Blog Tour: Scribbling Women

Scribbling Women
Marthe Jocelyn
Tundra Books, 2011

Welcome to Day 4 of Tundra Books' "Scribbling Women Blog Tour"! (In case you've missed the first few days, or want to see what's happening tomorrow, be sure to check out Tundra's main schedule!)

When I saw that Tundra Books needed bloggers to host spots for Scribbling Women, I knew I had to try. When I found out I was on the list? I did a little happy dance. Before I ever read a word of the book, I knew it was one of those things I had to read -- not like you "have" to read the latest release of a favorite author, but deep-down-inside-need-to-read. Couldn't explain it, just knew it. And I did get to read it, and now I get to share it with you ...

From reading the "blurb" online, I knew that Scribbling Women was going to spotlight forgotten women writers, including some I had never even heard of in passing. Since I was a Literature and History double-major in undergrad, I found this mesmerizing. Once I got the book and started reading - wow. I guess in some part of my mind, I was expecting to discover "authors", not fully realizing I would be discovering writers. These women? They're normal women whose writings were sometimes appreciated, sometimes only seen by themselves. In a sense, they are just voices lost in the wilderness of writing - but when you stop, and take the time to really look at their stories, at their scribblings, the picture is extraordinary.

These are women who could not just "sit down and write" - while a few made a profession of writing, the others were using their pens (or pencils) to record their experiences, their thoughts, their views of their world. It is this that is so special - after getting the tiniest glimpse into the inner lives of these scribbling women, I feel like I've stumbled upon a sisterhood of scribblers. I may never find myself stranded in the Arctic or racing the clock 'round the world, I may not be compiling a first-of-its-kind recipe book or recording the minutia of a royal court - those are not my stories, but I recognized the need to write it all down.

Marthe Jocelyn did an exemplary job of threading the stories of these individual women together - linking their unique experiences by the comparisons and contrasts between them. She liberally sprinkles their own voices in her narrative, explaining who these scribblers were and the contribution their suddenly-uncovered writings can offer. I came away from the reading feeling much more knowledgeable, and also intrigued. I'd suggest that anyone who ever feels that ceaseless itch to write to read this - to realize that the important part is not fame or fortune or recognition, but the writing. That is, ultimately, what I came away from the reading with: the renewed belief in the power of words, and that when the words must come - they must come.

I like to consider myself a part of the Sisterhood of Scribblers - I have a new appreciation of the ease in which I can write, and a revived sense of dedication to scribbling away. Oh Hawthorne, your scornful title, I embrace - I want to be one of those scribbling women you bemoaned, if it means I join the ranks of such writers I've been introduced to. Maybe I'm just a hopeless WordGeek, but this was truly a learning experience for me. I'm very glad I've been able to share with you, in some part, my reading journey.

Don't forget to check out the other blog tour stops today, starting with Cassandra's post over at Indie Reader Houston!

Also, Tundra's hosting an AMAZING giveaway: You could win Marthe Jocelyn's entire collection of books, simply by commenting on this post! And you can gain another entry by commenting on every post in the tour! Check out the details, and what you could win here! And good luck!

Book provided by publisher for review.


Polar Star

Polar Star
Sally Grindley & John Butler (illustrator)
Peachtree Publishers,1997

Oh. My. Goodness. Have I mentioned that I love polar bears? Because I do. Forget waiting on a Frog Prince, I'll take a Polar Bear Prince! With that understanding, you'll see why this book initially caught my eye. Curled up reading the book, I was mesmerized - the illustrations are gorgeous. Realistic, but still ... not exactly fanciful or romanticized, but I definitely wanted to curl up with Polar Star, the momma polar bear, and her two cubs (Snowball and Snowflake). The bears have expression and personality, but they don't have that 'cartoon'-vibe if you know what I'm saying.

The story itself is straightforward: momma polar bear and her cubs emerge from their snow-den and the cubs get their first taste of the real world. It's a real story. It features blood and danger. It reflects the reality of polar bears in the wild - but in a way that is accessible for kiddies. I like that. I'm not a fan of 'dummying down' anything, but at the same time, you've got to keep in mind your audience: not many 4-7 year olds are going to be able to understand 'full scientific narration'. So I do like the way the 'science' of it is mixed and presented as 'story'. Also, at the end of the book is a "Polar Bear Facts" page which sort of help reinforce the idea that polar bears are real - and this story could be real.

