Monday, January 30, 2012

The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright with Drawings by Barry Moser, is a delightful read. People who are familiar with Charles Dickens' writings will be amused by the clever use of him and his works. People who are not will still have much to love in this book.
We begin by meeting Skilly, a street cat who has a past he'd like to forget and a secret that he doesn't want to share. His introduction rings familiar to audiences everywhere: "He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

With every protagonist (hero), we must have an antagonist (villain), so we then meet Pinch. Also a cat, he's the worst. Pinch is mean and nasty, a cat you wouldn't like to cross.

Then we have Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. This is a pub, famous for the best cheese in London (Cheshire cheese, of course), and a place where writers (such as Charles Dickens) liked to sit and write. The Cheese (as the pub is known) is looking for a mouser. It seems there are a surplus of mice living in The Cheese, and the landlord would like to keep them under control. Skilly takes a bold approach and enters (with a notable author) through the front door. He succeeds in catching a mouse nearly immediately, and is 'hired' on.

Now, we meet Pip. After catching his first mouse, Skilly finds privacy in another room to finish it off. Only here's where things get interesting. Skilly has no interest in eating the mouse. In fact, he lets him down, unharmed. The mouse is, of course, Pip. After the initial shock and fright leaves him, Pip and Skilly have a chat. Pip discovers Skilly's secret, and the two of them come to an agreement as to how they are going to live peacefully in The Cheese.

But that isn't really the half of it. There's adventure, suspense, surprise, mysterious visitors, authors with writers-block, bravery, and great acts of heroism. It's a great read, full of twists and turns at every corner. Just when you think you know what's coming, there's something new ahead of you. This is a great book that is recommended for readers ages 8 to 99 (or higher!). It's a fun little story that will have you turning the pages for more. For younger readers (or those who need a little brush up on their vocabulary) there is a glossary at the end that will help with some of those words that may be new or unfamiliar. It is certainly a book that I will be reaching for again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bradbury Friday: Night Call, Collect

Night Call, Collect is found in a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury called I Sing the Body Electric! and can also be found in The Stories of Ray Bradbury

This story takes place on Mars in the year 2097. Sixty years earlier, in 2037, the atomic wars started on Earth, and all people were called home from Mars to help. Emil Barton was left behind. Twenty years old, left alone on an empty planet. So, here sits Barton, eighty years old, alone for 60 years, when the phone rings. It is Barton. Twenty years old. Young Barton explains how he passed the time, living in all the houses, plenty of food and books. He began creating recordings of his voice. Set it up on timers and relays, with voice cues to allow him to have a conversation with himself.
There were a thousand voices created, put out on speakers to make it sound like there were people in towns. And then, he set up recordings, to call himself sixty years later. But it seems that young Barton was rather cruel, not realizing that he might actually still be there, the conversations not entirely friendly as he called old Barton.

This story is one that really makes you think. You have to feel sorry for a man who's been alone for a lifetime. No one to talk to but himself. And yet, maybe talking to himself wasn't such a good idea...

Here is the introduction from the NPR Broadcast. If you are interested hearing in the whole recording, you can buy it at, just click on the Bradbury 13 link and select the story you want.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bradbury Friday: The Martian Chronicles

We are going to take a little side trip from the Bradbury 13 stories. Here is why. The story I was going to do today is called "Night-Call Collect." I had written on my notes that it was from the book I Sing the Body Electric! and based on a story by another name in The Martian Chronicles. While I was at the library looking for books, I did not find I Sing the Body Electric! But I did find The Martian Chronicles. So I pulled that book. I noted the story "The Silent Towns" was in this book, and thinking it was "Night-Call Collect," I brought it home.

Monday this week, I pulled out The Martian Chronicles.  I read the introduction, written by Ray Bradbury, and was intrigued at the prospect of the book as a whole. Mr. Bradbury had not intended to write an entire novel of Martian stories. He merely had written, over a few years, what he called "Martian pense'es, Shakespearian 'asides,' wandering thoughts, long night visions, predawn half-dreams. I laid out my pense'es in no special order or plan and entombed them with two dozen other tales. ... Walter Bradbury (no relation) suggested that I might have woven an unseen tapestry. 'All those Martian tales,' he suggested, 'can't you needle-and-thread them, stich them up into The Martian Chronicles?'" So he did.

