Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We interrupt this Brit-Lit tour to review: Timepiece by Myra McEntire

 Book Two in the Hourglass Series          

 Just a recap - I LOVED Hourglass (Review here). Michael and Emerson won me over with their sparks and time travel. The book was a breath-holding adventure that played out like Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four

This sequel embraced a completely opposite perspective - Kaleb's. Although Michael is his lifelong best friend, he can't help how much he loves Emerson, especially since he used his ability to help her during her darkest moment. 
     SCREECH! Into Kaleb's life walks Lily (Tiger-Lily that is!). 
     The time-rips are getting worse as the results of their interference with the time-space continuum is coming back at them. The evil Landers, who they thought was trapped in time, has been haunting them with gruesome attacks on the team. Can they find Landers and reverse the effects? Time is running out......

     We must talk about Kaleb - I just couldn't feel the love for his perspective. I did love how his character grew, but his constant hormone-charged train of thought caused me to eye-roll too many times. Maybe guys think that way, but in their circumstances, I reallybelieve he could have kept his focus a little more. Still, I loved how he developed from a world-class jerk to a man of intense compassion.
    That being said, time-space continuum stories are my "squirrels". They draw my attention like something shiiiinyyyy. I love the idea of making one small change for a happy ending, but everyone knows that no one can stop with just one change....  then it all breaks loose.  In this second book, it was difficult to follow the time travel because it relied so heavily on events in Hourglass and I can't understand why the actual timepiece was only important for half of the story. I recommend reading them close together. She does drop a huge hint that the most critical and fascinating piece is coming in book three, Infinityglass.
     I can't wait for the August 6th release of the third installment of the Hourglass series -

I give Timepiece Photobucketfour stars!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

BritLit Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

     Another British favorite is the story about a young boy temporarily housed with Mr. Tom Oakley during the WWII. British children were often moved out of the cities and into the countryside to avoid the bombings. Mr. Tom quickly discovers that Willie, a wisp of a boy, has endured so much abuse at home that he can barely function as a boy. He can't even run! 
     Mr. Tom's kindness helps Willie recover, but his mother claims she is sick and calls for him. Mr. Tom goes after him and finds he is back in the cycle of abuse, only to an extreme this time. Both Willie and Tom go through major changes in this story - from acceptance of a "blah" life to taking action "like a British boss". I think this book caught me by surprise- the cover looks so innocent, but the raw, gritty, in-your-face topics are handled without shame. I think an Americanized version of this book would have had so much anguish and embarrassment, but not the British-they just deal and go on and make a screenplay about it.
Blitz Museum

Bomb shelter
Burned out cathedral

 Something really interesting was the way war changed their daily lives. They got together as a community to build bomb shelters underground for each home and with gas masks hanging around their necks.
          It Makes you wonder how our daily lives would change if we had a war on our soil. Have you ever avoided a crowded event because of terrorist threats? How about our TSA routines. I think we are all patient with the check in procedures because we want that extra level of protection. 
     We visited the fire-bombed Coventry Cathedral and The Blitz Museum attached. The fire-bombs were meant for a nearby factory making war vehicles but burned this church to the ground. It's been left as it is as a reminder of the war and a message of forgiveness.

 You may have even heard of the burned timbers that landed in the shape of a cross. The wall emblem reads, "Father Forgive" 
Not to worry, in the lot next door they built an elaborate cathedral!

Now for serious, sulfurous, awesomeness, grab your togas we are heading to Bath!!
Where the Romans went on Vacation!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Mom Monday- the Art of Combinations

     This second-half of the summer has been all about making up for being overseas in June. When I got back, I had eight mornings spent on an online grammar teaching course and evenings at work. What's a mom to do with only 6 weeks left? Get creative! Combine everything!

     Swimming in the "pond" - combined with a much needed reunion with our old neighbors.
   BMX course - Um, does the X stand for Xray? Let's just say it didn't end well.....combined taking the boys to lunch and possibly a broken thumb.....

