growing up, I was a huge fan of the Ramona series, reading each one of them multiple times. (I swear I still have large chunks of several of them memorized and could recite them if you want).Years later, grown up and looking for books to share with my niece, I came back to Ramona, only to discover that Cleary had written a new novel about Ramona during my time away. Curious, I picked it up (actually did the audio version), both eager to read it and worried that series might not live up to my fond memories of it.

In “Ramona’s World,” Ramona is entering the fourth grade. She has a new baby sister, Roberta and her older sister, Beezus is heading into high school. Her first day at school, Ramona meets her new best friend, Daisy.

“Ramona’s World” is exactly what I expected from my return to the universe of the Quimby family. I don’t mean that as a negative. Ramona has some adventures, makes some errors and there’s a warmth to the novels that is timeless. While this isn’t my favorite in the series, it’s still nice to see Ramona beginning to grow up a bit and yet still prone to the same insecurities and foibles that affect us all. Cleary’s novels are timeless in this respect and one of the reasons I think they’ve endured as a favorite among children for fifty plus years.

Visiting “Ramona’s World” was a pleasant journey back to familiar childhood memories.


Best Halloween Ever

 After creating havoc at Christmas, the Herdmans are back. This time, their previous antics lead the town to cancel Halloween since the holiday has devolved into little more than the Herdman family laying in wait to beat up and steal unsuspecting trick-or-treaters candy.This sequel to “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a bit of a one-joke story, spread out over the course of a hundred or so pages. The central conflict is the Herdman’s have led the town to cancel Halloween, which makes all the kids upset. Then, the town hatches a plan to have Halloween at the local school so they can control what’s going on and in the hopes that the Herdmans won’t find out or show up.

The strength of “Christmas Pageant” was while the Herdmans were the antagonists of the story, they had a human side and flashes of being more than just a bunch of surly bullies. And that’s not quite the case here, where the entire book is spent talking about how horrible they are. It does lead to a nice little moment at the end involving the Herdmans and years of stolen Halloween candy, but the moments leading up to it are a bit repetitive and difficult to stomach.

Had I not read “Best Christmas Pageant” I might be more inclined to like this novel. Or maybe the big problem is this book is competing with the memory of enjoying “Pageant” in my youth

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“Liberty” by Garrison Keillor

With “Lake Wobegon Days” and “Leaving Home” Garrison Keillor took readers to the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, giving us memorable characters, some witty observations and some good natured humor. Those two novels are among my favorite books and I enjoy Keillor’s monologues about “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve.”But in his last two Lake Wobegon novels, Keillor has the guy who could have been voted class clown to having a dark, meaner streak to his humor and observations–and the books have suffered as a result.

“Liberty” is the latest example of Keillor gone horribly wrong, going for sardonic and sarcastic instead of his usual witty and warm storytelling style.

“Liberty” centers on Clint Bunsen, turning 60 and in charge of the annual Fourth of July parade. Clint has been married for years but thanks to the Internet has met a younger woman who claims to be psychic and played Miss Liberty in the parade last year. He’s having an affair, being run off the leadership of his committee and wondering just what happened to his life and feeling unfulfilled. All of this could lead to some interesting observations on life, marriage and the nature of love but instead it’s all told in such a sardonic style that you’re left not caring about any of these characters. It feels almost like we’ve wandered into a parallel universe Lake Wobegon story where people look and act about the same, but there is something fundamentally wrong at the core.

There are some funny moments in the story, but this novel isn’t your typical Keillor Lake Wobegon novel. It’s more in vein of “WLT” and some of his other short essays and while those are enjoyable it’s not what I expect or want from a Lake Wobegon story.

The last two Lake Wobegon books have left me disappointed with Keillor, wondering if he’s tiring of his fictional town and maybe if it wouldn’t be better to leave fans the fond memories of him from “Lake Wobegon Days” instead of more books like “Liberty” or “Pontoon.”

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“When Will There Be Good News?” by Kate Atkinson

While walking home one day, six-year-old Joanna Mason’s family is attacked and killed by a man wielding a butcher knife. Joanna escapes by fleeing into a cornfield and hiding. She’s eventually found and the killer is caught and sent to jail.Now before you get upset with me for revealing too much, let me just say that all of what I described above happens in the first twenty or so pages of Kate Atkinson’s latest novel “When Will There Be Good News?” The death of Joanna’s family is the catalyst for everything that happens for the rest of the story and the impact is felt on every single character we meet over the course of this story.

