Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! (Book 1) by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Source:  Anna of Diary of an Eccentric gave me this ARC as the book was aimed at readers younger than The Girl, but only slightly older than my girl. (probably the longest explanation EVER!)
Paperback, 141 pages
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Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! (Book 1) by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, is a cute book about circus life, complete with talking animals, feats that defy gravity and the laws of physics, and a scoundrel, which is due for publication in September 2013.  Sir Sidney’s Circus is a story about redemption and about being true to your friends, but it’s also about the surprising things that can happen when you’re not looking.

Sir Sidney is getting older and he’s looking for a manager when he settles on a self-proclaimed lion tamer named Barnabas Brambles, but while Sidney is away, Brambles has plans of his own — to make money for himself.  The path he takes to make more money backfires even as he strives to accomplish even more devious strategies.  Meanwhile, the animals sure miss their owner and suffer at the hands of Brambles, though they don’t exact any revenge.

Leaving the acrobats in charge of driving the train, Brambles finds that his plans are thrown out into the wind as the train gets stuck in places that will boggle his mind.  Klise is an imaginative storyteller, and readers will like the little definition explanations she includes for some of the larger words used, as well as the explanation behind the made-up words used by the mice, Bert and Gert.  The illustrations are fun and simple, and they include dialogue bubbles as the animals talk amongst themselves while Brambles makes his plans.  The text is mixed in beside and inside the illustrations, which will keep readers exploring the pages, rather than rushing over the pictures.

Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On! (Book 1) by Kate Klise, illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, is a book that will entertain younger readers, though age 10 may be a little old for the book depending on the readers’ abilities.  The book indicates it is for kids ages 7-10, but it read more like a book for ages 5-8, but younger readers may need help reading.  As a book read at bedtime for younger ages, parents could break it up in installments over several evenings.  The book is fun and only the first in the series, with certainly more antics to come, especially from Bert and Gert who are a riot.

**The Three-Ring Rascals Website offers some great insights into how the author and illustrator are like Bert and Gert, the two mice, and there are resources for teachers and fun games for kids.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise have collaborated on numerous middle-grade and picture book projects. Their most recent series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, has been nominated for reading awards in nearly twenty states to date and is a Junior Library Guild selection. The pair’s novels and picture books can be found on their Website.  And to find out more about the Three-Ring Rascals, visit the Website.

This is my 39th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan has been compared to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, but it is really a combination of the two as Hannah Payne is not melachromed for adultery, but for another sin and she lives in a world where the separation between church and state has been broken.  Roe vs. Wade has been overturned once a scourge has rendered most women unable to have children and men who are carriers unwittingly have passed the disease onto unsuspecting partners.  Under the defense of saving the human race, society has outlawed abortion.  This idea parallels the notions of The Handmaid’s Tale, though the society in that novel is more severe in terms of limiting women’s rights and control over their bodies.

Punishment for breaking the laws of this society are no longer being thrown in jail, but being chromed and thrown back out into society to face ridicule and stigmatization.  Chroming takes place when a virus — which had unknown side effects for many years and often results in fragmentation of the brain if not re-administered every six months or reversed properly — turns the skin the color of the crime, such as red for violent offenders and blue for molesters.  Once back in society these men and women are looked upon as freaks and outsiders, and they are lucky if they are given jobs to survive on their own while their sentence is carried out.

“The virus no longer mutated the pigment of the eyes as it had in the early days of melachroming.  There’d been too many cases of blindness, and that, the courts had decided, constituted cruel and unusual punishment.”  (Page 6-7)

Aiden Dale in Jordan’s book is very reminiscent of Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter in that his character is very weak and he is forced by the pressures of guilt to confess.  Naturally, Hannah is a young women in a close knit community of religious communities and the injury of her father leaves the family in a precarious position until their pastor Aiden Dale comes to the rescue.  His character is only seen through Hannah’s eyes as she is the main point of view throughout the novel, which leaves a lot of his motivations in question, especially given the relationship he embarks upon as a pastor and married man.

Jordan’s novel is very fast-paced, and may even be too fast-paced as it seems that Hannah needs a moment to slow down, breathe, reflect but her character is very emotional, impulsive, and impatient.  Given her upbringing in a religious community, it is clear that she knows little of the outside world in Texas, which is cliche location for a novel about ultraconservative religious groups, etc.  Her actions are frustrating, but at least they are understandable given her upbringing, but there are other occasions where she seems superior in her perceptions of others’ personalities and actions and yet completely oblivious when others are plying her with food and a place to sleep after being chromed.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is ultimately a mesh of worlds that does not go to the extremes of the other nations created by Atwood and Hawthorne, and in that, the world building loses ground as it uses a heavy-handed nature in drawing parallels to today’s society, its punishments, and our own history of discrimination against certain groups.  However, this novel would make an excellent selection for a book club discussion given the issues it raises about the separation of religion and government, abortion, crime and punishment, and other topics.

