Monday, October 19, 2009

Story of Survival

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present -- and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent's divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self-pity, or despair -- it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.

Title: Hatchet
Author: Gary Paulsen
Series: Brian Saga, Book 1
Start & Finished: 4/3/09
Published: September 30, 1987
Publisher: Bradbury Press
Pages: 195 (paperback)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Wilderness Survival

You can’t help but make comparisons between Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. The themes of surviving in the wilderness are remarkably similar but where Sam actually ran away to the woods to live, Brian definitely didn’t want to be there and is quite the city boy. Jean Craighead-George’s main character actually knew what he was getting himself into and was somewhat prepared while Mr. Gary Paulsen’s young hero nearly didn’t survive several times. Honestly they have little in common at all besides being set in the wilderness and both being Newbery Honors but of the two I believe I enjoyed Sam’s story more.

That’s not to say that Hatchet wasn’t a terribly wonderful story because it is, and it even has a gritty “real-life” feeling that the other doesn’t have. The main reason for that is the author researched the book in a unique way: he lived it. He said, “I have been in forced landings in light planes and had to survive in the woods with little or nothing; virtually everything that happens to Brian in the book has happened in one form or another to me, just in the process of living.” Of course not everything happened to him in real life and for “pure research” he actually ate a fresh water turtle egg and his reaction is about the same as Brian’s initial reaction. According to Paulsen, “it tasted something like old motor oil or tired Vaseline.”

Hatchet was published only a year after I was born but it was still popular once I was in school which is where I first read it. The entire class enjoyed it so much that the teacher read us Brian’s Winter which is about what would have happened to Brian if the ending of Hatchet had been a bit different. That particular story is not usually considered part of the official Brian Robeson saga though (which is in order below), however it is the only other book by this author I’ve ever read. Hatchet was also made into a TV movie A Call in the Wild in 1990. One thing that I found interesting though was how much of a better person Brian was after being stranded in the woods…

Brian Saga:
Hatchet (1987)
The River (aka Hatchet: The Return or The Return) (1991)
Brian's Winter (aka Hatchet: Winter) (1996)
Brian's Return (aka Hatchet: The Call) (1999)
Brian's Hunt (2003)

First Paragraph: Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below. It was a small plane, a Cessna 406-- a bushplane-- and the engine was so loud, so roaring and consuming and loud, that it ruined any chance for conversation.


Three-time Newbery Honor author Gary Paulsen writes of Hatchet:

What makes Hatchet stand out for me was the research I did- or rather lived- for the book. I have been in forced landings in light planes and had to survive in the woods with little or nothing; virtually everything that happens to Brian in the book has happened in one form or another to me, just in the process of living.

But there are two things that I made myself sit down and do as pure research. First, I ate a raw turtle egg. I was sitting on my porch by a small lake and I saw a snapping turtle come out of the water and lay her clutch of eggs, so I knew they were fresh. I also knew that the skunks would get the eggs that night. So I decided to try it. It was not the high point of my eating life. I cut the end off, held it up to my mouth without looking, and slurped it down. Or tried to. It got hung up about halfway down my throat and I had to work really, really hard to get it all the way down. It tasted something like old motor oil or tired Vaseline.

I also made a fire with a rock and a hatchet. It took me close to four hours, sitting in the backyard slamming at a rock until- finally- I got sparks to fall into the fluff bed I had made (as Brian made) and got a fire going. My wife came out and looked down at my small fire.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I made a fire,” I said proudly. “With a hatchet.”
She looked at the fire, at me, nodded, and went back in the house without saying anything, but it’s been some time since and she still looks at me strangely now and then and nods and smiles….

Picture Explanations
Hatchet: The thing that helps Brian survive.
Turtle Egg: According to Brian, not particularly yummy
Moose: Avoid at all costs!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Ghostly Mystery on Tradd Street

Karen White has won rave reviews for crafting a "powerfully emotional blend of family secrets. Lowcountry lore, and love." In her brand-new series, she brings us to Charleston, South Carolina and adds some magic and mystery to her well-loved mix.

Practical-minded Realtor Melanie Middleton hates to admit- even to herself- that she can see ghosts. But she's going to have to accept it, because an old man she met just days ago has died, leaving Melanie his historic Tradd Street home, complete with a housekeeper, a dog, and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her something...

Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that some diamonds that went missing from the Confederate treasury a century ago are hidden in Melanie's home. So he decides to charm the new tenant, only to discover that suddenly *he* is the smitten one.

