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review 2014-08-30 19:13
George Selden: Chester Cricket's New Home
Chester Cricket's New Home - George Selden,Garth Williams

Ugh, this book. It's hard to believe it was written in the 1980s, when its attitudes seem to be straight from the 1940s.

The main characters in this book are Chester Cricket, Simon Turtle, and Walter Water Snake. Others are John Robin, Donald Dragonfly, Bill Squirrel, Sam Grackle, Henry and Emily Chipmunk, and Beatrice and Jerome Pheasant. Of these 11 characters, 9 are male, and both of the females are presented as overly-domestic. One of the females, Beatrice Pheasant, is downright unnatural:

Now, it is well known that in most pheasant families the male bird always grows the most beautiful plumage. It's his right — Nature says so. And indeed, in the case of Jerome and Beatrice, if you looked very closely you would see that the gold and the amber and the brown — and perhaps a hidden trace of green — that his feathers contained were more brilliant than hers. Yet somehow, Beatrice seemed the more grand. Perhaps it was just that she always walked first, and talked first, and spoke with such quiet authority. Or maybe her size, which was very impressive, made her look rather special. Whatever the reason, Beatrice was the Pheasant who favored the Old Meadow with her presence, and Jerome was a pheasant, her husband, whom everyone tended to like and forget. (On most matters, in fact, Beatrice Pheasant like to have the last word, and not leave it to Nature or anyone else whose views might differ from her own.)

Other characters who are mentioned but don't appear in the story are Lou Squirrel, Dorothy Robin, Mr. Mouse, Mr. Cat, Uncle Rosebush, and Miss Jenny, the Pheasants' field mouse. This brings the ratio of female characters up to almost 25%.

Interestingly, the humans are largely female. There is May and Lola, two middle-aged women who, being too fat to walk through Hedley's Meadow without resting, sit on Chester's stump so that their combined weight crushes his home. They roll down the hill into the creek and are generally ridiculous. Then there is Toots, a young woman who had the gall to wear high heels and tacky clothes in the Meadow with her boyfriend, when they really should have been in a disco, not in nature. Walter Water Snake tells a story about how he "teaches her a lesson." There is one mention of a human boy, "Jaspar — the one who helped you save the Old Meadow", so perhaps only adult women are supposed to keep a respectful distance from Nature. Apparently Jaspar's biggest problem was his mother, who was making him "maladjusted" by having him wipe his feet and wash his hands.

So yes, while the main story of Chester trying to find a new home was charming, the message this book conveys is that nature is perfect when if is full of boys, but women will mess it up with their persnickety domesticity. The the way the female characters were made to seem ridiculous and unnatural was not kind or loving, and to me it didn't feel like it was coming from a place of gentle jest.

I was deeply uncomfortable reading this book to my daughter. I regretted that Chester didn't have any female friends, and that the few female characters in the book were portrayed so negatively. Nothing on the cover of this book said it was for boys only, but the unmistakable anti-female vibe made me wish I had stayed away. Then again, I would have been uncomfortable reading this book to a boy too, especially one who I wanted to grow up to like women. NOT recommended.

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review 2014-03-30 03:40
Byrd by Kim Church
Byrd - Kim Church

Title: Byrd
Author: Kim Church
Genre: Literary Fiction
Setting: Carswell, North Carolina | California
Book design by Steven Seighman
Published March 18th 2014 by Dzanc Books

eBook version by Open Road Integrated Media


“Once upon a time, I was pregnant. A baby grew in me. I read to him. Once upon a time, I was a mother.”

When we were younger, we all believed that we were meant to fly. The path that lay before us seem to be limitless and every nook and corner is a possibility and an opportunity waiting for us. As we grow older, however, we come to realize that not every path conforms to our original dreams and aspirations. Some paths lead us to disappointments and regrets, lost love and perhaps even broken friendships. We were also fueled with that reckless, almost innocent impression that whatever we do (or not do) will have consequences that will only affect us and no one else. In reality, this is not true as we will find out sooner or later. As they say, reality bites.


Byrd, Kim Church’s debut novel is a touching and life-affirming story that explores the all-too-familiar instances in which our secrets, actions and decisions shape not only our own lives but our loved ones’ as well. As the characters in Byrd will later find out, life can become unforgiving at times, and the past will always find a way to catch up with us.


In Byrd, we come to know Addie Lockwood and how her life intertwines with Roland Rhodes. Both of them have their own dreams about the life they want to lead, but neither of them makes mention of being together. Their friendship (I’m using this word on purpose instead of intimate relationship as their relationship seem to be quite vague even to both of them) lasts until they graduate high school. They then lead separate lives, trying to make their dreams a reality. When they meet each other again, years later, it leads to a pregnancy that Addie and Roland aren’t quite ready to deal with. While Roland provides a small amount of comfort and care, we come to know that it’s the only thing he can give to Addie. Unknown to Roland, Addie gives their child up for adoption. Mired in a feeling of pervasive loneliness and uncertainty, Addie tries to estrange herself from her family as she tries to make sense of what she has done.


Through alternating point of views, what unfolds is a story about the characters’ present struggles as well as their past. Byrd portrays a cast of characters that are as real as you and me, as well as circumstances that are almost too familiar, affecting us in many ways. While I sympathized with all the characters, I felt an unconditional affection for Addie. She seems to be craving for love yet she doesn’t know that when you force love into your life, it can escape just as easily. Perhaps she is trying to find someone to fill up the space left by the child she gave up. The letters Addie writes to her child made me sad for her and her child as well.


