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Archive for the ‘read in 2009’ Category

Livia sat forward and fixed me in her gaze.  “My father committed suicide because of your father.  And now your father has killed himself because of my husband.  It’s a strange little world, isn’t it, Selene?  And I imagine that when your mother came to Rome, she thought it would be only a matter of time before she stood in the Senate and declared herself queen.  But Romans don’t accept women who paint their faces, or dress themselves in beads, or swim in rivers.  And they won’t accept a little whore from Alexandria who thinks she can come here and take her mother’s place.  I know what you want.”  She laughed bitterly.  “You think my husband is going to send you back to Egypt, but the Greeks will be settling their debts on the Kalends before that ever happens!”  In Rome, the Kalends was the first day of every month, but the Greeks had no such day.

When Livia sat back, Octavia smiled.  “Charming as always, Livia.  And every afternoon a sweet reminder of why my brother chose you for his wife.”

(from Cleopatra’s Daughter, pages 139-140)

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran honestly is the best book I’ve read this year.  (And I’ve read a lot of good books since January.)  As you can tell from this passage, Moran has a way of bringing history to life.  Despite the contemporary writing style, readers will not forget they have traveled to ancient Rome around 31 B.C. during the reign of Octavian (later known as Augustus).

Moran tells the story of Kleopatra Selene, twin sister of Alexander Helios and daughter of Kleopatra VII and Marc Antony.  Kleopatra and Marc Antony are defeated in 31 B.C. by Octavian and his military adviser Marcus Agrippa, and both commit suicide.  Selene, only 10 years old but highly educated and wise beyond her years, is devastated.  She and her brothers, Alexander and Ptolemy, are taken by Octavian to Rome, where they will be paraded through the streets as part of the victory celebration.  Selene is worried that Octavian plans to have them killed, but after she and Alexander settle in Rome, their lives take on a routine of school and other pursuits.  Selene and Alexander are taken in by Octavia, the sister of Octavian and one of their father’s wives before Kleopatra.  Octavia becomes sort of a mother to the twins, and her son and Octavian’s heir, Marcellus, becomes their closest friend  — and despite the fact that he is betrothed to Octavian’s daughter, Julia, Selene develops a crush on him.  Julia, as well as Octavia’s slave, Gallia, who handles their clothing and accompanies them on their trips around Rome, also become close friends of the twins.

There is a lot going on in Cleopatra’s Daughter, and I’m afraid I can’t do the book justice.  The twins are always under the watchful eye of Octavian, his bodyguard, Juba — who was a child when his father’s kingdom was defeated and came to live in Rome under circumstances similar to that of Selene’s — and others close to the emperor.  As they wait to turn 15, when Octavian likely will marry them off, the twins try to make themselves useful, and Selene’s sketches turn into an apprenticeship under the architect Vitruvius.  Selene and Alexander face the hatred of Octavian’s mean and bitter wife, Livia.  Slavery also is a major topic in Cleopatra’s Daughter, as a rebel known as “The Red Eagle” takes steps to free slaves and encourages uprisings.  The search for The Red Eagle consumes must of Octavian’s time and energy, and his activities arouse the curiosity of the twins and their new friends.

Selene is a wonderfully written character, and as the book is told from her point of view, readers come to know a lot about her.  She is strong, fiercely loyal to her country, intelligent, and free-spirited.  She does not collapse when the rest of her world comes down around her, and even in the midst of crippling grief, it is obvious she is a survivor.

Moran clearly did her homework — her descriptions of the architecture, academics, culture, clothing, food, and mannerisms of ancient Rome and Egypt bring the setting and the characters to life.  (A glossary at the back of the book helps readers keep things straight.)  She has visited the lands of which she writes, and she has the ability to provide numerous historical details without interrupting the flow of the narrative.  Moran brilliantly constructs complex plots without making the story difficult to follow.  I can’t say enough good things about Moran’s writing.  I absolutely loved her previous novels, Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, and Cleopatra’s Daughter exceeded my already high expectations.  Even if you don’t prefer historical fiction about ancient Rome or Egypt, I recommend these books.  I wasn’t sure I would like Nefertiti because ancient Egypt never really interested me, but I found myself glued to the book after reading only a few pages — and the next two books were even better.  The books were so captivating, I even did some research of my own about the historical figures featured within their pages.  I highly recommend all three, but Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite of Moran’s books so far.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Cleopatra’s Daughter from the author for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Under the flickering light of the gaslamp he took a long look at this creature and was puzzled by his own reaction to her.  She was a curious mix of child and woman, an adolescent on the brink of adulthood, naive and yet worldly.  He had seen many young flamenco dancers like her, virginal and yet lacking in innocence.  Usually their extravagant sexuality vanished the moment they stopped dancing but with this girl it was different.  She exuded a sensuality, the memory of which would keep him awake that night.