But it turns out that Jack's search has caught the attention of a possibly malevolent ghostly presence. Now Jack and Melanie need to unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak, and even murder. And they must hurry... for an evil force-- either dead or alive-- lies in wait.

Title: The House on Tradd Street
Author: Karen White
Series: Tradd Street, Book 1
Start & Finished: 4/1/09-4/2/09
Published: November 4, 2008
Publisher: New American Library
Pages: 329 (trade paperback)
Genre: Women’s Fiction- Southern/ Paranormal

Growing up, Karen White's family moved around a lot but her family was from the south (Mississippi to be exact) and she says that "the sights, smells, and accents of the South became for me what I identified with as home."* Little surprise that from her very first published book (a romance called In the Shadow of the Moon) to her latest, The House on Tradd Street; all are set in the south.

The House on Tradd Street is set in Charleston, South Carolina and has element generally associated with the south including an old antebellum house and even a ghost or two. However, the house in the story is the most important thing: "This house is more than brick, mortar, and lumber. It's a connection to the past and those who have gone before us. It's memories and belonging. It's a home that on the inside has seen the birth of children and the death of the old folks and the changing of the world from the outside. It's a piece of history you can hold in your hands." The previous owner Neville Vanderhorst said this and it nicely sums up the feel of the entire story.

In her own words Ms. White describes this book as “Sixth Sense meets Moonlighting” which is actually the very best way to explain it as the main character does see ghosts. In one part of the book Melanie remarks, “I turned my head away to stare out the window and at the old streets of the Holy city and wished, not for the first time, that dead people would just leave me alone.”

Any book that has ghosts in it tends to get my attention yet it’s the ones where the main characters (usually female) can see/ communicate with ghosts are the ones I have a penchant for enjoying. Ghosts aren’t the only interesting thing in this story! There’s also a some romantic interest and a neat cold case mystery for the heroine that I found intriguing too. Karen White has created a truly interesting character with Melanie Middleton and I look forward to reading more of her story in the sequel The Girl on Legare Street.

First Paragraph: Pewter reflections of scarlet hibiscus colored the dirt-smudged windows of the old house, like happy memories of youth trapped inside the shell of an old man. The broken pediments over the windows gave the house a permanent from, yet the leaf-filtered sun against the chipped Tower-of-the-Winds columns lining the side piazzas painted the house with hope. It was almost, I thought, as if the house were merely waiting for a miracle.

  • The entry for Karen White on Wikipedia is mostly a short biography and talks about an award she’s won.
  • A complete bibliography of Ms. White’s books is on Fantastic Fiction

Blog Guest Posts (please let me know if I’ve missed yours):
The Friendly Book Nook
Scribe Vibe
Lori’s Reading Corner
The Book Stacks
Savvy Verse & Wit
Café of Dreams
Wanda's Wonderful Book Blog

Fresh Fiction
Divine Caroline
Diary of an Eccentric
In Bed with Books
Bloggin' About Books*

Picture Explanations:
Mantle: Jack and Melanie find a cross-stitch sampler from 1849 behind a mantle in the house.
Tradd Street: This is a picture of the actual Tradd Street in South Carolina
The Wooden Swing: This ties partly into the reason why Neville left the house to Melanie.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What's Cooking Good Looking?

Chef extraordinaire Gina Foxton doesn't expect anything to be handed to her on a platter. After years of hard work, the former-runner-up Miss Teen Vidalia Onion is now the host of her own local Georgia public television show called Fresh Star, and she's dating the show's producer.

But when her show gets canceled-- and she catches her boyfriend in flagrante delicto with the boss's wife-- Gina realizes that she's meant for bigger and better things. Namely, a gig on national television.

The Cooking Channel is looking for its next big star, and Gina is certain that she fits the bill. Trouble is, the execs also have their eyes on Mr. "Kill It and Grill It" Tate Moody, the star of a hunting, fishing, and cooking show named Vittles. Tate is the ultimate man's man, with a dog named Moonpie and a penchant for flannel shirts. He's also a tasty side of beef with a swooning female fan base. All Gina has on her side are a free-spirited, college-dropout sister and a mother who calls every single day.

Little does Gina know, though, that she and Tate are soon to embark on the cook-off of their lives, spiced up by a little ingredient called love.

Title: Deep Dish
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Start & Finished: 3/30/09-3/31/09
Published: February 26, 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Genre: Women’s Fiction

There have been cooking shows for almost as long as there has been television but cooking reality shows are a bit of a new thing. Author Mary Kay Andrews (real name Kathy Hogan Trocheck) took both of these types of shows and combined it in her latest novel Deep Dish. To make the story as realistic as possible she researched all she needed to know about the cooking show business and even got to observe Paula Deen in action for about a week.

