I discovered the Betsy-Tacy series when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with the Ray family in the first book—from Mr. Ray’s fairness to the young-at-heart Mrs. Ray to serious, youngest sister Margaret, the Betsy books are the kind you wanted to crawl into and live alongside the characters.
As I’ve gotten older, I continue to re-read this series every year or so. With every read I am more impressed by the talent of Maud Hart Lovelace. I also enjoy seeing how different books ‘speak’ to me more at different times. Currently, the one that speaks to me the most is Emily of Deep Valley—and I think it’s become my favorite in the series.
Emily Webster is as unlike Betsy Ray as she could be. More introverted and serious than outgoing social butterfly Betsy, Emily seems to have more in common with Margaret Ray. Emily is dedicated to her studies, the star of the debate team, and you sense that she would never be distracted from something like an essay contest (if that were her dream) by troubles of the heart.
Not that Emily doesn’t have heartache. She’s hopelessly in love with her cousin Annette’s boyfriend Don. And Don is completely unworthy of Emily, with his narcissistic tendency to use her as a prop for his low self-esteem one moment and totally disregard her the next. (In fact, I think he is arguably the most unlikable character in the whole series—thoughts?) Still, Emily longs for him to look at her like he does Annette.
Another heartache for Emily is that she wants to go to college with her friends—realizing she’d probably get more out of it than most of them—but can’t because her Grandpa needs her. Grandpa Webster has raised her since her parents, and later, her grandmother died, and Emily loves him fiercely, as well as feels responsible for him. Emily knows that it was an act of love for Grandpa to ‘allow’ her to finish high school because he is old-fashioned.
Emily of Deep Valley opens with Emily’s high school graduation and her gradually-building sense of loneliness throughout the summer, as she is confronted with how ‘on the fringes’ she is, even with her high school friends. Her feelings of isolation deepen once they all depart for college, leaving her with nothing to look forward to except a lonely winter…or so she thinks.
After a few months of self-pity as she tries to recapture the happiness of her high school days with embarrassing results, Emily finds motivation in a quote from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost: ‘muster your wits; stand in your own defense.’ Instead of focusing on what she doesn’t have and what she can’t do, Emily decides to work with what she has: her natural intelligence and curiosity; an enthusiastic and willing accomplice in her Grandpa; relationships she has already developed in the community; and the funds to get started.
With her friends back at school after an unfulfilling Christmas break, Emily begins a plan of self-improvement that includes dance lessons, a literary society, and most importantly of all, becoming involved in the education of some Syrian children who live nearby. Emily’s Grandpa approves of her new regimen, noting worriedly that she has looked lonely. He soon joins in on her education of the children as she draws the children into their family—and finds herself drawn into the warmth of the Syrian families in return.
Emily’s mustered wits eventually lead her to a new sense of purpose, more confidence in herself as a person and as a woman, an awakening about the true nature of Don, and of course, true love.
5 things to love about Emily of Deep Valley:
1. Emily Webster is a truly lovable, REAL character. It’s easy to identify with her feelings of isolation, occasional hopelessness, and unrequited love. And it’s inspiring to watch her take control of her destiny. The ending of this book will leave you smiling, with happy tears in your eyes.
2. The relationship between Emily and her Grandpa, and both of them with the Syrian children. Totally endearing.
3. How the mother she never knew becomes more real to Emily as she unconsciously follows in her footsteps.
4. The skill with which Maud Hart Lovelace’s writing deals with the intolerance and prejudice within the community of Deep Valley and the satisfaction the reader feels when Emily wins everyone over.
5. Jed Wakeman. Hot, kind, family values, appreciates Emily for her total awesomeness. What’s not to love?
I can think of many more than five, but this post has to end sometime. I will say that every time I pass a white hydrangea bush, I think of Grandpa Webster and the flower for his uniform. In fact, driving past one earlier this week is what inspired this post.