Definitely a beautiful book that I look forward to using to share my polar bear love with kiddies in the future.

Book provided by publisher for review.


It Can't Be Done, Nellie Bly!

It Can't be Done, Nellie Bly!
Nancy Butcher
Peachtree, 2003

In the spirit of Women's History Month (yes, I realize it's actually almost over...), how about an introduction to one of the little known female journalists in American history? But Nellie Bly was not just another journalist - this young woman had an adventurous-streak that prompted her to embark on A Quest: To go 'round the world in less than 80 days, thus beating the record set in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. How does a real person break a record set by a fictional character? Especially in 1889! Nellie Bly had some ideas, and she managed to convince her employers - The New York World - to trust her and back the attempt.

It Can't be Done, is an easy-to-read brief biography of Nellie's experiences. Targeted for early-middle readers, it's broken down into short, accessible chapters and the information is presented in a relaxed story-style that is almost conversational. Butcher does a good job of explaining terms and what's going on, without completely spelling it out or watering it down. There are fun details and illustrations scattered throughout, and the reading experience is a satisfying one in terms of both information and entertainment. Having never heard of Nellie Bly before this read, I am now intrigued. As an older-than-intended-audience reader, I appreciated the story and it's "teaser"-aspect - which will make it a good one for the intended-audience, to introduce them to history and biography, without feeling too 'schoolish'.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Dreaming in English

Dreaming in English
Laura Fitzgerald
New American Library, 2011

I won this through LibraryThing's EarlyReviewers program, and was pretty excited - it sounded really good, and the cover is simply fascinating. When I got the book, I realized "Oops, it's a sequel? Um, okay - the library doesn't have the first one (Veil of Roses), but I'll be brave and go ahead..." For anyone else who may find themselves with Dreaming in English without having access to Veil of Roses, let me assure you: It'll be okay. There's enough 'remembering' that takes place during the story that I did not feel lost or confused. I will still track down and read Veil of Roses, but - right now anyway - I think the two novels can be read as stand-alone works, because of both the 'remembering' mentioned above, and the fact the story has a natural split in focus and theme.

Brief synopsis: Tami, a young Iranian woman, had to either marry an American or go back to Iran as her tourist visa expired. Dreaming in English picks up right after Tami and her true love Ike have eloped in Vegas with true knight-in-shining-armor-style. What follows is the battle for freedom that Tami must win to stay in America - not just battling her immigration issues, but also her own personal freedom. Growing up in the repressive state of Iran, Tami has only known the ideologies stating women are inferior, must be kept within certain boundaries, that expression of most kinds - male or female - is dangerous. She grew up knowing only how to live trapped by fear and unrealized, unchased dreams. She never tasted freedom until coming to America - and once here, she was entranced, fascinated, and addicted. But freedom isn't free - nor easy. You have to fight for it. And so this is the story of how Tami fought for her freedom. And it's a beautiful story - passionate, moving.

Reading America through Tami's eyes, I remembered all the good things I adore about my homeland. I realized all over again just how good I have it - to be an educated young woman with the freedom to do and be what I want. There are so many young women, all over the world, who haven't tasted these freedoms - or who may have stolen a sip, and now ache even more for the absence. And here I am. What am I doing with my freedom? What am I doing with the power to chase down my dreams and make them real? Am I fully realizing my American potential? Probably not. But I do know that I am proud of my country - of our willingness to fight for what we believe: that all people are worthy, and that freedom means more than electing your own officials and living by principles rather than dictation. Freedom means knowing your worth and believing that the impossible dream is maybe not so impossible after all. It's not often a book (particularly a novel), will turn my thoughts in that direction - but this one did, and I am thankful for the reminder.

Book provided by publisher for review.


Prisoners in the Palace

Prisoners in the Palace
Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2010

I discovered this during Chronicle Books Happy Haul-idays giveaway, and knew I had to read it somehow, someway, someday. While helping process an order of new books at the high school, I came across this one and literally squealed. The librarian kindly told me I could have it as soon as it was processed. And, allow me to comment on the cover: the picture does not do it justice, at all. It's shiny, shimmery, metallic. I love-love-love it! Okay, now on to the text itself ...