Southern authors, especially those born and raised in the south like Mary Kay Andrews (in my home state Georgia no less) have a distinct advantage when it comes to me as I automatically believe that their stories are going to be good ones and Ms. Andrews has yet to prove me wrong. I’ve read every book she has published under this pen name and a few under her real name as well and I’ve liked every one of them. All the southern nuances and phrases are authentic (yes there is even a “snatch you bald-headed” line or in this case it's, "I will personally snatch you bald") as is the food in the story too. Where else but in the south will you find a recipe for Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake?

All of this author’s (under this name) books do end in a happily-ever-after romance, usually after leaving a cheating boyfriend or husband but despite that and the common theme of cooking great southern food- oh and the fact that they’re all set in Georgia (or in this case; half in Georgia, half on the fictional Eutaw Island, which is based on “Cumberland Island in Georgia, and Daufuskie in South Carolina“), other than that, each book and each character is completely unique. Also usually, when it comes to reading a book with several characters I’ll start to forget who is who but for some reason I’ve never had that problem with Andrews. Every person from the main characters Regina (Gina or as Tate likes to call her, Reggie), Tate, and his dog Moonpie to the minor characters like the flamboyant make-up artist D’John or Gina’s wild child sister Lisa, each seems so real you expect them to actually exist.

The very best thing about Deep Dish however is just how funny it is. The characters can dish it out and get their jabs in (sometimes quite literally) too and the pacing of the story never slows down for their banter. You absolutely cannot classify this as romance because it’s not. The only time a character ever gets naked is to run screaming down a beach for the sheer thrill of it. "It's not about Regina finding a man," Andrews says, "it's about Regina finding herself."

First Paragraph: One more week. Gina repeated the words to herself as she stood on the set, her makeup already starting to melt under the hot lights trained on her.

Fresh Fiction
Book Club Girl (podcast)

The Artist’s Craft featuring Mary Kay Andrews

The author talks about Deep Dish on CNN

Picture Explanations:
Cooking Studio:
Where Gina and Tate film their shows.
Moonpie: This is what Tate’s dog looks like.
Eubanks Marsh: Tate and Gina have to find food to cook for the show (kind of a la Survivor meets Top Chef) and they go into the marsh on a few occasions.
Cake: This is a picture of Reggie's Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake that was featured in the Cooking With Paula Deen magazine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Winged Wonder Plummets

A former movie stunt man and his bookish nephew, spending the summer together, seem to have little in common until a winged colt enters their lives.

Charles in unhappily living with his Uncle Coot for the summer. The two have nothing in common, and the tension between them is high until Uncle Coot's unusual neighbor, Mrs. Minney, gives them a foal recently born to her mare. Both Charles and Uncle Coot are shocked to discover that the young horse has wings--and the ability to fly.

Title: The Winged Colt of Casa Mia
Author: Betsy Byars
Illustrator: Richard Cuffari
Start & Finished: 3/26/09
Published: 1973
Publisher: Viking Press
Pages: 127
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Animal Story/ Fantasy

Betsy Byars has been writing for children for many, many years and has written several award winning novels including one that won the Newbery award. She has over 50 books published, several of them are parts of series but most are stand-alone novels like her 1973 story The Winged Colt of Casa Mia. It’s not a very popular story nowadays even if it does have a flying horse in it, but it was made into a TV movie in 1977 for the ABC Weekend Specials. It was the very first episode.

Animal stories were always the first thing I’d pick up as a child and it’s really not that different now. I truly expected to love The Winged Colt of Casa Mia but it was just okay. Not an amazing story, not even all that interesting except the flying horse named Alado who had only a few brief scenes because it was mainly about a boy whose mother has neglected him all his life then finally ships him off to live with his Uncle Coot who is a retired stunt man. It’s not a bad story at all but there was just a randomness to it that I didn’t really enjoy. The man tells the story so you get to see first hand just how annoying this smart kid can be and bratty too without really meaning to be.

Even though she is a Newbery winning author I wasn't sure if I had read anything by Byars before but I was wrong! I had read both Wanted... Mud Blossom and The Cybil War when I was younger. Though Alado bears resemblance to the legendary Pegasus and Byars was inspired by her husband’s hobby of flying gliders, The Winged Colt of Casa Mia unfortunately crashes and burns in my opinion.

First Paragraph: Coming Soon!

