Archive for December, 2011

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories

Dr Seuss

It’s the literary equivalant of buried treasure! Seuss scholar/collector Charles D. Cohen has hunted down seven rarely seen stories by Dr. Seuss. Originally published in magazines between 1950 and 1951, they include “The Bear, the Rabbit, and the Zinniga-Zanniga ” (about a rabbit who is saved from a bear with a single eyelash!); “Gustav the Goldfish” (an early, rhymed version of the Beginner Book A Fish Out of Water); “Tadd and Todd” (a tale passed down via photocopy to generations of twins); “Steak for Supper” (about fantastic creatures who follow a boy home in anticipation of a steak dinner); “The Bippolo Seed” (in which a scheming feline leads an innocent duck to make a bad decision); “The Strange Shirt Spot” (the inspiration for the bathtub-ring scene in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back); and “The Great Henry McBride” (about a boy whose far-flung career fantasies are only bested by those of the real Dr. Seuss himself).

In an introduction to the collection, Cohen explains the significance these seven stories have, not only as lost treasures, but as transitional stories in Dr. Seuss’s career. With a color palette that has been enhanced beyond the limitations of the original magazines in which they appeared, this is a collection of stories that no Seuss fan (whether scholar or second-grader) will want to miss!

I have to confess that, whilst I obviously know of ‘Dr Seuss’ and his quirky rhyming style and have bemusedly watched ‘The Grinch’ featuring Jim Carrey or, in my opinion the more enjoyable, ‘Horton hears a Who’, I don’t think I have ever actually read any of his books.

Now that I have read,’The Bippolo Seed’ I am amazed by Dr Seuss’ extraordinary mind. These ‘lost’ stories have no particular theme. The first two stories, the titular ‘Bippolo Seed’ (a cautionary tale about greed) and ‘The Rabbit, the Bear and the Zinniga-Zanniga’ (where quick thinking makes up for size) reminded me of the Aesops fables I read as a child. This may also be why I enjoyed these the most! The ‘Tadd and Todd’, ‘Gustav the Goldfish’ and ‘Steak for Supper’ stories shows Dr Seuss’ penchant for characters out of this world – maybe fans of Dr Seuss would recognise a ‘Gritch’ or a ‘Grickle’?

I have to admit though, ‘The Strange Shirt spot’ and ‘The Great Henry McBride’ didn’t quite hit the mark for me. The latter, particularly so.

Unfortunately my daughter (4yrs) was not impressed. She, nor my husband are fans of the iconic character illustration and I guess is too young to ‘get’ the frivolity of such books so will have to try again in a few years time.

Verdict: Overall, this is an interesting collection of short stories. It has also encouraged me to seek out more well known works of Dr Seuss. In my opinion children 6 yrs and older will be more likely to appreciate this very unique style of storytelling.

Reviewed by Karen

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 72
Genre: Picture Book, Classic
Age: Early Readers
Reviewer: Karen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: N/A
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Becca Fitzpatrick

The noise between Patch and Nora is gone. They’ve overcome the secrets riddled in Patch’s dark past, bridged two irreconcilable worlds and faced heart-wrenching tests of betrayal, loyalty and trust-all for a love that will transcend the boundary between heaven and earth.
Armed with nothing but their absolute faith in one another, Patch and Nora enter a desperate fight to stop a villain who holds the power to shatter everything they’ve worked for-and their love-forever.

The third instalment in the Hush Hush saga, Silence begins three months after the climax of Crescendo, wow, Becca can sure write a cliff hanger! A bruised, disorientated and confused Nora wakes up in a graveyard with no recollection of how she got there and with no memory of the previous five months. She has no idea what a Nephilim is, that angels even exist and, yep you’ve guessed it, no memory of meeting and falling in love with Patch. Her soul, however, hasn’t forgotten him, and while she can’t put her finger on it exactly, she is calling out for something, craving something and everywhere she looks she is drawn to black.

This craving appears to be fulfilled when Nora meets the enigmatic, black eyed Jev, for whom she feels an instant attraction and trust. Fans of the series will recognise that Jev is really Patch, but why is he keeping his identity a secret from Nora and why are Nora’s mother and best friend, Vee also being selective with the truth?