   Hiking the "M" - how they've grown! Last time we hiked the "M", I carried my youngest all the way up....and all the way down. This time he made it all the way on his own two feet. I'm so privileged to have my own hiking buddies. And throw in a stop for Slushie's and we've got a day of activity AND treats.

     Biking - Mountain biking in France was one of my life's dreams. My friends in the course were asking me what kind of biking do I do back home - competitive? No, just any kind I can fit into my lifestyle. I had a routine biking on campus, but with my tiny VW Bug, there's no room for a bike. I asked myself, Why am I not biking more at home? Why do I deprive myself of one of my basic needs? I used to bike with the dog until he grew as strong as a locomotive and started trying to yank me into people's yards. So off we go, my not-so-little son and me. Each day around 1pm we hop on and ride around until it's time for me to get ready for work. He probably thinks I'm doing it to entertain him, but I feel great leaving for work with memories of an afternoon well spent.

   And of course, as most school year's come to an end - we received the "strong recommendations" that we must read.....or else....our kid will drop out of school in the 11th grade....and a curse will be put upon us! So how do we find time to hike, bike, read, AND work with only 24 hours in a day?  We bike to the park and read!! Talk about a motivator! No distractions, no older brother poking the back of his head, no racecar noises blasting from the TV.

What's left to combine? Go-Karting and fishing? Camping and school-shopping? Driving lessons and bar-b-Q-ing? Painting and a movie?


Friday, July 26, 2013

BritLit - The Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

      So often, we complain that there just isn't any good literary fiction out there for young boys. Keith Gray managed to combine a serious issue, spontaneity, mystery, and adventure in his novel about three boys with an urn trekking across the northern part of England into Scotland. Blake, Sim, and Kenny lose their best friend Ross in a bicycle accident. Only the authorities question the validity of the "accident". 
     The boys feel as if all the adults have gone mad. How dare they imply that Ross did it on purpose? And that awful funeral! It was as if no one really knew Ross except the boys - or did they? Blake, Sim, and Kenny decide they must give Ross a proper send off by stealing his ashes to be spread in his namesake town, Ross, Scotland.
The Lake District
     Like most teenage boys, they have their blunders and adventures along the way, like losing all their money and bungee jumping for a few pounds, but the time spent together gives them a chance to really delve into Ross. Who spoke to him last? Why did he destroy his father's computer files right before he died? Was anyone really there for him when he was being bullied? Or when that pretty girl turned him down? Soon the boys receive a brief message from a friend that the police found evidence of Ross being on an internet forum discussing suicide and it hits the boys hard. Denial, blame, shame. Eventually, it boils down to a discussion of the meaning of life.
     Keith Gray takes a sensitive subject and wraps it in a positive message for the reader. I had a little trouble getting into his pacing, but then again, you can't rush this touchy topic. I recommend this one for any young person affected by suicide or anyone interested in a good, fresh topic.

 And setting...... they covered so much of the beautiful Lake District and on mopeds! I still have my moped - oh, the fun it would be to cross that green, rolling countryside. Not to mention Scotland! We were so close - two hours from the border. At least I can say, I got a hint of the misty climate and landscape.
Crazy Youth Hostel we stayed in!


Fish n chips in Bow Ness

This book is not on Goodreads yet, so if you are interested, try Amazon or your local library. It's also available on audiobook for those who enjoy the accents!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

BritLit continues with Swallows and Amazons

Or, shall I say it like a Brit "Swallows un Amazns"!

     I suspect most 10-year-old American children would not have the patients for 400 pages, but the Brits love it! It's their "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn". It's so popular, it's been made into a screenplay. Even our boat captain was quoting it all the way across the lake and back! The four children on the cover are little sailing wizards and their father sends a telegram reply to their request to stay on Wildcat Island with the famous quote, 

"Better drown than duffers, if not duffer's don't drown." 