Well, this idea that here was a book of collected stories, which could stand alone, are woven together to complete a whole story compelled me to read the book in its entirety. So, I did. I began on Monday. "The Silent Towns" is near the end of the book. I figured I'd reach it on Thursday and be ready for my post today. Well, I did. But "The Silent Towns" is not "Night-Call Collect." The story starts somewhat the same, but the outcome, the phone calls, all that makes "Night-Call Collect" what it is, well, it isn't there in "The Silent Towns." Basically, if we are calling it 'based' on "The Silent Towns," well, it's loosly based.

So then I debated about whether I should hurry to the library today and find out if they have a copy of I Sing the Body Electric! or do a story from the other book that I have. But that one is also a "book-of-stories-pretending-to-be-a-novel" that I wanted to read from start to finish, too. So, I decided that I'll just tell you what I thought about The Martian Chronicles today, and next week, we'll get back to our regularly scheduled program.

The Martian Chronicles is a very interesting book. Some stories are chilling, some are thinkers, and some make you take a good hard look at how we live our lives. It is set from the year 2030 through the year 2057. It's funny to me to think how little our world looks like Ray Bradbury thought it would in the 2000's. Automated houses, rockets leaving Earth all the time, people striving to find another planet to live on, censorship, tyranny, wars. Bradbury had the books burned, starting in 1999 through 2006. We're past that time frame, and thankfully, censorship isn't so strong that books are no longer allowed, even in a private home. And yet look at some of the technology that we have, which was something of science fiction in 1948.

In 2030, Earth sends a 2 man expedition to Mars. Scout the place. See if it's livable. They never hear back from those men. Six months later, the next rocket has 4 men. When Earth doesn't hear from them after they touch down on Mars, they prepare a new rocket. 8 months later, the third expedition arrives, containing 17 men. But there is still no word. The next rocket arrives more than a year later, this time with 20 men. This has to be it. The mission must make it! Well, Captian Wilder and his men find a dead planet. Cities full of old Martian homes, some long dead, others with bodies. Only dead a few weeks. What killed them Martians? The medical examiner has discovered Chicken Pox has wiped out these thriving Martian cities. So, the other men did get here! Brought a foreign disease, and wiped out the natives.

The rest of the stories range from people on Earth, planning to move to Mars to get away from war, and people on Mars, living their lives, and perhaps wondering if they'll have to return to help with the war. As always, there are twists and turns. Each story could stand on its own, but they are woven together, reference one another, and form a novel. The ending is strange, somewhat tragic. But each story holds a little bit of magic. There is something about a really great story. And this book if full of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

I think that one of the reasons the bookshelves in my house are stacked and stuffed full is because it's really fun to go back and read something again. Start it fresh; do it again. I think the first time that I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire was about 5 years ago. I remembered much, but certainly not all of it. The big reveal at the end, I remembered and anticipated it. I read with a bit of a different perspective than I did the first time. But there were those little secrets here and there that I had forgotten, and that is half the fun of rediscovering a novel already read.

I love the way that Mr. Maguire takes this well known family, Cinderella and her Ugly Step-Family, and makes us look again. Turn around. What is the story that we don't know?

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not yet read (or finished) Confessions, but plan to, you will want to skip this post until the book has been completed. If you do not wish to ruin the book for yourself, stop reading HERE.

Why, do you think Mr. Maguire has chosen to put Clara in a stuffy little family, causing her to become the spoiled brat we find in the beginning of the book? The mother, Henrika, overly protective, while her father does not really seem to know her at all? She acts completely entitled, selfish and sometimes, sour. Her outward appearance is stunningly beautiful, but it does not match her personality.
Was Henrika wrong to keep her in so close at all times? Clara has been instilled with the idea that she will be damaged if she leaves the yard. What good does this do for a child who will grow, and need to leave? Was Henrika's choice merely out of love and protection, or was it somewhat selfish?