(from The Return, page 125 in the ARC)

In The Return, Victoria Hislop takes readers to Granada, Spain, to a world deeply affected by war and filled with dance, bullfighting, and passion.  There are two stories within its pages.  The book opens in 2001 with Sonia, a young woman unhappy with her marriage to a much older man, a banker for whom marriage was only another task on his to-do list.  He also has a drinking problem and does not like that Sonia takes dancing lessons.  In the first section of the book, Sonia is in Granada to celebrate the birthday of her long-time friend Maggie by taking dancing lessons, mainly salsa with a little flamenco thrown in.  Sonia meets an old man in a cafe, and over coffee, they talk a bit about what Granada was like before the changes brought by war.  After Sonia returns to her home in London, she and James have a falling out, and she finds herself back in Granada meeting the old man from the cafe to discuss the lives of the cafe’s previous owners, the Ramirez family, during the Spanish Civil War.

Hislop then takes readers back to the 1930s — a politically volatile time for Spain — and introduces the Ramirez family, Pedro and Concha and their children, Antonio, Ignacio, Emilio, and Mercedes.  When Franco and his troops begin taking over cities across Spain, Ignacio — a new but already renowned bullfighter who sides with the Nationalists — is at odds with his brothers over politics, and this animosity between them puts the family on a path to destruction.  Meanwhile, Mercedes, a young girl with dancing in her blood, meets a gypsy guitarist, Javier, and the two fall passionately in love.

Before picking up The Return, I didn’t know much about the Spanish Civil War, and Hislop does a good job using the story of the Ramirez family to show the complexity of the politics of the period.  Even the people didn’t know what was going on much of the time, and they lived in fear of being arrested without cause.  My interest in the impact of war and its place in literature drew me to The Return, but I had to read 100 pages for the story to really take off.  Sonia’s story, though interesting, didn’t grab my attention as much as the story of the Ramirez family, so the book started a bit slow for me.  But once Sonia returned to Granada and listened to Miguel, the cafe owner, talk about the past over coffee, I was hooked.  While each member of the Ramirez family had an interesting story, I was most captivated by Mercedes.  Hislop beautifully describes Mercedes’ love of flamenco, and the scene in which she meets Javier and he plays his guitar just for her was so full of emotion and passion that it felt alive.  Her dancing and his guitar playing are perfectly matched, setting the stage for a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss.

Despite its slow start, I really liked The Return, and at the very least I’d recommend it for the details about the Spanish Civil War.  Hislop shows readers what it was like for the ordinary people of Granada — the fear, the tension, the fighting among family and friends unsure of which side is right.  But The Return is so much more than a war story.  There’s romance, familial tension, and two young women trying to find themselves amidst chaos, and Hislop brilliantly sets the scene so you feel as though you are in Granada with Sonia and the Ramirez family.  Though I wish I hadn’t been able to predict the outcome of the more-than-400-page book on page 80, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for The Return.  Check out the rest of the tour stops here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Return from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The humiliating truth was that she had not succeeded in changing herself.

She had had fun telling Tacy that she was going to change, and even more fun plotting out with the admiring Tib a thrilling glamorous transformation.  But facing the facts in her lonely bed, Betsy realized that it was much easier to plot out something than it was for her to do it.  Just as, when they were younger, she and Tacy had loved to dream up wild deeds but it had usually been Tib who carried them out.