If like me, after waiting for almost a year, you are beside yourself to discover the outcome of Nora and Patch’s confrontation with The Black Hand I’m afraid to say that you are going to have to be patient for a little longer. While all is revealed by the end of the book, like Nora you are going to have to work to get the answers you seek. As a reader I initially found the three month jump in the story frustrating and disorientating however, once re-immersed in the world of Hush Hush, I recognised that skipping forward three months in the story was an excellent device to create empathy for Nora’s condition. I enjoyed discovering the answers with Nora and having the opportunity to witness Nora meeting and falling in Love with “ Jev”- How often do you get to re experience a first kiss and that first flush of love with the same man?!

Having made the decision, in Crescendo, to go rogue and having experienced three months of terror, not knowing where or how Nora was, profoundly affected Patch. In Silence (despite initially hiding his identity) Patch is more open with Nora. He is more tactile, finding any excuse to touch her, as if reassuring himself that she is still there. He finally invites Nora in to his home, letting her in to a previously unseen part of his life and he is more expressive of his feelings, verbally and non verbally (I just melted when we discovered that he had been food shopping for her).

While on the subject of Patch’s feelings I was lucky enough to get my hands on a limited edition of Silence. This signed first edition comes with the additional content of a play list and..Patch’s perspective of the (real) first time he and Nora met. The first thing I did when I got the book home was to turn to the back of the book and devour the unusual grey pages and white text. I totally loved this opportunity to get inside the head of the gorgeous enigma and observe his first impressions of our heroine and his softening feelings towards her.

Now I have to admit that I had mixed feelings when I heard, shortly before the release of Silence, that there was going to be a fourth book in the Hush Hush saga. I am not the most patient person, I actually prefer to join a series near its completion and avoid the frustrating wait between instalments, and not to mention Crescendo concluded with the mother of all cliff hangers! So, while I loved this series and didn’t want my relationship with the characters to have to come to an end, I felt that having to wait another year to experience the completion of Nora and Patch’s story was going to be pure literary torture. I should have had more faith in the author. While Silence leaves you craving more, it is not the emotional wrecking ball of Crescendo and I think I’ll survive until the publication of Hush Hush #4; well just!

Verdict: Like Nora I fall a little more in love with Patch with each book and with each book I fall a little more in love with this series.

Reviewed by Caroline

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Hardback
Pages: 448
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Age: YA
Reviewer: Caroline
Source: Own Copy
Challenge: N/A
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K J Wignall

Back in the 13th Century Will was destined to be Earl of Mercia. He never lived to inherit his title struck down by a strange illness and buried beneath the city walls. But Will was not dead and only now seven lonely centuries later does he begin to understand that there was a reason for all of this that he has a destiny. To find it though he will need help and as ever he will need blood.

To the shock and horror of many, I’ve never actually read a ‘Vampire’ book before and was therefore unable to contribute to our recent ‘around the table’ discussions regarding Twilight – now on my ‘to read’ pile! So this was my first experience and I didn’t know if it would be my cup of tea or not. However I was drawn in by the beautiful black, silver and red cover and I’m pleased that the story inside didn’t disappoint.

Blood, which is book one of the Mercian Trilogy introduces our protagonist Will. Will was born back in 1256 and only made it to sixteen years old having been struck down by a ‘strange illness’. We learn that he was bitten by a creature and although buried by his family, he never dies. Set in London, he has a crypt under the city walls and every few years or so after a good long sleep he awakes again not knowing which century he will be in and how life will have changed in the real world. He has witnessed much over the years and is longing to find the creature that bit him and to find answers about what happened to him all those years ago.

I felt sorry for him. He has never met another like him, and has not known anyone who can help him or explain how he came to be in this situation. To him death would be preferable to the existence he has had for the last 750 plus years. The first chapter sets the scene well and I enjoyed the author’s descriptive narrative throughout the book. We follow Will on his journey as he first off sets out to satisfy his need for blood – which wasn’t gruesome at all – quite clean and methodical in fact! Will rarely needs to have blood – he does it when necessary and he feeds off of drifters and those who wouldn’t be missed. It’s all quite different to the ‘Vampires’ that I had imagined.