About the Author:

Hillary Jordan received her BA in English and Political Science from Wellesley College and spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.  (Photo by Michael Epstein)

What the Book Club Thought (beware of spoilers):

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan was one of the two books I nominated and the book club selected it for this month’s discussion.

Most members agreed that the character of Aiden was very weak and that we disliked him.  One member insisted that most of us had laid too much blame on Hannah for what happened to her, but the women of the group said that blame lied with both Aiden and Hannah.  Given that Hannah knew Aiden was not only her pastor, but also a married man, she should not have engaged in an illicit affair with him, and he knew he was married and a paragon of the community.  While this is billed as a love story, I didn’t see the depth I expect from love-based relationships and the relationship between Aiden and Hannah appeared to be more one of lust and passion than of love.

While some of the sci-fi elements worked best for one member of the book club, others of us were happy that unlike the Hunger Games series of books the back story as to why the society had changed so drastically was presented.  Some of the members thought that Jordan skewed some elements of the society such as making all of the religious figures and members mean or evil, except for the one female priest.  But one of us thought there was a balance in the casting as there were good and bad in both the religious community from the bad priest and his wife to Hannah’s father who was more tolerant and in the Novemberists (which reminded me of the V is for Vendetta movie with its focus on November and bombing, etc.) there were good and bad guys as well.

In terms of the books we’ve read so far, this one generated a great deal of discussion about what would happen in today’s society if Roe vs. Wade was overturned (which most of us don’t see happening), what punishments are considered cruel and unusual, what being a second-class citizen would entail if we were chromed, and how the women in the group felt about abortion.  One of our members also suggested that the book is focused on demonstrating that we should not judge others and their sins but worry about ourselves, even if we are devote Catholics, etc.

This is my 57th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke starts with a convicted criminal, Sam Pulsifer, who admits to burning down Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Not only is he an arsonist, but he’s also a murderer and a liar.  He spends about 10 years in prison for his crime, but when he’s released, he goes to college, meets his sweetheart, and has some kids before everything goes horribly wrong.

“Even now, with Thomas in front of me, the fire and the smoke and his parents’ burning bodies were so far away they seemed like someone else’s problem, which is awfully mean to say and in that way perfectly consistent with most true things.” (Page 27)

There are hopes, dreams, and failures in these pages, and with the first person narration, readers will be left guessing if its all a surreal dream/nightmare or a fantasy world created by an unreliable narrator for much of the book.  With dark humor Clarke pokes fun at the white towers of academia and its unstable residents, while at the same time leading readers on a journey in which a son learns the truth about his parents and himself.  But there are whimsical moment too, in which readers familiar with New England residents and culture will see it clear as day in the northern parts of New Hampshire and the suburban sprawl of Massachusetts.

There are secrets in these pages, and much of it reads like the rambling of a lonely man or even a mad man.  Too much of it is dreamlike, with the reader left swimming in the ooze of self-doubt, judgment, and confusion that is Sam.  There are burning literary icons’ houses in the novel, but whether its actually a guide to anything other than constant meandering and second guessing is hard to tell.  Through a stream-of-consciousness prose, Clarke allows Sam to tell his heartbreaking story of how he became an arsonist, is subsequently set up for setting more fires, and how his ideas about what his family was are shattered.  While he blames most everyone or his own “bumbling,” which he claims cannot be controlled or modified, it is clear that Sam fails to have enough conviction or determination to make real changes.

“Was I angry? Of course I was.  Is this what memorists did? Steal someone else’s true story and pass it off as their own?” (Page 89)

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke is hardly boring, but oftentimes, the reader is left too in the dark about the motivations of the character or what the point of the story is.  Readers will struggle with whether they should keep reading to find out what happens or whether to give up because they just don’t find Sam to be sympathetic.  Although the dark humor and literary jabs are entertaining, they can get old after a while.  Reading this as part of an informal read-a-long with Literate Housewife and Indie Reader Houston helped motivate me to finish the book, which was mildly entertaining at best.  In a way, it was like the author was trying too hard to be surreal and darkly humorous about literary figures, which took away from a story that could have been much deeper and dramatic.

There is a fantastic Q&A in the back of the book between the author and his main character, Sam, which would help book clubs navigate this puzzling predicament of a novel.

Other Reviews:
We Be Reading
Bloody Hell! It’s a Book Barrage
Shelf Monkey
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’
Literate Housewife

photo credit: Jon Hughes / Photopresse

About the Author:

Brock Clarke is the author of five books, most recently Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, which was a national bestseller and has appeared in a dozen foreign editions.

His stories and essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, The Believer, the Georgia Review, and the Southern Review and have appeared in the annual Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches creative writing at Bowdoin College.



This is my 17th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate is the tumultuous tale of Josie Henderson and her family.  Josie is a successful scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, but the journey that helped her achieve her dream was wrought with sadness and anger.  Her brother “Tick,” once her ally against their alcoholic father, has just emerged from another stint in rehab and seeking her help, which brings to the forefront everything Josie has tried to push aside and avoid.