(from Betsy in Spite of Herself, page 553)

Betsy in Spite of Herself, the sixth Betsy-Tacy book, originally published in 1946, finds our beloved Betsy Ray starting her sophomore year at Deep Valley High and preparing to turn 16.  Betsy has a lot of friends — a lot of boy friends — but none of these boys feel anything romantic for her nor she for them.  Like many high school girls now and at the turn of the century, when the book takes place, Betsy wishes she was prettier, more sophisticated, and more mysterious.  When her childhood friend Tib invites her to spent two weeks with her family in Milwaukee — where she has been living for a few years, much to the disappointment of Betsy and her best friend, Tacy — Betsy has a chance to remake herself.  Betsy plans a great transformation to “Betsye” — and she has her eye on the new boy in school, Phil Brandish, a sort of “bad boy” and one of the few people in the small Minnesota town of Deep Valley to own an automobile.

However, Betsy can’t fool her friends Cab and Tony (Tony being the “Tall Dark Stranger” she had a crush on in Heaven to Betsy), who don’t understand why she puts on airs when Phil is around, and Betsy can’t fool herself either.  She is determined to grab Phil’s attention, and she succeeds in winning his affections, but when his jealousy pushes away the boys she counts among her closest friends — never mind the fact that Phil only talks about his car and doesn’t understand Betsy’s love for writing and her desire to compete against Joe Willard in the yearly essay contest — Betsy slowly grows unhappy with the relationship.

Maud Hart Lovelace, who began writing the Betsy-Tacy series for her young daughter (born in 1931), truly remembered what it was like to be a young girl navigating the tumultuous emotions of adolescence, and she wrote about it honestly and eloquently.  Lovelace understood the lengths that girls often go to impress a boy, how sometimes they will lose themselves, but that it’s important to accept themselves as they are.  This understanding of universal experiences and emotions is what makes the Betsy-Tacy books timeless.

With Betsy’s older sister, Julia, graduating from high school, Betsy in Spite of Herself prepares readers for a new chapter in the life of the Ray family.  Having so far accompanied Betsy on the journey from age 5 to 16, she feels real to me, and I can’t wait to continue the series.

If you haven’t already, you can read my other Betsy-Tacy reviews here:

Betsy-Tacy
Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Heaven to Betsy

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Betsy In Spite of Herself from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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On the first day of Halloween, my good friend gave to me:  a vulture in a dead tree.  Thus begins The 13 Days of Halloween, a book billed as “A Trick-or-Treat Sing-Along.”  And that’s just what The Girl did when we read this book together.

The Girl and I absolutely loved this book.  I knew she would, as her favorite Christmas song is “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  What really makes The 13 Days of Halloween special is the creativity of author Carol Greene — who writes of such creepy crawlies as “seven spiders creeping” and “five cooked worms” — and the brilliant illustrations by Tim Raglin. The Girl’s favorite part of the book is the 10th day of Halloween when “ten goblins gobbling” are introduced.  These goblins are the red-winged Halloween version of Cupid, complete with bow and arrow, and the The Girl burst out laughing and shouted, “Look!  They’re only wearing underwear!”

The 13 Days of Halloween was originally published in 1985, but I don’t remember ever reading it as a kid.  I’m grateful that Sourcebooks recently reissued the book.  The story itself is pretty short, but there are many more minutes of entertainment to be found in the illustrations.  After we finished the book, we started from the beginning, paying close attention to each illustration, finding something hilarious we’d missed the first time around.  If you have youngsters who would enjoy a cute Halloween story, with illustrations that make creepy things funny, I highly recommend The 13 Days of Halloween.

Disclosure:  We received a copy of The 13 Days of Halloween from Sourcebooks for review purposes.  I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Julia’s crowd, after calling out greetings, paid little attention to them.  As for Tony and Betsy they forgot that the others were there.  They did not speak to each other; they were too intent upon their dancing.  Betsy danced on the tips of her toes.  Standing so, she was just about Tony’s height, and they moved like one person.

“I believe I like dancing better than anything else in the world,” Betsy thought.

The music stopped, but to Betsy’s amazement Tony’s arms didn’t fall away.  Instead they tightened, and she felt a kiss on her cheek.  She looked, confused, into Tony’s laughing eyes.

“Wasn’t it smart of me to stop under the mistletoe?” he asked.

They were in the doorway between music room and parlor, and there was indeed a mischievous white-berried spray hanging above them.  Blushing, Betsy pulled herself away.