If you haven’t read Emily of Deep Valley, you’re in for a treat (and it’s just been reprinted, so you won’t have to stalk for a library discard like I did). It’s a heartwarming, inspiring story of self-discovery and triumph over adversity. That may sound cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a timeless theme. In fact, we saw the new movie Sucker Punch last weekend, and it has a similar message (paraphrasing here): You already have all the weapons you need. Now fight! Emily Webster does, and it’s a joy to witness.
Do you love Emily of Deep Valley? What’s your favorite Lovelace book? Sound off in the comments!
This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
By Kenneth Oppel
Release date: August 23, 2011
From the Publisher (so I don’t accidentally give too much away in my synopsis!):
Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures…until the day their adventures turn all too real.
They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only piques Victor’s curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. Elizabeth, Victor and their friend Henry immediately set out to find assistance in a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula.
Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad’s life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing a body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.
I was interested in reading this book partially because of the hype. This first I’d ever heard of this title came in the form of an announcement that Summit Films had acquired the screen rights. You can read that here.
I’ve never been that into the Frankenstein story—it’s not one of my personal favorites. However, I finished This Dark Endeavor wanting to revisit Mary Shelley’s classic. I have a feeling many teens will finish this book and go on to read Frankenstein for the first time. Any book that encourages kids to read a classic is a good thing, but This Dark Endeavor is also good in its own right.
One of the things I really loved about This Dark Endeavor was the pacing. There is no lag in the middle. Action scene follows action scene, and the suspense in some of them is painful. Oppel hooks you from the opening scene and does not let go until the conclusion. Dark, claustrophobic caves! Giant, should-be-extinct aquatic creatures! Nightmarish scavengers! Preternaturally clever mammals! Secrets, plots, betrayals! Whew…
Victor and Konrad are both sympathetic characters. Victor’s motivations, given his personality and complex feelings for his brother, are believeable. Konrad is almost angelic in his goodness, generosity, and fair-mindedness, but Victor has plenty of flaws to balance Konrad out. Elizabeth, the distant cousin the boys’ age who was adopted into the family, is as fiery and strong-willed as you could want a heroine to be—and it’s believable that both Konrad and Victor would fall for her. Their parents are the kind of progressive thinkers that cook dinner for their servants once a week and stress the importance of an equal education for Elizabeth, despite the fact she is female. The reader gets enough of a glimpse into this loving, seemingly perfect family that we can appreciate how devastating it is for all of them when their beloved Konrad falls ill.
I can’t say much more about the plot without spoiling it. I will say I really did not like one scene due to what happened in it—but the scene was not gratuitous and part of the reason I was upset is because Oppel wrote it so skillfully. So I can’t fault him for it even if it did make me mad. It served the story.
Conclusion? I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves gothic stories, enjoys books like The Monstrumologist and its sequel, and for fans of Shelley’s Frankenstein. Die-hard fans may not approve of what Oppel has done with the story—as with any fans approaching a new take on something they feel strongly about—but I think they will find it compelling nonetheless.
What about you? Will you be reading This Dark Endeavor come August?
Reading my bio you might get the impression that stalking only new releases is what I am about and I apologize for that misconception. I actually got my bookstalking start with older books. I love girls’ series fiction of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Finding these books has always been a challenge—perfect for a stalker like me. Today I am introducing a new feature: ‘Flashback Fridays,’ where I can talk about my first love: hunting down out-of-print (OOP) books!
One of my favorite ‘stalks’ is the Trixie Belden series!
Trixie Belden was introduced in 1948 by Western Publishing Company and author Julie Campbell Tatham, who wrote six books in the series. After that, various writers were contracted to write the series under the name ‘Kathryn Kenny,’ and the series climbed to 39 titles. In my humble opinion, the first six books are the best, but I do love some of the ‘Kenny’ titles too.