The story is concentrated mostly on Elizabeth 'Liza' Hastings - a gentleman's daughter who finds herself penniless and orphaned after an accident, and manages to snag a position as maid to Princess Victoria. Because Liza is fluent in German, she is hired to act as spy and 'protector' of sorts for Victoria - finding out what is going on in the palace, trying to keep the Princess's power intact. Along the way, Liza discovers just how much IS going on in the palace - and makes a host of new friends, from 'Inside Boy' living in the palace walls to Will - the handsome young entrepreneur running a newspaper. As well as finding a friend in Princess Victoria herself.

There is a lot going on in the novel - a lot of characters involved, and so much intrigue and mystery! I was fascinated from page one, and loved watching the characters develop. Liza has much to learn about herself and her new life - she has to confront societal norms and decide what is best for her. Likewise, Victoria grows and develops throughout the story - from a spoiled child to the girl who is young, but ready to be Queen. Reading, I was reminded a lot of when I watched The Young Victoria, and the way she grew and matured - and am even more fascinated by the person, the idea, of Queen Victoria. This is another one of those books that has triggered a want to hunt through some nonfiction, I think. Definitely a good read, easy and fun - but a story of quality and depth too.

Book provided by my local library.


Once Upon a Time Challenge V

I saw this challenge posted over at Stephanie's Written Word, and knew it was for me! Once I poked around at the host site, I knew - without a shadow of a doubt - that this was something I needed to do! I know, I know - add another challenge? Especially one with a short time-frame? But think about it: It's FAIRY TALES! (And folklore, mythology and general fantasy). And so, after a very wee bit of mental debate, I am going to join the fifth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. The challenge runs only during Spring, so from March 21st to June 20th. I think this will be a lot of fun, and encourage you to join in if you're a fairy tale lover like me.

Honestly, the hard part for me was deciding which level to participate at ... I contemplated participating at Journey level - which is simply open-ended participation. It's the easy way, and would definitely be doable since you're only 'required' to read one title. However, I kind of view reading challenges as things to help push my reading - to take my normal reading direction and see if we can make it grow, see what can be discovered. All of this thinking led me to the decision to embark on ...

Quest the First means I will be reading at least five books that fit within the four categories: fairy tale, folklore, mythology, and fantasy.

I've not created a comprehensive list of prospective titles to read, but here are some off-the-top-of-my-head ideas which are all books I want to read and would work with the challenge criteria:
Spindle's End (Robin McKinley)
Beast (Donna Jo Napoli)
Princess and the Bear (Mette Ivie Harrison)
The Healer's Apprentice (Melanie Dickerson)
Princess of Glass (Jessica Day George)

There are more, I feel certain, especially since I'd like to try to have samples from multiple categories and not 'just' fairy tales. So we'll see where the journey takes us! Care to join me?


New Books!

Today is actually two weeks combined, because last week was a baby book week. And so, without further ado, the combined treasures:

Darcy's Temptation by Regina Jeffers
(Won in the February Giveaway over at Austen Authors!)

About Habitats: Grasslands by Cathryn Sill
(Be on the lookout for some exciting blog tour stuff in April!)
Scribbling Women by Marthe Jocelyn
(This is also for an exciting blog tour event in a few weeks!)



Alex Flinn
HarperTeen, 2007

In my ongoing quest to read 'Beauty and the Beast' variations, I picked up Alex Flinn's Beastly - which has also just released as a movie. I've seen this one on the library shelves for years, but for reasons unknown never picked it up - I may have passed on it this time, except when I was flipping through the pages I saw the line "It's hard to meet girls when you look like Chewbacca" and cracked up. At that moment, I knew I had to read this!

Beastly is a modern 'Beauty and the Beast' - a popular guy with a rotten attitude becomes the beast and must learn to love and be loved in his beastly state, all in New York City. Since my other 'Beauty and the Beast' reads have been set in a sort of timeless fantasy realm, this was a different sort of read - modern thoughts and conveniences, the whole urban setting and dealing with the beast-ness in that context. It was fun, different than I expected - but a good different. Flinn did a wonderful job of developing and growing Kyle from the annoyingly-snobbish kid at the beginning to a thoughtful, selfless hero at the end. I liked getting to see the transformation take place - the story is focused on Kyle's perspective, on his experience(s) - this is 'Beauty and the Beast' through the Beast's eyes.