On the other hand, we have Margarethe, who seems to have a displeasure in her children. She is vocal in the presence of her daughters of their 'ugliness.' Ruth, the ox, and Iris, "plain as a board, an affront to the eye." I think this perhaps portrays a sense of hatred toward her daughters. She never gives an expression of love, a smile, a hug, a praising word. It seems as though Margarethe believes she is saddled with these less than favorable girls and out of obligation drags them with her to Holland.

With these two families on the extremes of beauty versus ugly, we also have the Master and his apprentice, Caspar. As painters, they can see the world in all angles. Caspar does not find the painting of Iris, "Ugly Girl with Wildflowers," to be offensive, but to take two ordinary things, a peasant girl and a clutch of wildflowers. They are contrasted enough to say, "Aren't the flowers beautiful?"
Caspar, in particular can judge more than the obvious beauty. He looks at things for what they are, not simply as they appear.

Why, then is Margarethe so evil? She fled England, claiming her husband to be dead. Why? What was after her? And now, as the kitchen maid in a substantial household, she forces her way in as wife? It is revealed that Margarethe poisons Clara's mother, Henrika. What purpose does this serve other than a selfish motive? A place to sleep and food to eat were clearly not enough. Stature was mandatory. But it turns out that it is just not meant to be for Margarethe. They are on the verge of losing everything, and still Margarethe insists on putting themselves under more than they can handle, just to grasp that one last chance at survival and triumph.

Iris seems to be the one with the most conscience. She minds Ruth, works on Clara, and tries to reason with Margarethe. When Iris dresses up Clara for the ball, she does it knowing that Clara has the most chance of catching the eye of the prince and of saving, at minimum, her own fortune. It is not truly to undermine Margarethe, just more of insurance against their miserable fate. There is a twinge of jealousy, however. Does this make her evil? I'd say, no, merely human. And, of course, Clara is better suited for the Prince. They both have shallow intentions, and it is a match. Iris gets to marry Caspar. Isn't that what we were hoping for all along?

What of Ruth? She is a side note through the entire story. But in the end, we find she was not so slow as she is given credit for. Clearly, she had a hand in the things that took place. Margarethe's vision was worsened by Ruth. The fire? Ruth.
After Henrika's death, Clara spends time in the kitchen, finding solitude from the home that is no longer hers. Iris is spending more time at the Master's to learn art. So Ruth is left with Clara. While Iris did keep an eye on her sister, there is one point in the novel where Iris is said to hate Ruth. Iris was to be a companion for Clara, teach her English, be her friend. Ruth, it seems is more suitable to the task of friendship, and they spend time together in the kitchen. I think that perhaps Ruth conspires against her mother, Margarethe, because she feels a closer bond to Clara, but perhaps also because she thinks it will benefit Iris, too, if Margarethe is put to a stop. But why is Ruth such a minor character when she has such a big role to play?

And what of the idea of being a changeling? Is it that we need a reason to explain away our peculiarities? Does Clara need to hide behind who she is? Does it make it easier to say "I am a changeling, so I cannot leave this home" than to say "I am afraid of the world, and so choose to stay home" ? As she grows, why does Clara cling to this claim? Why does Iris insist it isn't true, and additionally insist that Ruth couldn't be one, because she has always been Ruth?

I love a book that makes you think of your own life. What would you do? How would you handle the situation? Why is society the way it is?

Please feel free to give me your opinions. What do you think?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bradbury Friday: There Was an Old Woman

What better way to spend Friday the 13th, than with a little Ray Bradbury!
This next story was one I remember quite well, although it wasn't one that we often asked to listen to. There Was an Old Woman is a short story that can be found in Ray Bradbury's The October Country.

In There Was an Old Woman, we meet Aunt Tildy, an elderly woman, who is happy to live her life. So much, that she has decided that she does not believe in death. But on this particular day, a tall, dark young man comes into her home. He does not say anything to her, but his face conveys the conversation she has with him. Accompanying the tall, dark man are four men with a wicker basket. What do they intend to do with it? Aunt Tildy wonders aloud. After a while, the men leave and Aunt Tildy bids them never to return. The look on the face of the tall, dark man says he never intends to.

