Southbury Teen Review Blog

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Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 8:06 pm
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cold comfort farmMiss Flora Poste is orphaned by the death of her parents and must find a solution to her sudden situation.  She writes to her plentiful relatives in hopes of finding a place to live.  She chooses to take up her residence with the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  Flora hopes to find diversion among her lowly relatives.  She comes from London, after all. Convinced she’ll find disaster and ruin in their rural existence, she sets out on her adventure.

Flora “cannot tolerate a mess,” yet that’s exactly what she finds in Howling (yes, that’s a town).  The farm is everything she imagined and much, much more.  Aunt Judith speaks of a wrong done to Robert Poste that must be atoned for, but don’t ask her what it is.  Her lips are sealed.  Flora’s cousins have other things on their minds.  Reuben wants the farm and suspects Flora has come to take his inheritance.  Seth, when not impregnating the hired girl, longs to be a movie star.  And Elfine dreams of poetry and Dick Hawke-Monitor, the young lord down the lane.  Flora, or Robert Poste’s child as she is called, sees immediate need for intervention.

“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm” is the mantra bellowed by Aunt Ada Doom, Flora’s great aunt. When only a child, the old lady “saw something nasty in the woodshed” that has forced her to take to her room and never venture past the farm gates.  Her manipulations and antics keep all the members of the Starkadders afraid to leave Aunt Ada or the farm.  Ask anyone and they’ll tell you there is a curse on Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora systematically works her magic on the members of her extended family.  She transforms Elfine from a will-o’the wisp into a proper modern lady fit for marriage (not to a first cousin).  Amos, Judith’s husband, takes Flora’s advice and leaves to preach across the United States in a Ford.  This leaves Reuben with the farm.  Seth is discovered by a famous movie producer and is whisked away to Hollywood.  After Flora shares her magazines and travelogues, Aunt Ada emerges from her room to announce she will travel the world starting with the French Riviera.  The doom has been lifted from Cold Comfort Farm . All the Starkadders live happily ever after.  And Flora Poste flies off to marry the man of her dreams, Charles.  After all, he does have heavenly teeth!

This novel is a hoot!  Cold Comfort Farm is a sharp parody of romantic fiction popular at the time.  Stella Gibbons creates cringe-worthy yet endearing characters not soon forgotten.  You’ll in for a good time with this one, just mind the sukebind’s not in blossom!


Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin


alice i have beenAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland has delighted readers for years.  You may think that her story is just a flight of fancy sprung from the verdant imagination of Lewis Carroll.  Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors that the author had other improper proclivities. Regardless of your Alice experience, Alice I Have Been is a brilliant look at the life of the Carroll’s muse.

Alice Pleasance Liddlell Hargreaves is now in her eighties.  As she looks back on her long life she feels the inescapable shadow of being immortalized in one of literature’s greatest works.  As a child, Alice roamed Oxford with her sisters.  Her father’s work brought her in contact with many of the intellectuals of the time.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was simply an awkward, stuttering, young mathematics professor.  He befriended Liddell and his daughters as they spent many a “golden afternoon” in Oxford.  His talent for storytelling and his association with Alice led to the classic tale.  On Alice’s urging, Dodgson (as Lewis Carroll) penned one of the stories he created to entertain the girls.

That’s not all there is to the story.  In addition to mathematics and writing, Dodgson also dabbled in photography.  Many of the subjects of his photo happen to be young girls in questionable poses.  Alice describes she discarded her prim Victorian garb to dress up as a gypsy for one particular picture.  This could be seen as inappropriate for today’s standards, so you can imagine the reaction elicited during the 1860’s.

As Alice matures, we follow her as she falls in love with Prince Leopold.  The rumor of scandal keeps them from marrying.  She marries Reginald Hargreaves and has three sons.  The heartbreaks she endures throughout her life are exquisitely described, painful memories we share with Alice.  As she looks back on her life, she is content to embrace that she is Alice.

Melanie Benjamin has crafted a beautiful tale, the perfect mix of fiction with fact.  Reminiscent of Carroll’s original work, Oxford’s lush surrounding is the perfect backdrop for young Alice.  The controversy surrounding Dodgson’s proclivities are examined, yet not judged.  We are left with Alice’s interpretations to piece together what really happened.  Fans of Lewis Carroll’s work will find new insight into Alice after reading Alice I Have Been.



The Woman in Black by Susan Hill February 15, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 1:32 am
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womaninblackI’m sure you’ve seen the movie The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, right?  Or you’ve heard of it, at least.  Being a self-proclaimed scary movie aficionado, this one is high on my list of movies to see.  Like any good librarian I just had to read the book first.  I’ll admit, ashamedly so or not, I had no idea this book existed before all the hype surrounding the movie began.  Written in 1983 by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black quickly attained classic ghost story status.  It has since been dramatized for the stage, becoming the second longest running West End stage production, surpassed only by Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap.  With this new-found information in hand and my hopes high, I became acquainted with Arthur Kipps and as he reminisced on his experience with the specter known as the Woman in Black.

Our story begins with Arthur, now comfortably middle aged, looking back upon a time in his life that has changed and haunted him ever since.  Young Arthur came to the town of Crythin Gifford as a solicitor, charged with the task of attending the funeral of one of the firm’s clients, Alice Drablow.  It is at the funeral he spies a woman dressed in mourning.  Not out of the ordinary, but something about this woman chills Arthur to the bone.  Events become progressively spooky as Mr. Kipps travels to the Drablow home, Eel Marsh House, surrounded by marsh and only accessible by a causeway.  While sorting through his client’s papers, Arthur begins to hear things.  Present are all the usual stock chilling sounds- children crying, footsteps, screams, the sound of a horse and cart that seems to be coming through the fog but never arrives.  By this time we are as unnerved as Mr. Kipps, our guide through this story.