It's a fast-read, I read it over 2 days' lunch, and finished up while making a gallon of sweet tea and thawing spaghetti sauce. And while it's not an engrossing read that sucks you in and won't let you go, it's not purely fluff either. It's one of those happy-balance books that you know where it's going -- because you know the story it's telling -- but it's fresh enough that you don't feel like you're rereading the same old story. The characters are well-developed, and there are subtle, interesting twists tossed into the mix here and there. Now that I've read Beastly, I'm wanting to see Beastly - find out what they change, how they make it work. And, of course, find my next 'Beauty and the Beast' read ...

Book provided by my local library.


Rose Daughter

Rose Daughter
Robin McKinley
Ace, 1998

Twenty years after she wrote Beauty, Robin McKinley revisited the story of 'Beauty and the Beast' in Rose Daughter. The basic premise is much the same as in Beauty: youngest sister must take her father's place as the fearsome Beast's "prisoner" and there are many mysterious enchantments and gardens and roses and 'adventures.' Standard Beauty and the Beast fare - but also So. Much. More. I loved both Beauty and Rose Daughter immensely - but in two wholly different ways.

Where Beauty is a sweet, simple retelling of the story, Rose Daughter reflects a more complex and detailed telling. It was engrossing, reminding me of the way I felt reading Pegasus - it was a story that got deep inside me, invading my dreams and making me think. There's more magic, more danger, more development of both characters and the story. It's a complicated story that tugs at the heart and gets into your head. It's a story that requires more of you, as reader, than Beauty did. And I like that. Actually, I love that - I want to get involved with the books I'm reading. (Though I will say I'm very glad I didn't end up crying my eyes out while reading this one like I did during Pegasus!) I was swept up in the story and carried along until the ending - which caught my entirely by surprise. And yet, even though I wasn't expecting it to end the way it did, I was pleased - delightfully happy - with the ending.

Two different tellings of one story, by one author. Two very different approaches and appreciations. Two very different loves, for one of the most beautiful fairy tales there is ...

Book provided by my personal library.


The Book of Tomorrow

The Book of Tomorrow
Cecelia Ahern
HarperCollins: 2010 (US edition 2011)

I've read a couple of Ahern's other novels, and liked them well enough during the reading, but they weren't "wowzer" reads. When I first saw the premise for this one last year, I was intrigued. Plus, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Finally got to read the US edition, and I liked Book of Tomorrow much better than the other novels.

As several other readers have noted: it starts out a little slow. I had a hard time identifying with Tamara Goodwin in the beginning - not only did she come from a material world that is far, far removed from my personal experience, but as a character she's not exactly likeable. Once she found "her" journal - the Book of Tomorrow - I started getting more engaged with the story. I wanted to find out what this crazy girl would do with her glimpses into the future - would she change history before it had a chance to happen? Would she learn from the lessons found in the book - and in her real-time life? It wasn't one of those totally-engrossing reads, especially since it took some persistence to "get to the good stuff," but it was an enjoyable read once I got in to it. I did find myself wanting to know what all the hiding and unsaid things were about, and trying to figure out where all the various characters would fit into the final equation. I was glad I persevered and kept reading, and it's definitely the best Ahern novel I've read so far. If you're up to the challenge of wrestling with Tamara and working your way to the good part, then I'd definitely say "read it" - if you want a quick, chick lit read, I'd stay away from Book of Tomorrow.

Book provided by my local library.


New Books!

I got two happy surprises in the mail this week: Peachtree Publishers on Monday and Penguin Teen on Thursday! I love when books come in groups like that - it's so fun to have a sudden pile of books to do a Snoopy-style happy dance over. Er, not that I did that or anything ... Okay, so maybe I did. Just a little. But it was justified! See:

A Place for Fish - Melissa Stewart
At the Sea Floor Cafe - Leslie Bulion
Planting the Wild Garden - Kathryn Galbraith
So Much Closer (ARC) - Susane Colasanti
I put in a request for this one ages ago, and did a literal happy dance when I saw it! Eee! :oD
Chime (ARC) - Franny Billingsley
This ARC was also sent my way from Penguin - not what I normally read, I don't think, but looks interesting.
The Locket (ARC) - Stacey Jay
Another surprise ARC, definitely looks like an interesting read.
And there's my week of happy surprises! Keep your eyes open for some fun stuff in April, involving the Peachtree titles!