Trixie had a lot to prove as a girl detective because she followed in the footsteps of the beloved Nancy Drew. While I loved Nancy, I never related to her. Nancy is polished, poised, and more often than not, taken very seriously by the adults in her life. She has the perfect boyfriend, the perfect car, and never, ever embarrasses herself in any way.
Nancy Drew would never put her foot in it. Trixie is tactless, impulsive, and has a bit of a temper. She is always, always putting her foot in it. In other words, someone kids can relate to. Her curls are always a mess, she is frequently close to failing math and requiring tutoring, and perennialy saddled with babysitting her pesky but adorable younger brother. And chores! Dusting is the bane of Trixie’s existence. I can’t remember, but I’d bet money there was a maid or a housekeeper at the Drew residence full-time.
Trixie’s adventures were also way more awesome than Nancy’s! Rich kids moved into her neighborhood…with horses! At the age of nine, it was hard to imagine anything more awesome than that. At least for me, partially because it was VERY hard to imagine horses moving into our urban Los Angeles neighborhood. AND they had super-cool red jackets with the name of their secret club, “The Bob-Whites,” cross-stitched on the back.
Trixie and her best (rich) friend Honey Wheeler and all the assorted big brothers were always going on fantastic trips, solving mysteries and thwarting jewel thieves, counterfeiters, and kidnappers. In between all of that danger and intrigue, they took time out to raise money for UNICEF, their junior/senior high school’s art program, and more. But they were never too good to be true because there was always a lot of (loving) bickering and plenty of misunderstandings to spice things up.
Not too long ago, Random House put out new editions of the first 15 books in the series. Hopefully they or someone else will reprint the entire series for all of the bookstalking collectors out there.
Trixie is also responsible for my very first (thwarted) bookstalk experience…in a school library…in fourth grade…referenced in the “Stalking Books Since 1980” subhead above. But that’s a story for another time!
Are you a Trixie lover? If so, please shout out in the comments!
The Kneebone Boy
By Ellen Potter
Grades 6-8 (and up!)
I have a confession to make. I judged this book by its cover.
When I first saw the cover art a few months before its release, I knew I had to read The Kneebone Boy. And when my library did not process it fast enough for me, I caved and bought it. A book with cover art that amazing could not be bad, right? It would be worth the money, right?
The Kneebone Boy is a case where the outer shell truly lives up to the awesomeness inside. Raised by their portrait-painter father after their mother disappeared five years ago, the Hardscrabble Kids have had to count on each other to get by. Otto, the eldest, will only communicate through sign language and always wears a black scarf his mother gave him—winter and summer. Max seems to know something about everything, which can be kind of annoying. And Lucia has imagination and leadership skills to spare.
When their father departs yet again to paint another former royal, the Hardscrabbles are packed off to stay with an aunt in London…only she isn’t there. Through a series of events (some unfortunate), they end up staying with their American great-aunt in a miniature replica of a castle and hunting for the Kneebone Boy, a local legend rumored to be half-boy, half-animal.
I don’t want to say more about the plot for fear I will give something away. The Kneebone Boy is entirely unpredictable and discovering things along with the Hardscrabbles is half the fun.
Ellen Potter is American, but you’d never know it by how British the writing seems (at least to me, an American). The book is both humorous and touching, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The Hardscrabbles are both sassy and lovable and the supporting characters, from their Great Aunt Haddie with her taste for disgusting American food like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, to a grumpy taxidermist, are equally compelling. The ending is bittersweet, but well worth the trip.
I would recommend TheKneebone Boy to fans of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and of course, E. Nesbit. In particular, the unidentified-Hardscrabble-narrator-whose-identity-is-perfectly-obvious reminded me of Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers. And that’s a GOOD thing.
I only hope there will be more Hardscrabble adventures!
Book Review: Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels 03/18/2011
Every once in awhile I’ll review a picture book just to change things up on the blog. Although I don’t have children, I do enjoy checking out picture books when I see one that looks fun…they’re entertaining for all ages!
Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels
Written by Jamie Michalak
Illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
Grades Pre-K – 3
Introverted turtle Sparky and adventureous giraffe Joe are best friends despite their differences. When Joe spies a car he’s certain he won in a contest, he convinces Sparky to come out of his shell and depart on an adventure like nothing Safari Land has ever seen before. The pair learn how to shop ‘til they drop, the difference between fries and flies, and the joys of wearing a fruit be-decked hat.
The characterizations of fun-loving Joe and safety-conscious Sparky are consistent throughout, and the illustrations perfectly capture the humor of the text. Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels is a charming story that will have children begging for re-reads. Parents will appreciate the sentiment that while there’s no place like home, it’s a good idea to stick your neck out for adventure every once in a while. Safety first, of course.
Review: Rosebush by Michele Jaffe 03/17/2011
By Michele Jaffe
Grades 9 and up
Jane Freeman is one of the most popular girls in school…so why did someone hate her badly enough to run over her and leave her for dead in a rosebush?
When Jane awakens, paralyzed, in a hospital bed, she has no memory of the accident or the hours before. As time passes with nothing to do but think, she begins to piece together her memories of the night she was nearly murdered—and realizes that just about any of the visitors filing into her room could be the killer. Soon she is receiving thinly-veiled threats that her mother and doctors believe are simply hallucinations caused by her injuries. But Jane knows the killer is out there, waiting for a chance to finish the job. Can she stop him/her in time? And how? Agh!! The suspense!!
Rosebush is un-put-downable. From the moment I opened it until I finished it a couple of hours later, I was completely hooked. Michele Jaffe skillfully switches from present day to flashbacks at just the right moments in the story to reveal necessary information without dampening the suspense.
The premise alone is compelling—Jane is trapped inside a non-fuctioning body, unable to differentiate between what is real and what is a result of her injuries or the medication they’re using to treat her. Worse, once she finally feels like she knows what’s going on, she can’t convince anyone to believe her. Readers will find themselves flipping through pages filled with red herrings to discover who the would-be murderer is.
The characters in Rosebush are all interesting and unique. Jane is particularly sympathetic, not just for the plight she’s in at the opening, but because of the vulnerabilities that are revealed through the flashbacks. She is not always the nicest character, but she is always a believable character, and one I truly cared about. At times I just wanted to shake her for her tendency to always give her dirtbag boyfriend the benefit of the doubt when he was clearly being…well, a dirtbag, but that, too, felt real for a young girl in love.
Michele Jaffe is one of the most-skilled YA authors today in writing natural dialogue that feels real. This is huge for me because stilted, awkward language pulls me right out of a book. I can’t believe this is the first book of hers I’ve read, but it won’t be the last.
By Saundra Mitchell
Grades 9 and up
In 1889, Amelia van den Broek travels to stay with her cousins in Maryland, hoping to find a socially appropriate suitor to elevate her social and financial status. Baltimore is a welcome change in atmosphere and excitement from the rural, remote setting of her brother’s home in Broken Tooth, Maine. Swept into the social whirl of her host family, the Stewarts, Amelia soon makes new friends, attends elaborate dinner parties and dances, and exchanges calling cards with Baltimore’s elite. And most importantly of all, finds herself drawn to artist and professional dinner guest Nathaniel Witherspoon.
Not all of Amelia’s social success is due to her personality or the Stewart’s patronage, however. Amelia has discovered a new talent—the ability to see into the future. At first Amelia must look into the sunset to witness events before they happen but before long, she’s encouraged to try writing down her premonitions while in a trancelike state. She and her special gift are much in demand wherever she goes, but when her premonitions become more ominous, Amelia finds herself shunned and possibly in danger.
The paranormal element of The Vespertine is a slow burn, but worth the wait. Amelia is a realistic heroine and while I never shared her fascination with Nathaniel, I completely believed it. My lack of feeling for Nathaniel is not a failing of the author or text, but more a result of my distrust of him and reluctance to invest in him as a love interest. I was also distracted by my worries over the fate of her cousin Zora’s love affair. The characters are all believable, especially Amelia, Zora, and Zora’s mother. Amelia’s sister-in-law is also an especially sympathetic character.