As usual, Atkinson’s novel is one that defies easy description. It’s one part a mystery, one part character study and one part suspense thriller. The story starts out on a deceptively slow note, allowing readers to get to know the various players in the events to come and slowly building to a train wreck (literally and figuratively) of a turning point that has a direct impact on each of the characters. Atkinson brings back Jackson Brodie, the private detective who featured in her previous novels “Case Histories” and “One Good Turn” as well as several other familiar faces.

As I read this story, comparions to Elizabeth George kept creeping up on me. (And that’s a good thing as George is one of my favorite authors). Atkinson has a storytelling style that highlights characters, but continues to build the story with each page. She’s subtle, working in details to the storyline naturally and rewarding readers when a payoff comes several pages later. Watching the story unfold, building up momentum until we finally see the bigger picture is fascinating. Several storylines cross over and we get to see events from several points of view.

The various elements will keep you guessing, keep you curious and keep the pages turning. I consumed this book eagerly, anxious to find out what happens next. It’s one of those where once the final page is turned, you’ll walk away satisfied but wishing there was more to savor

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Tuesday Thingers

Today’s question: Series. Do you collect any series? Do you read series books? Fantasy? Mystery? Science fiction? Religious? Other genre? Do you use the series feature in LT to help you find new books or figure out what you might be missing from a series?

These days, it seems like a LOT of what I read are series.  It seems like it’s almost impossible to get away from novels that are a series, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  I think a well-done series is worth reading, though I am persnickity and feel I have to start at the beginning of any series I read.  Nothing frustrates me more than when the library will have the second, third and fourth book of a series but not the first.   How can I know if I LIKE the series if I can’t read the first one?  It’s a dilemma, I tell you.  A terrible, terrible dilemma.

As for series I read:  Lynley and Haver by Elizabeth George, the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son by Card, Star Trek: New Frontier by Peter David, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Evan Delany by Meg Gardiner, the Ramona series (growing up) by Beverly Cleary.  There are a myriad of others, I’m sure but I’m just not recalling them all right now.

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Tuesday Thingers

Today’s question: Early Reviewers- do you participate? How many books (approximately) have you received through the program? Have you liked them generally? What’s your favorite ER book? Do you participate in the discussion group on LT?

Yes, I participate.  Free books and early copies…how can you go wrong?  I don’t sign up for something unless I want to read it, though.  I’ve received two books, so far from the system and I liked one and haven’t got to reading the other.  The first one, The Decieved was an OK book that I found interested, but not necessarily great.  I am not a great participater in the on-line discussion, though I should probably look into it.

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“The Book of Lies” by Brad Meltzer

Give Brad Metlzer props for his ambition.  Some writers would be content to merely create a conspiracy laden story about the first murder in history, that of Abel by his brother Cain.  Others would be intrigued to explore the alleged murder of Mitchell Seigel and how that lead to the creation of the most-recognized superhero in the world, Superman. 

“The Book of Lies” focues on the mysteries surrounding both deaths and the impact they have on the life of our hero, Cal Harper. Years ago, Cal’s mother was killed in a fight with his father.  Dad went to jail and Cal was orphaned, losing all contact with his father until one fateful night.  While out on a round for the homeless shelter he works at, Cal finds his father, shot and bleeding.  Cal takes him to the hospital and before long is caught up in a vast conspiracy involving the original creators of Superman and the question of just what exactly was “the mark of Cain.” 

Meltzer keeps the pace of “The Book of Lies” fast enough that despite some absurd and crazy plot twists, that it’s easy to go with the flow and not say, “Oh come on now.”  This is the book-equivalent of a pop-corn movie–just sit back and enjoy the fun and don’t overthink it.  (I know..that’s hard for me, but I did it).  If you do that, you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal.  I did and while it may not be the best book I’ve ever read and stick with me years from now, I had a lot of fun reading it.  Meltzer has a great writing style that is fun and the momentum of the story kept the plot moving.

About the only detail that really took me out of the book was the revelation of who is behind the plot.   But it wasn’t enough to ruin this one for me.

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“The Best Schoolyear Ever” by Barbara Robinson

Growing up, one of my favorite books was Barbara Robinson’s “The Best Christmas Pagent Ever.” I read it at least once a year at Christmas and even convinced by parents to record the one-hour special version from television so we could watch it every year.