(from Heaven to Betsy, page 210)

I hope you’re not all sick of Betsy-Tacy week here at Diary of an Eccentric; I didn’t plan it that way, but I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.  As you can see, our little Betsy has become a young woman.  In Heaven to Betsy, the fifth book in the Betsy-Tacy series, originally published in 1945, Betsy Ray is 14 years old and starting her freshman year at Deep Valley High.  As if the changes that come with starting high school weren’t enough, Betsy’s parents uproot the family from Hill Street to High Street.  Granted, the family still lives in Deep Valley, Minnesota, but Betsy has grown to love living across the street from her best friend, Tacy Kelly, and while the new house has gas lighting and heating (big advances at the turn of the century) and each of the Ray girls has her own bedroom, Betsy isn’t ready to leave her life on Hill Street behind.

But that’s soon forgotten when she and Tacy start school.  In Heaven to Betsy, Maud Hart Lovelace introduces several new characters — Betsy’s new girlfriends Carney and Bonnie and several boys who befriend Betsy, walk her to and from school and parties, and hang around the Ray house for food and entertainment.  There’s Cab, her neighbor; Herbert, a local boy all the girls think is cute; and Tony, a newcomer whom Betsy nicknames “the Tall Dark Stranger.”  Tony is Betsy’s first real crush, and it takes her on an emotional roller coaster ride.  And we can’t forget Joe, the boy she met in a store during a summer trip who ends up being Betsy’s academic competitor.

Betsy makes the transition from childhood to young adulthood fairly seamlessly, making friends left and right and having a grand time.  Heaven to Betsy didn’t stir up any fond memories of my high school experience (that’s a period of my life I’d rather not revisit), but the emotions Betsy experiences with her first crush are universal.  I remember being nervous around boys I liked, and when things didn’t go like I’d hoped, I remember not wanting to get out of bed.  Like Betsy, I’m sure every girl has wished she looked like someone else.

I’ve read five of the Betsy-Tacy books so far, and Lovelace’s writing continues to amaze me.  There really isn’t anything extraordinary about the characters, the setting, or the events that take place within their pages, but Lovelace brings them to life in a way that readers connect with the characters, feel as though they are part of the Deep Valley community, and remember their own growing-up stories.  And the personal connection is deepened when you flip to the back of the book and see pictures of Lovelace’s family and friends who inspired the characters in Heaven to Betsy.

This book has a more grown up feel to it than the previous Betsy Tacy books.  The illustrations by Vera Neville portray a more mature Betsy, and Lovelace also touches upon more serious subjects like religion  (Betsy and her sister Julia feel at home in one church, which is not the church their parents attend) and Betsy and Tacy’s desire to do more than just become wives and mothers.  As much as I’m loving the Betsy-Tacy books, I wonder what it would have been like to read them as a child and to have grown up right along with Betsy.  I’m sure I would have found comfort in these books and a friend in Betsy.

Read my other Betsy-Tacy reviews:

Betsy-Tacy
Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for the Betsy-Tacy books.  To check out the rest of the Betsy-Tacy blog tour dates, click here.  And check back here in the near future for reviews of the final five books in the Betsy-Tacy series.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Heaven to Betsy from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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She [Tib] looked anxiously now at Tacy’s tear-stained face.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Tacy’s father found Lady Audley’s Secret under her bed.”

“And he threw it in the kitchen stove,” said Tacy.  “He said it was trash.”

“Trash!” cried Betsy.  “Im trying to write books just like it.”

(from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, page 6)

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, the fourth book in the Betsy-Tacy series, originally published in 1943, is my favorite of the Betsy-Tacy books so far.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are 12 years old and are trading in picnics on the Big Hill for solo trips to downtown Deep Valley, Minnesota, and they embark on more grown up adventures to the library and the Opera House.  Like all of the previous Betsy-Tacy books, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown made me laugh out loud numerous times.  In one of these hilarious scenes, Maud Hart Lovelace introduces a new friend, Winona, whose father is an editor for the Deep Valley Press and gets free tickets to various theatrical productions.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are determined to persuade Winona to take them to see Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and when giving her gifts doesn’t work, they seem to think hypnosis will.  If the amusing way in which Lovelace wrote this scene doesn’t elicit a laugh, then Lois Lensky’s illustrations of three little girls with a zombie-like stare will do the job!