It may all seem too sad to read, but underlying all these struggles and regrets is the message of hope and love. It shows how dealing with life’s problems and accepting love from others (even if we think we don’t deserve it because of our past) become a testament to life itself. Byrd brings us a message that people will always have the tendency to care and forgive in spite of our past. There are lighthearted moments, of course, and while some of the letters from Addie made me sad, there were times too that her humor showed in her letters, and I found myself smiling (and no, Byrd is not an epistolary novel). I also like Addie because of her love for books and her music tastes. A couple of books (mostly classics) and songs were mentioned in Byrd such as Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from my Friends (I love this song!) and Joni Mitchell’s “For The Roses, just to name a few (the rest you have to discover for yourself ;) ).


Kim Church’s writing is straightforward, meaningful and thoughtful. She handled the development of characters quite well as they try to deal with their issues. It took me some time to get used to the shifting point of views but for the most part the story moves along at a good pace. The author’s treatment of the characters and their predicaments were realistic and heartfelt so it was easy to sympathize with the them. I do not know what to make of the ending but I felt hopeful. I am being vague here but only to make certain that future readers will pick up this book to personally experience the story. I wouldn’t say I loved this book but I really liked reading it.


The heart and soul of Byrd revolves around the notion that our decisions and actions can affect other people, especially those closest to us, in more ways than we can ever imagine, but it also fills us with an overwhelming sense of hope. It seems to attest to the fact that life may not be what we always expect it to be, but when things become too difficult we will always have faith, hope and love to hold on to.

Source: 5eyedbookworm.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/byrd-by-kim-church
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review 2013-12-28 18:31
Ben Sherwood: The Man Who Ate the 747
The Man Who Ate the 747, A Novel. - Ben Sherwood

I love love stories, but I do have one rule: all parties to the story have to actually be in the story. This book fails. The reader is given page after page after page of the interior life of J.J. Smith, who is a wet dishrag of a protagonist. Holy trivial minutiae, Batman, this guy is boring. BORING. Claw my eyes out, do not care to know him better, too boring for a first name boring. Then he briefly meets and is brushed off by a gorgeous redhead named Willa Wyatt, and BOOM he is "in love" with her. Because she is so pretty!

Pining after someone is an awful thing that we all go through. This novel tries to make that one-sided angst into something charming and cute. In the process, it walks right past important questions like, "If you want to be in a relationship with someone, is it better to a) talk to her and get to know her, or b) eat an airplane?"

"You've done something beautiful for me," she said, "and I loved it. Every girl in the world wants her prince to eat a 747 for her. I confess. It made me feel special. It's selfish, but every time I heard the grinding noise, I knew you cared."

SAID NO GIRL EVER. Because eating gigantic things to impress a girl is creepy and wrong. I mean, from the woman's point of view, which is a thing the author seems to never have heard of. Yeesh, this book was godawful.

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review 2013-07-31 21:36
Mark Helprin, Memoir from Antproof Case
Memoir from Antproof Case - Mark Helprin

I consider myself a Mark Helprin fan (Winter's Tale was my favourite book for about a decade), so I was surprised to find myself struggling to love this book. I think this book lacked the transcendence of Winter's Tale, and without that it was too heavy to take flight.

Helprin's prose is still enchanting. And while I am as happy as the next reader to fantasize about a Golden Past that never really existed (which nobody does better than Helprin), I found myself chafing against the mood of this book, specifically the way sexuality is used and expressed. It's hard to seriously blame a nostalgic novel for being cliché, but still. Every woman the main character meets is young and stunningly beautiful, and he is constantly falling in love with them based on their beauty alone. Of course they always return his affections, even when they are 50 years younger -- though we are not given any reason why they would. [Helprin neither names nor describes his character physically, which seems odd after page upon page of how beautiful such and such a woman is, or that whole passage about Brazilian flesh being like ripe melons in a hammock.] We are left to conclude from his romantic affairs that he must be just fantastically attractive, which seems to me like something worth describing. Not to address this imbalance suggests that Helprin didn't spend much time thinking about his female characters' motivations, and that while he found it interesting to go on and on about the effects of the women on the men, it is not interesting to consider that the men might have similar effects on the women. But, you know, women. It's not like any of them were in the war, robbed a bank, had murdered parents, flew airplanes, lived in New York City, made and lost fortunes, fled a country, fell in love, or looked back on their lives from old age. Or if they did, Mr. Helprin did not find it noteworthy.

Of course I am interested in reading books by all authors, including those who are profoundly heterosexual men. But I found the beautiful woman cliché, which occurred so many times in this novel, to be really tedious this time around, and the rest of the story didn't transcend this problem for me. The adventure was interesting but seemed to keep getting bogged down in unrewarding side stories. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for this book, but I would not recommend it.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-05-21 22:19
Roald Dahl: George's Marvelous Medicine
George's Marvelous Medicine - Quentin Blake,Roald Dahl

Soooooo, the theme of this book is revenge. George is a young lad who dislikes his awful grandmother, so he mixes up a poisonous potion and gives it to her in place of her medicine. Hilarity ensues! Eventually he succeeds in killing her!

So, wow, this was an ordeal from the very first page. The little reader who shared this story with me kept asking why the grandmother was so horrible. That information wasn't in the story: the grandmother was not a character so much as an object. I had to tell her I didn't know, but maybe if we kept reading we would find out. We didn't find out. It just kept getting worse.

I think if your child has a sadistic streak, he or she would get some enjoyment out of this book. George's revenge goes on and on and on for pages (although much of the humour is derived from snake-oil-like product names, which didn't do anything for my confused co-reader). However, if your kid is kind and compassionate, or even mildly critical of her reading material, this one has the potential to backfire. At about halfway through, my co-reader and I confessed our shared hatred for this book and set it aside for ever.


I am done with Roald Dahl. Not recommended.

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