Now, I’m older and trying to find good books for my neice and nephew. Pondering the books I read as kid, I thought of “Best Christmas Pagent” and went looking for it at my local library to make sure it was age-appropriate for my niece. And that’s when I discovered that Robinson had written a couple of sequels to her popular story.

The first sequel is “The Worst School Year Ever” which is more a series of vignettes on the Herdmann family than an actual plot. The stories are all linked by the class assignment to spend all year studying your classmates and then give them a compliment or two on the last day of school. So, we get to hear about the Herdmann’s trying to wash their cat at the laundromat, trying to find their way into the teacher’s lounge and carrying other such hijinx as you would expect if you’d read “Best Christmas Pagent.”

And while I enjoyed the stories, I found that it lacked something the first was missing. I think part of it is that Robinson is working hard to make these stories as timeless as possible, along the lines of “Best Christmas Pagent” and left me wondering just what era these stories were taking place. And while most of the stories are extremely funny, the thing there’s not really any redeeming qualities to the Herdmann family seen here as we got with “Last Christmas Pagent.”

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“Uglies” by Scott Westerfield

At an unspecificied time in the future everyone turning sixteen is given surgery to become “pretty.” Tally Youngblood is young woman, counting down the days to the procdure which despite being extremely intensive is considered worth it for a life of luxury and decadence among her peers. She’s waiting to be reunited with her best friend and enjoy the life of being pretty together.

That is until she meets Shay. The two bond over having lost all their friends to the surgery and waiting to join them. They sneak out of the city to the wasteland and Tally discovers that not only does Shay not consider herself “ugly” but she has no intention of having the surgerys. Instead she wants to run off with a mysterious boy named David to a secret group of insurgents who refuse to have the surgery. She invites Tally to come with her, but Tally refuses.

Shay runs away, leaving details on how Tally can find the group if she desires. On the day of her surgery, Tally is taken aside by Special Circumstances and told unless she finds Shay and betrays her to them, she (Tally) will be ugly for life. Tally agrees and sets out on her quest to find the rebels.

If that were all the story was, it might just be merely interesting. And though the story does follow a fairly predictable character arc for Tally (she finds the group, fits in better than Shay and decides to stay), the secret behind the surgery that Scott Westerfield reveals mid-way through the novel is far more fascinating. And it also goes a long way to explaining some of the behavoir by post-surgery characters in the novel.

Tally finds out that the surgery creates a specific kind of brain damage among all receipients. This twist explains why certain characters are so vapid and hedonistic in the story. Not only are the people being made to all be the same externally, they’re being made to think the same way, to no longer question anything and to live only for the pleasure of the moment. The process is reversible (theoretically) and all of these various storylines lead to one massive cliffhanger that had me curious to see where things go next

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Tuesday Thingers

This week’s question: -LibraryThing’s Recently Added feature: do you look at it? Do you use it for ideas? Is there something listed there now that looks interesting to you? What have you added to your LT library recently?
Being a book addict, this can be dangerous for me.  I seem to find a lot of new and interesting books in all facets of life and adding this….just adds to the problem.  But that’s OK becuase I love finding that new gem or hearing that an old favorite author has a new book coming out.   I haven’t added much to my LT lately.  I need to update it.  I tend to keep my GoodReads account more up to date than LT because I’ve found a bit more of a community over there….

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“No Time for Goodbye” by Linwood Barclay

After having a fight with her parents, fourteen year old Cynthia Bigge wakes up to find her entire family has mysterious vanished without a trace.  Twenty-five years later, the mystery of just what happened to them remains unsolved, leading Cynthia to agree to a segment on a popular reality show in the hopes of finding a few answers about the past that haunts her.

Following the show’s airing, a series of mysterious events begins to occur including a mysterious car following her daughter, a fedora just like her father’s showing up in the house and the suspicious death of a family member after talking to a private eye Cynthia hired to give her some closure. 

“No Time For Goodbye” has all the pieces that should make for a fun and entertaining thriller but is ultimately let down by its execution.  For one thing, the story is told from her husband’s point of view, allowing us little or not access into what Cynthia thinks or feels beyond the prologue establishing the events.  There are also a variety of red-herrings and poorly explored side avenues in the story that rob the momentum Lindwood Barclay is trying to create at critical points.

And that’s even before we get to the ending.  It’s a Hollywood thriller type of ending, with random bits coming together in unconvincing ways that strain crediblity and will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth once the last page is turned.  Yes, Cynthia gets some closure, but as a reader I was left wanting something more than what I got.

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