Lovelace also introduces Mrs. Poppy, a former actress who lives in the hotel her husband built in downtown Deep Valley.  She first befriends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib when she offers Tib a ride in her husband’s “horseless carriage,” which is one of the first automobiles ever seen in the town.  I thought the story of this lonesome new woman in town and her efforts to use her wealth and experience to help others was endearing, but Betsy’s budding career as a writer stole the show for me.

Betsy, sitting in her favorite tree and later at the trunk her mother converts to a desk, aims to mimic the romance novels she borrows from her family’s housekeeper.  She has tons of notebooks from her father’s shoe store filled with stories and poems, and she even turns one of her stories into a play.  I think it’s great that her family supported her desire to write, and her father even went out of his way to plan an every-other-week excursion to the new library, allowing Betsy to walk to town by herself, visit the library, and have lunch.  The idea behind these adventures was to expose her to classic novels so she could improve her writing.  Young girls can learn a lot from this part of the story, as it is important for them to take their interests seriously and actually pursue them.  When Betsy sends a story off to a magazine and never receives a response, she doesn’t give up.

The more I read about Maud Hart Lovelace and the further along I get in the Besty-Tacy series, it becomes more and more obvious that the stories are semi-autobiographical.  At the back of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, there is a picture of the library in Lovelace’s hometown, and it is nearly identical to Lensky’s illustration of the library in Betsy’s hometown.  It’s these little touches that make reading the Betsy-Tacy books a richer, more enjoyable experience.  It’s amazing how Lovelace took ordinary characters and an ordinary turn-of-the-century town and created a captivating story, and the personal connections I’ve made with the characters mean I will treasure these stories forever.  Reading about Betsy and her writing brought me back to fifth grade, when I wrote my first poem (which I can still recite from memory), and to junior high, when I wrote my first short stories.  (It’s embarrassing to read them now!)  I’m looking forward to seeing where Lovelace takes Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as they become young women.

Read my other Betsy-Tacy reviews:

Betsy-Tacy
Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill is the third book in the Besty-Tacy series and was originally published in 1942, but the story takes place in 1902.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib each turn 10 years old in the beginning of the book, and hitting the double digits is a big deal for the girls.  They fall in love for the first time…with the King of Spain, Alphonso XIII, who took the throne that year at the age of 16.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib all want to marry him (with Tacy and Tib mainly going along with Betsy’s infatuation), but they think Tib with her dainty frame and accordian-pleated dress (specially made for a school dance performance) would make her the perfect queen.  They pen a letter to the young king:

Dear Sir,–

We are three little American girls.  Our names are Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.  We are all in love with you and would like to marry you but we can’t, because we’re not of the royal blood.  Tib especially would like to marry you because she has a white accordian-pleated dress that she’s going to wear when she dances the Baby Dance.  She looks just like a princess.  So we’re sorry.  But we’re glad you got to be king.  Three cheers for King Alphonso of Spain.

Yours truly,
Betsy Ray,
Tacy Kelly,
Tib Muller  (page 45)

While Besty, Tacy, and Tib dream up ways to make Tib queen, Betsy’s older sister, Julia, has plans to become Deep Valley’s summer queen on account of a song she sang at school.  A signature drive to allow the residents of Deep Valley to choose the queen leads to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib going over the big hill to a neighborhood known as Little Syria for its large population of Syrian immigrants.  The girls learn that the things they’d heard about the residents of Little Syria are not all true, and they discover a new culture and new friends.  But their trip over the big hill causes the fight between Betsy and Julia to grow bigger than before, and they must think about whether crowning a queen is more important than their relationship.

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill is the first book in the Betsy-Tacy series to have a plot that creates tension and lasts more than a few pages.  At age 10, the girls are growing up, and of course, with growing girls there’s bound to be drama.  Maud Hart Lovelace’s characters seem so real, and getting to watch them grow up and evolve over the course of the series makes them feel like friends.  When I’m reading the Betsy-Tacy books, I feel like a kid again, and I lose myself in Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s adventures.  Lovelace keeps the story light, though she touches upon a heavy topic — discrimination.  Young readers can learn a lot from Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s willingness to stand up for the young Syrian girl they met on a trip up the Big Hill.  Lovelace describes the Syrian immigrants’ desire for the American dream and their hopes for the younger generation, and she shows how taking the time to get to know someone and not brush them off because they are different can create long-lasting relationships.