  • A short biography and a list of Betsy Byars works is on her Wikipedia page.
  • Ms. Byars talks about her inspiration for this story on her official site.
  • The author's biography in her own words article is here.

This is a very short clip of the actor that plays Charles in the adaptation of The Winged Colt

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leaving Civilization to Live in the Wild

My Side Of The Mountain, based on the book by Jean George, is the unique adventure of thirteen-year-old Sam Gribley. Sam's hero is naturalist poet Harry David Thoreau, so Sam writes a note for his folks, packs up and leaves home for the challenge of wilderness living. Realizing his dream, Sam feeds himself, builds a makeshift home and learns to live in harmony with nature-- miles from civilization.

Title: My Side of the Mountain
Release: 1969
Genre: Family- Adventure
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Writer: Joanna Crawford, Jane Klove, & Ted Sherdeman
Director: James B. Clark
Music By: Wilfred Josephs
Produced By: Robert B. Radnitz
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 100 minutes

Stories that take place in nature is author Jean Craighead George’s speciality. Her books all contain beautiful messages that truly speak to the reader, young or old but in My Side of the Mountain she truly captured something wonderful. That book was made into a film set in Canada ten years after the story was first published. The loose adaptation starred Ted Eccles as Sam, Theodore Bikel as Bando the folk singer, and Tudi Wiggins as Miss Turner the librarian.

Ms. George’s Newbery Honorree was a story I read while still in elementary school but the general theme of running away to live off the land was something I could never forget. Once I learned it had been made into a movie I knew I just had to see it. I aso knew without a doubt it would have the most beautiful settings no matter what. However, I wasn’t planning on that being the main highlight of the film which was unfortunately what happened.

Honestly what probably spoiled this for me was that there was just too much going on and there were too many writers attached to the project who all seemed to have different ideas. Sam’s simple beloved story of wanting to live in the wild away from the crowded city evolved into Sam’s search for learning about algae, dealing with death, and all the while trying to live off the land. I wanted to like this movie so much but I was just too disappointed in it. Maybe if I wasn’t as familiar with the book I wouldn’t have had as many problems but I’m just glad that the scenery stayed beautiful through it all.

The film doesn’t end with a “no animals were harmed during the making” credit so I’m not sure if the animal deaths are real or not. The producers do say that they “wish to express our thanks to Crawley Films, the Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife and the people of Knowlton, [Quebec] for their generous co-operation” though. One good thing came of watching the movie version of My Side of the Mountain: it made me want to see more films where nature and animals were the main focus!


  • To read more about this film including the most important differences between the novel and the movie go to Wikipedia.
  • There are a few interesting tidbits on the My Side of the Mountain page including memorable quotes, movie connections, the award the film won, and more.


Related Post:
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Monday, October 5, 2009

Loving Chaos

Half-demon Hope Adams has inherited not only a gift for seeing the past but a hunger for chaos---along with a talent for finding it wherever she can. Naturally, when she's chosen by a very dangerous group for a very dangerous mission, she jumps at the chance. As it turns out, Hope is a little too good at this job, and she soon finds it necessary to unleash her most potent primal instincts---and open herself, mind and body, to everything she most fears...and desires.

Title: Personal Demon
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 8
Start & Finished: 3/25/09
Published: March 25, 2008
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Pages: 523 (paperback)
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Tabloid reporter Hope Adams is the starring female in Kelley Armstrong's eighth book in her Women of the Otherworld series Personal Demon however, being a reporter is just her "day-job" so to speak. Like all of the women in this series there is something special about her, she's a rare half-demon known as an Expiso, which means that her father was Lucifer.

The only female werewolf Elena Michaels from the first two books in the series is my favorite heroine that has ever narrated one of Armstrong’s books but Hope Adam’s is probably my second favorite. They’re all really great (and most “check in” during each book no matter who is narrating) though and I thought it kind of interesting that the author let Lucas (from Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic) narrate occasionally too.

“Whining. Complaining. Blaming someone else. I hate those traits in others, and I loathe seeing them in myself. Fate makes you a half-demon? Gives you visions of death and destruction? Makes you crave them like candy and cigarettes? Too bad. Suck it up and move on.” I doubt anyone could describe Hope Adams better than Hope! She’s also a very nice person despite her cravings for chaos though. There was only one thing in Personal Demon that while necessary, confused me to no end and that was Hope’s undercover name in the gang Faith Edmonds. It’s so similar that I kept calling her Faith even when she wasn’t undercover! The inner dialogue like: “Hope Adams may not [insert something like drinking], but I was sure Faith Edmonds would,” was a bit annoying too.