The narrative begins in Josie’s point of view and then shifts to that of her mother, her father, her brother, and her husband Daniel.  Southgate is trying to tell a well-rounded story about heartbreak and disappointment, but readers may find the additional points of view unnecessary.  Even without the other perspectives, Josie’s voice is solid enough to carry the entire story.

“Nothing had changed and everything had changed.  I worked better than I had in months on my grant, suddenly inspired;” (Page 160)

Salt can build up and make the mouth water with its bitterness, but often the hunger for salt can take over.  In this way, Southgate’s novel is about that hunger that comes when we search to fill an emptiness within us with the nearest object or pleasure (i.e. alcohol, drugs, sex).  Josie’s brother and father are addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, but while Josie has become successful in her career and married an intelligent man, she’s looking to fill her own holes.  Her addiction is different from that of her father and brother, but no less dangerous.

“Life weighs a ton.  That’s why I love the water.  Nothing weighs anything there.”  (Page 7)

Southgate’s characters are multi-faceted and struggling.  Josie has pushed her issues to the back, but they are still a weight around her neck, dragging her down.  Tick knows he’s lost and continues to struggle for level ground, but their father has found redemption through the 12-step program and more.  He hit rock bottom and lost it all.  The story arc here is not surprising, and Josie doesn’t really lose her critical streak of other’s life decisions, even when she is choosing wrongly for herself.  However, perhaps that’s one of the problems with addiction.  Meanwhile, there seems to be a particular emphasis on race, but its connection to the addiction story line is not clearly drawn and leaves readers wondering what truths Southgate is trying to uncover.  It almost feels as though race is a crutch being used by the main character to justify her actions, which is bothersome.

Through frank prose, Southgate dives deep into the psyche of addicts to explore the turmoil created and the pull of home even when you try to run from the past.  The Taste of Salt is an exploration of the love and bitterness of addiction, how it tears families and individuals apart, and the depth of love that keeps families moving forward.

About the Author:

Martha Southgate is the author of four novels. Her newest, The Taste of Salt, is published by Algonquin Books. Her previous novel, Third Girl from the Left, won the Best Novel of the Year award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was shortlisted for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy award. Her novel The Fall of Rome received the 2003 Alex Award from the American Library Association and was named one of the best novels of 2002 by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post. She is also the author of Another Way to Dance, which won the Coretta Scott King Genesis Award for Best First Novel. She received a 2002 New York Foundation for the Arts grant and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Her July 2007 essay from the New York Times Book Review, “Writers Like Me” received considerable notice and appears in the anthology Best African-American Essays 2009. Previous non-fiction articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine,O, Premiere, and Essence.


I originally read this for Book Club at Devourer of Books, with Linus’s Blanket.



This is my 70th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #138

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  This month our host is Life in the Thumb.  Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.  Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  When She Woke by Hillary Jordan from Algonquin Books for review in October.

2. The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls by Wendy Del Sol, which I received from Berkley for review.

3. The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate from Algonquin for review.

4. Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan from unrequested from Algonquin.

What did you receive this week?

Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa is broken into two distinct narratives; one for Manuel Rebelo and one for his son, Antonio.  The first portion follows Manuel from his boyhood into his adulthood as he struggles with the expectations of his mother for greatness on the island of Sao Miguel, Acores, and his dream of seeing the wider world and eventually settling in Canada.  Unlike his brothers and sisters, Manuel’s light hair and blue eyes reminded his mother of her husband, who was lost at sea.  Effectively, he becomes her substitute companion and weighs him down with her expectations until he finally breaks free to live his dreams.  Unfortunately, he finds that his dreams are not so easily realized.

“Manuel used his forearms to part the stalks of corn.  His blood coursed through him.  He forged ahead, swiping at the brittle stems, nursing the anger that had pressed on him ever since he had arrived back home and Silvia had said no.”  (page 97)

De Sa uses a fast-paced narrative intertwined with folklore, tradition, and imagery to paint a picture of Manuel’s life, his homeland, and his new home in a way that they become almost surreal.  Is this man truly living his life here or is this his dream/nightmare made real.  Once Antonio takes over the narrative, the nightmare grows more surreal as family members become more like caricatures rather than people.

At times the narrative is disjointed and jostles readers from one point in time to another, making them wonder what happened in the intervening years.  However, the story does not lose its edge.  It demonstrates that love, even between father and son, mother and son, and even siblings is not always smooth and without obstacles.  Can forgiveness and love triumph over the wrongs each feels the other has done and will their dreams become reality?

“‘My husband used to say that men are all barnacles.  A barnacle starts out lie swimming freely in the ocean.  But, when it matures, it must settle down and choose a home.  My dear husband used to say that it chooses to live with other barnacles of the same kind so that they can mate.'”  (page 108)

Barnacle Love relies heavily on ocean imagery and the surreal-ness of its characters to illustrate the hurt that comes with family, but also the great love that stirs beneath its bristling core.  Anthony De Sa has created a memorable journey of Portuguese-Canadian immigrants that will leave readers wanting more and spending additional time trying to figure out the characters’ motivations.

This is my 46th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.