I’ve only just discovered the beauty of Lovelace’s classic series, and while I can’t put the books down, I’m not ready for Betsy, Tacy, and Tib to grow up.  If you haven’t yet made friends with the girls, I urge you to get your hands on the Betsy-Tacy books.  I think if you loved L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, you’ll love Betsy-Tacy.  The Montgomery books hold a special place on my shelf, and I’m pretty sure that by the time I finish the Besty-Tacy books, Betsy and Tacy will be shelved right next to Anne.

Don’t forget my other Betsy-Tacy reviews:

Betsy-Tacy
Betsy-Tacy and Tib

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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“I know!” she said.  “We’ll learn to fly.”

“To fly!” cried Tacy and Tib.

“To fly!” answered Betsy positively.  “Birds can fly.  Why can’t we?  We’re just as smart as birds.”  Tacy and Tib didn’t answer, and Betsy went on:  “Smarter!  Did you ever hear of birds going into the Third Grade the way we’re going to do this fall?  We can fly just as well as the birds, only we have to learn how, of course.  And that’s what we’re going to do right now.”

“How?” asked Tacy.

“We’ll start jumping off things.  First we’ll jump off something low.  And then something higher.  And then something lots higher.  And so on.  We’ll jump off the house at last, but we prob’ly won’t get to that today.”

(from Betsy-Tacy and Tib, page 17)

Betsy-Tacy and Tib, the second book in the beloved Betsy-Tacy series, was originally published in 1941.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are 8 years old now.  Betsy and Tacy have been friends for 3 years, and they’ve been friends with Tib for 2 years.  Their friendship is quarrel-free, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get into their fair share of trouble.  Like Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib lacks a major plot and is comprised of mini adventures.  Nevertheless, this book was ever more entertaining than the first one, opening with the girls walking up the Big Hill, becoming too famished to make their way down (despite the fact that they just finished breakfast), and deciding to smear mud on themselves and their dresses to appear like beggars so they can get food from the owners of the house on the hill.  I also laughed out loud when the girls decided to make lockets to hold each others’ hair to remember one another in case one of them got sick and died (Tacy had just recovered from a long illness) and when they started The Christian Kindness Club and decided to wear bags inside their dresses to which they would add a stone whenever they did something bad.

Maud Hart Lovelace truly remembered what it was like to be a child, and you can tell from her writing that she loved life.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are a handful, but there’s an innocence and a liveliness to them that make it impossible not to fall in love with them.  Although their friendship and family lives seem a bit too perfect, I wish (and I’m sure I’m not alone) that my life was more like Lovelace’s happy, trouble-free, romantic tales of Deep Valley, Minnesota.  In Besty-Tacy and Tib, the girls are about the same age as my daughter, and Lovelace got the personalities, imaginations, and actions of 8-year-old girls just right.  I could insert my daughter into this story, and I bet she’d become great friends with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

Lovelace was a talented writer with the ability to make the ordinary lives of three little girls interesting and even exciting to readers of all ages.  I’m eating up the Betsy-Tacy books, loving each one more than the previous.  Don’t let the fact that these are children’s books deter you.  I’m finding that because they are intended for young readers, I can devour one in a single round-trip commute, but I’m torn between a desire to finish them quickly to continue the girls’ stories and a need to slow down to savor every word.  I already know that I’m going to be sad when I finish the last book in the series.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Betsy-Tacy and Tib from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Betsy was given beautiful presents at that fifth birthday party.  Besides the little glass pitcher, she got colored cups and saucers, a small silk handkerchief embroidered with forget-me-nots, pencils and puzzles and balls.  But the nicest present she received was not the usual kind of present.  It was the present of a friend.  It was Tacy.