However, the real star of the story was Karl Marsten, the second best werewolf in the Women of the Otherworld series. He doesn’t do that much stealing (he’s a jewel thief that Hope met in a short story from the anthology Dates from Hell whom also appears in several of the books) this time but his raw magnetism still comes across through the page regardless. The author claimed that he was originally supposed to die in the very first book so I’m extremely glad she decided to keep him! I hope he and Hope will appear in many more of the books in this series.

Women of the Otherworld Series:
1. Bitten (2001)
2. Stolen (2002)
3. Dime Store Magic (2003)
4. Industrial Magic (2004)
5. Haunted (2005)
6. Broken (2006)
7. No Humans Involved (2007)
8. Personal Demon (2008)
9. Living with the Dead (2008)
10. Frost Bitten (2009)
11. Waking the Witch (2010)

First Paragraph: There was a time in my life when the prospect of watching a man die would have filled me with horror. Now, as I shivered beside the cenotaph, knowing death was coming, what I felt was very different.

Love, Romances, and More

Book Trailer #1 (silent)

Book Trailer #2

Dates from Hell (2006) anthology
My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007) anthology
Many Bloody Returns (2007) anthology
Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong (2007)
Made to Be Broken by Kelley Armstrong (2009)
The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (2008)

Picture Explanations
Cartier Watch: Hope/ Faith’s new watch from Jaz
Glinlivit single malt Scotch: "Party Time" calls for the "good stuff"

Friday, October 2, 2009

She Doesn't Want to See Dead People

My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again.

All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don’t even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost- and the ghost saw me.

Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won’t leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a “special house” for troubled teens. Yet the house isn’t what it seems. Don’t tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? It’s up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House… before its skeletons come back to haunt me.

Title: The Summoning
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Darkest Powers, Book 1
Start & Finished: 3/25/09
Published: July 1, 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 309 (Hardcover)
Genre: YA- Paranormal

Kelley Armstrong is mainly known as the bestselling author of the paranormal series Women of the Otherworld for adults but her newest series is written for teens. After writing the second book in her main series, she came up with the idea for the Darkest Powers novels but it took her five years before it was published. Set in the same world as her most popular series, the first book in what is to become a trilogy starring Chloe Saunders is called The Summoning.

The Women of the Otherworld series has been one of my favorites for a few years now so when I learned the author was writing a young adult paranormal series, I knew I had to check it out. This new series is just as good as the adult one but with no romantic relationships (even if there is some budding romance). Since I am a fan of the main series, the big reveal about the truth of Lyle House and its occupant didn’t come as a surprise to me at all… mostly because I had already figured it out! The author has created a great cast of characters, (misfits though they are) with this series. Chloe and Simon are my favorites with Derek as a close third.

Armstrong touched on what it would be like growing up as a supernatural being only briefly in her Women of the Otherworld books as there isn’t much room to go into detail but she fully explores it here. What would kids do and where would they go when their powers were discovered? Especially when they’re parents are normal? Or if the kids are orphans? They would most likely be considered “troubled,” and since they didn’t know any better how would they know? As Chloe says near the beginning of the book, “If the kids were diagnosed as having a disease such as schizophrenia, pyromania, etc.” --as Chloe puts it,“If I was crazy, would I know it? That’s what being crazy was, wasn’t it? You thought you were fine. Everyone else knew better. Maybe I was crazy.”

When talking about this first book the author said, “Despite a wide age range of narrators in my adult novels, adults share a basic set of core concerns that are different from teens, and they have a very different set of tools for dealing with them. It's a fresh take on ‘my world’ and I love it.” Well, Ms. Armstrong, I can safely say after reading it that I love it too and now I need to go get caught up with your other books. A warning though, this does end on a huge cliffhanger so you may want pick up the second book The Awakening and have it ready after you finish.

Darkest Powers Series:
1. The Summoning (2008)
2. The Awakening (2009)
3. The Reckoning (2010)

First Paragraph: I bolted up in bed, one hand clutching my pendant, the other wrapped in my sheets. I struggled to recapture wisps of the dream already fluttering away. Something about a basement... a little girl... me? I couldn't remember ever having a basement-- we'd always lived in condo apartments.


Cynsations Blog
Imperial Beach Teen Blog

Book Trailer

Armstrong Talks About The Summoning at Kelpers Bookstore

My Related Posts:
Industrial Magic
No Humans Involved

Picture Explanations:
Rae’s matches: One of the girl’s at Lowell House has been branded a pyromaniac
Liz’ green hoodie: Another girl at the House left this behind when she left

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