     Which, if you ever need to say to a Brit that if you can't handle something, you might as well be dead, is how you could phrase it. We all looked back in awe and wonder at the idea of four children under the age of 13 sailing to an island for weeks!  The ingenuity it would take and the pride they would develop with each accomplishment. Can you imagine the freedom to run wild? Would it be Lord of the Flies all over again? Children of the corn? Or an all-new society of little pirates?
     Actually, after a battle with another pirate boat of pre-teens, the teams form an alliance against the real thieves who have buried treasure on the island and turned Captain Flint against them.

Arthur Ransom got one thing right - setting. Just look at this gorgeous Lake Coniston! 
Jetting out on the right - Wildcat Island, Lake Conniston, England

The House where the real kids he based his characters on lived

The Swallow behind the tea house
It's 2 o'clock - time for proper tea!

And one very interesting take on clueless adults, they were called "the natives".....or possibly one day, muggles.

Now that we have a generation of kids occupied indoors,  can you remember a time when you ran free and fearless? Were in in a fort? A tree-house? An empty lot? Where was your Wildcat Island?
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The original Potter......

Beatrix wrote hilarious letters from her
characters to each other and
 to children who wrote to her.
You must read Dear Peter!
.....was named Beatrix and she was a firecracker!  Yes, she painted bunnies that wear jackets and pigs that walked on their hind legs, but she was a rebel when it came to being a Victorian lady. She found that she could make a good living selling her postcards and prints decided to publish a book about a very naughty bunny. I have to wonder if Peter is actually her?  
      Beatrix's publisher was so impressed with her that he proposed! Unfortunately, he died shortly after from a brief illness. Poor Beatrix! Instead of pining away for someone to take his place, she took the lion by its mane and became everything she wanted - scientist, farm owner, conservationist, and woman of independent means. She researched mushrooms and submitted her thesis which was rejected until long after she passed away. She reintroduced a native breed of sheep to the area, protected the Lake District from development, and even raised a runt pig in her bedroom. If ever I could go back in time, I would want to be her BFF! She had it going on!
Beatrix's house at Hilltop Farm
     At the age of 47, she married the real estate agent who helped her buy up all the farms in the Lake District. He plan was to stop developers from ruining the landscape. Since she had no children, they were left to a Land Trust, making them available for us! Her Hilltop Farm house in Sawny is open for tours and her gallery in Hawk's Head is open too. You can explore the rooms in her house and look out over her garden where Peter is nibbling on daisies. Best of all, you can peek into the dollhouse she used as a model for her illustrations. Ever read the Tale of Two Bad Mice? I hear they were frequent visitors in the farm house.....

Many times she painted these
     We took a walk up to the pond she would often visit named "Moss Eccles Tarn" and just sat and painted.   The hilltop is a magical place where no matter what direction you turn, you are surrounded by endless beauty. The pond is gorgeous, the hillsides are rolling greens with  rock-walls dividing the pastures, and the many, many grazing sheep will keep you company. We felt like we really understood where Beatrix's inspiration came from. You go girl!

Sawny, the town. On the walk up to the "tarn" (pond)

Moss Eccles Tarn

In Hawk's Head by her Gallery - these cakes are the size of a small tire!
You can taste the serenity walking down
these streets.
     I can't leave off without talking about Hawk's Head. It is such a neat place to visit - like stepping into another realm. The place was founded by Vikings!  I wonder if they are all named Eric?  The layout of the town was so interesting. Their buildings are built really close together and mostly stone or plaster with logs. One even had a "carriage way" - it was built over the road so that a carriage could be driven under and through it. Neat! 
     Not only did they wow us with one famous author, it was also home to poet William Wordsworth who wrote The Daffodils "...I wandered lonely as a cloud....." Sound familiar? To top it all off, we were surprised by a traditional May Day pole dance with even a May Day Queen in attendance! These two places are on my top three out of the entire trip. 
This is the carriage way under someone's house!
"Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"

Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce

     While reading Framed, I learned that the best way to embrace art is through the eyes of children. They always say what adults are really thinking! In the story, the children in the rainy, dying town of Manod, Wales are turned onto art when a swanky curator named Lester mysteriously takes over the old mine above their family gas station. He moves all the pieces from the National Gallery to the mine above their business to protect them a flood in London. The children convince Lester to get one piece of art out each week and show it to them before he puts it on temporary display at the gallery. Their impressions of each painting are so funny! Especially the one titled, "The Grotesque Old Woman" by Massys. When the children are wondering why anyone would paint such an ugly lady, one of them pipes up and says it's to make everyone looking at it feel beautiful!
        When all the people of Manod start showing up for peeks at the art, suddenly they start creating art and bringing their town back to life. After seeing Monet's "The Bathers", the local butcher gets all the old boats out, paints them and re-opens the lake to the public. When their mother sees Renoir's "The Umbrellas", she goes around passing out her thrift-store collection of colorful umbrellas and suddenly a "kaleidoscope snake" of people using them in the rain becomes a performance worth coming to Manod to experience. In hopes of keeping their town thriving, the children decide to stage a big art heist.

Visiting a slate mine in beautiful, rainy Wales - where their accents sound like Gaelic(Old Scottish) .......

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

.......and their flag is a dragon!! 
My new blogging buddy
Now, if he would just stop singeing the keys!
 To connect with the story, we visited the paintings in the British National Gallery. It was so fun to compare the children's descriptions of the paintings to our own. I thought it was so funny to see the "baby about to be tossed" on the Wilton Diptych. I was amazed at how bright the blues and golds are in real life! I had no idea that paint would stay so vibrant over so many years.....

Just in case you want to feel beautiful today..... 
Massys's Old Woman

Friday, July 12, 2013

As You Like It - The Royal Shakespeare Company shakin' it up!

Rosalind and Orlando
How can you not love this goof, Orlando?
     Shakespeare - is either as you like it, or as you don't like it!  For some, the old English is so confusing, the play doesn't make any sense. BUT, if you humble yourself and read some of the summaries written for children, then you can follow the tone of voice and gestures of the actors and let yourself be amazed!  We read As You Like It for Kids by Marcia Williams and acted out the real script to get a feel for the characters and plot.
     The story begins with Orlando being jilted out of his inheritance by his brother, Oliver. To work out his frustrations, he accepts an impossible challenge to wrestle Charles (the hulk). He instantly falls in love with Rosalind when she congratulates him on his win. Earlier, Rosalind's uncle had thrown her father out and now angry over his prized fighter's loss, he throws her out, too. Rosalind and her cousin, Celia, run away disguised as a poor couple to find her father in the woods. Meanwhile, Orlando is searching for her and meets her in her disguise in the forest. She tests his sincerity  by getting him to profess his love for "his dear Rosalind". In her man's costume, she swears that "Rosalind" will appear at a wedding ceremony the following day where they can be reunited. Since all their friends also found love, the wedding ceremony becomes a four-couple affair and the confetti flies! Woohooooo!!

     What was really neat was the way the acting company modernized it and added extra elements of comedy without changing the script. At first, Oliver came out dressed in a slick business suit and the actors were just hilarious with their expressions and body movements. We were a little confused at times by Orlando's aggressive behavior towards Rosalind in the woods. We kept wondering why Orlando was all over "him" in the woods. Does anyone know if Orlando was in on the disguise all along? It may be the twist the acting company put on it to make us wonder....  Still, the wondering kept our attention on edge!

    This acting company was so fun, I imagine the original Shakespearean actors putting on this comedy would have been  extra silly as well.  
As You Like It was As I LIKED it!!

The farewell wedding celebration
Performed  at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, England by the Royal Shakespeare Company

disclaimer: due to photography restrictions in the theater, all images are borrowed and sourced below.