(from Betsy-Tacy, page 14)

Betsy-Tacy was first published in 1940, and while the story takes place at the turn of the century, it really is timeless.  Betsy Ray is 5 years old when she meets Tacy Kelly, a girl of the same age who lives across the street from the Rays at the end of Hill Street in Deep Valley, Minnesota.  Betsy and Tacy soon become inseparable, meeting on the bench at the end of the road and picnicing on the Big Hill.

Betsy-Tacy lacks a major plot point, as the chapters basically are singular adventures that carry over a handful pages, but the book is engaging from start to finish.  Although the book was written with young readers in mind, I really enjoyed it, and it brought me back to my own childhood when I spent my days outdoors with the neighborhood kids and the backyard was a canvass on which I painted and traveled to new worlds.  Betsy and Tacy fly in the sky on a cloud, with Betsy’s whimsical stories fueling their imaginations.  They dye Easter eggs, make sand art, covet a chocolate-colored house with a stained glass door and a tower, and pretend to travel in a horse and buggy to what they imagine is the glamorous city of Milwaukee.  They wear their finest dresses and pretend to be their mothers as they call on their neighbor, Mrs. Benson, and they make room for another friend, Tib.

Maud Hart Lovelace based the Besty-Tacy series of books on her own growing-up years, and I love the HarperCollins reissues because they feature a section at the back of each book with pictures of the real people who inspired Lovelace and a blurb about which parts of the book really happened and which parts were fictionalized.  Lovelace describes the antics of Betsy and Tacy with much affection, and while the language, the clothes, and mannerisms are a bit dated, Betsy and Tacy really are no different than modern girls of the same age.  Until I received the series as part of the TLC Book Tour (my tour date is tomorrow, when I’ll review the 5th book in the series), I hadn’t heard of Betsy-Tacy, but this is a case of better late than never!  I can’t wait until my daughter has time to read these for herself, and I’m sure she will enjoy them as much as I am.

Betsy-Tacy is a charming and amusing start to a classic series that reminds me of the Anne of Green Gables books I love so much.  The illustrations by Lois Lensky are lovely and really help bring Betsy and Tacy and all of Deep Valley to life.  I highly recommend this book (and the whole series) to children and adults alike.  It’s not every day that I read a children’s book that causes memories of my own childhood to flash vividly in my mind.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of Betsy-Tacy from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Nubs was the leader of a pack of wild dogs living in a border fort in western Iraq, and the fact that his ears had been cut off branded him a dog of war.  He lived a hard life, feeding on scraps when there were scraps to be had and barely surviving the harsh conditions of the desert.  Nubs:  The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle is the story of Nubs and the marine who named him, Major Brian Dennis of the Border Transition team 3/5/2, which was tasked with training Iraqi soldiers.

Brian first met Nubs in October 2007, and they became fast friends, sharing food and guard duty.  Each time Brian and his men left the fort, Nubs chased the Humvees.  When they returned, Nubs, starving and nursing a wound, eagerly greeted Brian.  When Brian and his men were called to the Jordanian border about 70 miles away, Nubs, obviously unaware that marines can’t have pets, had no plans to let Brian go.  Featuring real pictures of Nubs and Brian in Iraq, Nubs:  The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle shows the bond between man and dog and Nubs’ miraculous journey to a new life.

I first heard of Nubs at Book Expo America in May, and I snagged a pin and some dog tags advertising the book for The Girl, who is a big-time dog lover.  She’s always wearing the dog tags and couldn’t wait to read the book.  When an unexpected package from Hachette arrived a couple of days ago, she shrieked in delight, and last night we cuddled on the couch and read all about Nubs.

We both loved this inspiring, heart-warming story and fell in love with Nubs from the very first page.  Nubs is a very brave dog, and his story proves that a little kindness and love can change lives.  Nubs:  The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle is a charming story for children and adults alike.

Here’s what The Girl (age 9) had to say about the book:

This was a great, awesome, incredible story.  I loved the pictures, and I loved Nubs.  It explained a lot about the dog and his owner and was just great.

[The Girl wrote the review on a piece of notebook paper for me last night, and I wish you could see it because she drew a picture of Nubs (or at least the half-dog, half-cat version) at the bottom.  It’s so cute.]

Disclosure:  We received a copy of Nubs:  The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle from Hachette for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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