He finds Jex, who ‘lives’ in an abandoned warehouse and he becomes Will’s unfortunate victim. He also meets Eloise, who is homeless, feisty and completely un-phased by Will’s description of himself as ‘undead’. She wants to help him in his quest and isn’t remotely concerned or scared by anything that they encounter. Going back to Jex’s place, they see that he has been writing and drawing pictures and Will realises his writings hold clues to help his quest. As they investigate they find themselves under attack from a supernatural entity. This leads to some fast paced battles which I thought were well written. Along the way, the truth slowly starts to reveal itself leading finally to a showdown in an old abandoned church where Will begins to get some answers at last.

There is romance, but nothing gushy or mushy. The story is unfinished as it’s the first of a Trilogy but I shall read the rest. I found it all rather intriguing.

Verdict: An enjoyable and interesting read, and a great introduction to the Trilogy.

Reviewed by Lesley

Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 277
Genre: Paranormal
Age: YA
Reviewer: Lesley
Source: Received at event
Challenge: N/A
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The Help

Kathryn Stockett

Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver. Some lines will never be crossed. Aibileen is a black maid: smart, regal, and raising her seventeenth white child. Yet something shifted inside Aibileen the day her own son died while his bosses looked the other way. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is by some way the sassiest woman in Mississippi. But even her extraordinary cooking won’t protect Minny from the consequences of her tongue. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter returns home with a degree and a head full of hope, but her mother will not be happy until there’s a ring on her finger. Seeking solace with Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, Skeeter finds she has gone. But why will no one tell her where? Seemingly as different as can be, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny’s lives converge over a clandestine project that will not only put them all at risk but also change the town of Jackson for ever. But why? And for what? The Help is a deeply moving, timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we won’t. It is about how women, whether mothers or daughters, the help or the boss, relate to each other- and that terrible feeling that those who look after your children may understand them, even love them, better than you…

Before I read this book everyone told me it was ‘amazing’, so I began reading with interest. I usually find that it is better not to believe the hype, but in this case I finished the book and would have to say yes, I found it amazing!

So what makes it great? Well, the controversial subject matter is fascinating to read about. The previously untold stories of black women working for white women in 1960’s America with all the issues that brings with it; the love, the hate, the hypocrisy, double standards, the need for each other and yet mutual dislike or disdain. This story shows the passion of the women on both sides of the fence and is, to me at least, a revelation about what life was really like. I know lots about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, I know about the not being allowed on buses and to the same Universities and so on, but this book makes it real, and makes the lives of ordinary people real. This is about the day to day lives of those who had to endure hardship and intolerance and yet just got on with living. It is about civil rights and about a group of women who are brave enough to choose to fight in their own way. And it is about the white woman that gave them this opportunity.

The three main characters, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, make a fascinating group. They are all so different and come to be so dependent on each other. Each has their own individual problems in their lives, as well as the problems that draw them together. They are characters you are drawn to, and want to know better. The journey they undertake together (and also in so many ways, apart) will change all of them forever. This is not only in fighting for their right to be heard and respected, but also having great effect on their personal concerns and circumstances.

The more minor characters also have a depth and fullness to them. Miss Hilly is an awful, bigoted, woman. She is blind to her own hypocrisy and has a mean streak that touches anyone who stands in her way, or doesn’t fit in with her narrow minded views. Celia Foote appears to be a bimbo, but is trying to survive in a society that is as alien to her as it is to the black women, as she used to be ‘white trash’ herself. Elizabeth Leefolt is just a best friend, but gets caught in the fallout between Miss Hilly and Skeeter as they take opposing sides in this fight for civil rights. She shows how hard it can be to be brave and stand up for yourself, or sometimes even to understand the cause when everyone around you thinks that this is the way life is supposed to be. These characters all embody the values, ideals and principles (or what we might consider the lack thereof) of their time, but they also resonate today bringing to mind people you know, or stories we hear. They tell us that if we look we can see many of these things happening today.

The other thing that I loved about this book was that it had the capacity to make me laugh, to well up, and to be angry, and sometimes all over the same incident. Stories that can engage that kind of reaction I always find compelling. The novel is written with such deftness and assurance, you would never realise it is Stockett’s debut novel.

Verdict: I don’t know how this book could be any better. A brilliant, perceptive, innovative handling of a very sensitive subject. Having borrowed this book I am sure I am going to have to go out and buy it, and then lend it to as many people as possible!

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: May 2010 (reprint ed.)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 515/559KB
Genre: Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: N/A
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