This story is a strange one. What if you could truly choose not to die? Would you want to live in this life forever? Aunt Tildy doesn't even get married because any man she meets believes in death. She can't bear the thought of living with him 30 or 40 years and then have him die. I, personally, see death as a new part of life. I believe there is more after this life. I wouldn't want to miss out on it. Besides, don't you think Aunt Tildy's life would be sort of lonely? She'd have to meet all new people, make new friends ever 50 years or so. She would end up losing all the people she cares about, just so she could keep on living.

Find out what happens to Aunt Tildy in There Was an Old Woman. What do you think? And, as before, There Was an Old Woman is available on mp3 for purchase at Just click on the Bradbury 13 link and you can choose any of the stories. (You won't be disappointed!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bradbury Friday: The Wind

In 1984, Mike McDonough (working at BYU Media Services) produced and directed a series called Bradbury 13 through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. NPR aired the 30-minute radio dramas, and my dad recorded each episode on high-quality cassette tapes.
These 13 stories, based on stories written by Ray Bradbury, are a part of my childhood. My dad knew a good thing when he heard one, and he was keen to share it with our family. Any time we were on a road trip or headed anywhere that took more than 30 minutes to get there, he had the glove box stocked with tapes, and we had a story to listen to. We heard these over, and over, and over... Each of my siblings had a favorite, and we all hoped to be granted the next choice.

I remember being about 6 years old, headed to California, listening to Bradbury 13. I am amazed that at so young, I heard some of these chilling stories. My own young children may be a bit sheltered, but I don't think I'll let them listen to the series for a few years, yet. But, still, they are a memory that I am glad to have, and I'm grateful to find out that the series is now available for purchase on mp3 over at or on CD format as well (I saw it on Amazon, but it might be available in your local record store!).
My sister, over at Such a Sew and Sew, posted about the Bradbury 13 radio series about a year ago. It was actually what got me into reading blogs. As I've reminisced about the series, I've decided to find and read each story, and share them with you. The series are numbered, but the mp3 recordings are not in the same order as the original series air dates, so I am not going to be putting them in any particular order. Mainly they will be posted as I locate them. The stories do not all come from the same collection of Bradbury stories. I have 3 books on loan from the library, and in them I have found 5 of the 13 stories. I still have to find 3 or 4 other books to locate the rest.

Our first story is called The Wind. It was first published in the March 1943 edition of a magazine called Weird Tales. Later it was published in Ray Bradbury's The October Country, a book of his short stories.

We open the scene on a dark December evening. Herb Thompson and his wife are getting ready for dinner when the phone rings. It is Allin, an old friend of Herb's, hoping Herb can come stay with Allin for the night. The wind is bothering him. Unfortunately for Allin, Herb and his wife are expecting company after dinner. Herb can come next week, when his wife is out of town. The wind, however, continues to be a bother to Allin, and he calls several times during the evening. Herb becomes increasingly worried about his friend, while his wife is becoming increasingly irritated with both of them.

You'll have to read the story yourself, but be sure the windows are closed and you aren't sitting near a draft. And if you are in for some great radio drama, find the CD or mp3. The story is nearly identical to the original print, and the 3D sound effects are amazing. Ray Bradbury really knows how to paint a picture in your mind, and The Wind is a great place to start.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ThePianoGuys: Michael Meets Mozart

If you've been following along, last week you saw Carol of the Bells, performed by Steven Sharp Nelson from (If you missed it, go back and take a look!) I did a little browsing on their site, and I'm hooked. The videos are amazing, and the music, well, just take a listen for yourself. Here is a just a sample of the art they create. This video features Steven Sharp Nelson on several cellos, and John Schmidt on the piano. Of course we need to give credit to Paul Anderson, Tel Stewart and Al Van Der Beek. They do behind the scenes work. Check out their website to read their story and find your own favorite. Then, tune in here on Wednesdays for a new clip each week!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blog Book Club

I have just recently started (re)reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. It is a fantastic novel that tells the Cinderella story from the side of the "Step-family," beginning before they meet "Cinderella."

I tell you this as a sort of an invitation to my "blog book club." If you are interested, read it, and within the next two weeks, I'll be posting my synopsis and insights. Comments are gladly welcomed! Happy reading!