Saundra Mitchell is an incredibly talented author, capably balancing plot and character development and show vs. tell. The dialogue is deftly handled and seems appropriate to the period without discouraging readers who prefer a more contemporary story and setting. Mitchell has created a completely believable world that feels authentic to the period, without dragging the reader down in excessive detail.
My only reservation about The Vespertine is that the ending practically begs for a sequel but I don’t know if one is planned. However, this book is an enjoyable read in its own right, sequel or no.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Vespertine and plan to add the author’s previous title, Shadowed Summer to my to-be-read (TBR) pile. I highly recommend this title to lovers of paranormal and historic fiction with a romantic bent.
Book Review: Warped by Maurissa Guibord 03/15/2011
By Maurissa Guibord
When Tessa discovers the unicorn tapestry in a box of old books, she’s intrigued by it from the minute her fingertips touch the material. When she pulls a loose thread on the tapestry, she unravels an ancient spell…and releases a really hot 16th century nobleman’s son from the enchantment that has trapped him in unicorn form. Soon Tessa finds her life–and the lives of those she cares about—threatened as she challenges the sinister Grey Lily to save William de Chaucy’s life.
I wasn’t sure about the premise of this book when I first read the jacket copy. When I think of unicorns, I tend to think of those Lisa Frank stickers I loved back in the 80s. But I’m so glad I pushed past my preconceptions to find this story of intriguing characters, suspense, and love that transcends time.
Warped is a debut novel from author Marissa Guibord, but you’d never guess this was her first time at the rodeo. The plot is tightly woven and she shifts seamlessly from viewpoint to viewpoint without compromising the pacing or suspense. All of the characters are fully-drawn and compelling. William’s reactions to a 21st century world are both amusing and endearing. In turn, Tessa is a likable heroine; strong-willed and opinionated, with enough of a temper to keep her from being too good to be true. The ending makes for a satisfying stand-alone but will likely leave the reader hoping for more stories about these characters.
I’d recommend Warped to teens who love paranormal romance and historical fantasy.
Have you read Warped, and if so, did you enjoy it?
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book Two: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
(Sequel to The Mysterious Howling)
The hunt is on…
After nearly destroying Lady Ashton’s Christmas ball…and Ashton Place…at the end of book one, the three Incorrigibles are in disgrace. Lady Ashton is even more out of temper than usual because the house repairs are taking too long and seems likely to send the children away at any moment.
Luckily for the Incorrigibles, their beloved governess Miss Penelope Lumley suggests a plan that suits everyone—temporarily relocate to London with the children so that she can visit her dear friend and mentor. Unfortunately, Lady Ashton likes the idea so much she brings the whole household along. But that’s a small problem to a Swanburne girl, and Miss Penelope is more than ready for the challenge of an ill-tempered mistress and a master who scratches too much and seems way too interested in the phases of the moon.
Once in London the children and their intrepid governess meet one sinister character after another: a semitoothless soothsayer with an ominous message, a judge who may or may not be who he claims, and a pack of marauding pirates/actors. Trouble finds the children as easily in the big city as at Ashton Place, and Miss Lumley must also contend with warnings about the children’s safety, a confusing guidebook with mysterious origins, and vague and unsatisfying hints about her own past.
This sequel to The Mysterious Howling is as much fun as the first installment and sets up the action perfectly for the next book in the series. Miss Lumley is a plucky heroine and the Incorrigibles are as unpredictable and amusing as ever—especially in the scene depicted on the book’s cover. Recommended for fans of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, and The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter.
Been looking forward to reading the new book Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton? Me too! For those of you who haven’t heard of this book yet, here is a synopsis from the publisher:
First there are nightmares.