Realizing something supernatural is occurring; Arthur attempts to question the locals about the previous inhabitants of the house.  Met with stonewalling indifference at every turn, he is finally able to piece together the tragic events.  It seems Mrs. Drablow’s sister Jennet Humfrye had a child out of wedlock.  Jennet acquiesces to her sisters will and gives her illegitimate child to the Drablows.  Unable to stay away, Jennet returns to see her child, in hopes of taking him away from Eel Marsh House.  Tragedy strikes as Jennet watches her child, the nursemaid, and pony cart are all lost to the marshes.  Inconsolable, Jennet curses the Drablows and Eel Marsh House.  It is her ghost haunts the grounds and anyone that comes to the house.  She is the Woman in Black.  Dun, dun, dun!

Arthur leaves Eel Marsh House and returns to London where he thinks he has escaped the Woman in Black and her dark legacy only to face her wrath years later.  One day Arthur glimpses the sinister visage of his nightmares while out with his family.  His wife and young child are killed in a carriage accident, as Jennet Humfrye claims two more victims.

Short in length, you’ll zoom through this novel, especially if read alone after dark.  Yes, it’s creepy, chillingly so. Full of traditional ghost story elements The Woman in Black does not disappoint.  Now I feel as though I’m prepared for the movie – bring it on!


The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake February 14, 2013

The Last Free Cat - Jon BlakeJade finds a stray cat in her backyard and tries to convince her mother to keep it.  Sounds pretty normal, right?  Wrong.  This is the not-so-distant future where cats are highly regulated after an outbreak of cat flu.  Now only the super wealthy can afford to buy a registered cat from few companies holding monopoly over the breeding industry.  Never one to follow the rules, Jade keeps Feela, the mysterious feline, hiding her from the authorities.  After all, harboring a non-registered cat is punishable with ten years in prison.

After the death of her mother, Jade needs to find a safe haven for Feela.  With the assistance of Kris, a spunky and intelligent homeless boy, Jade attempts to rescue Feela.  And while she’s at it, she may as well bring down the whole cat breeding conspiracy.

The Last Free Cat is definitely a page turner.  Once I began following Jade’s adventures,  I couldn’t put the book down.  Jon Blake has given us a unique look at dystopian society while commenting on government, animal breeding, and authority.  Or am I just reading too much into this?  Doesn’t matter.  This is a great read.



A.G. Howard

All the women in Alyssa Gardner’s family are cursed, ever since her ancestor Alice Liddell inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland they start hearing voices when they reach puberty.  Her mother Alison lives in a mental facility because she hears flowers and insects talking and since Alyssa started hearing the same kinds of voices a few years ago she has worried that she will become like her mother.  As her mother’s condition starts to worsen, Alyssa begins to learn more about her family’s curse and they truth behind Alice Liddell and Wonderland.  When Alyssa finds herself and her best friend Jeb in Wonderland she realizes Wonderland is much darker than the Wonderland in the book and in order to save her mother and herself from the curse she must pass impossible tests.

Alyssa was an interesting main character, I liked her skateboard style and flair and her personality.  She was typical teen in that she rebelled against her parents in subtle ways, like with the hair extensions, but she was still naive in her willingness to trust others.  I wasn’t sure if I would like Jeb at the beginning but as we got to know him more I really started to like him.  His protectiveness of Alyssa was a little annoying when he tried to be a surrogate parent but he was concerned for Alyssa which was nice and who doesn’t love a handsome knight in shining armor!

I wish I had read the original Alice in Wonderland to have something to relate the numerous references with but I still enjoyed the book.  The Wonderland in this book is much darker than the Alice I remember when I was little.  The characters all have a morbid twist to them and Alyssa’s quest is much more dangerous that Alice.  There were so many twists that I was constantly kept guessing what was going to happen next.  The ending was just the right combination of suspense, sadness, despair, hope and even happiness.  Overall, this was a really enjoyable read.


Sapphire Blue

Filed under: Books — Jessie @ 11:05 pm
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sapphire blueSapphire Blue (Ruby Red Trilogy #2)
Kerstin Gier

Gwen learned that she was the last time traveler in the Circle of Twelve in the first book of this series, Ruby Red.  In Sapphire Blue, she continues to travel in the past to discover why Lucy and Paul stole the second Chronograph while also trying to figure out what all the prophecies about the Circle mean and if Gideon really does love her.

The entertaining Gwen is back with a new ghostly friend, a gargoyle/demon named Xemerius, who helps her keep tabs on Gideon and the Guardians.  While the Guardians are doing their best to keep Gwen in the dark as to the inner workings of their society, Gwen takes matters into her own hands and together she, her friend Lesley, and Xemerius further their research about the Guardians and Count Saint-Germain.  The book only covers a few days in our time, but Gwen elapses and travels to different time periods during these days.  I loved when Gwen traveled back to attend the soiree, although she had some lessons in proper soiree behavior from Charlotte and her teacher, Gwen stayed true to herself and gave a wonderful performance at the party.  Gwen also meets her great-grandfather during one of her elapses which brings about some new questions.  And of course we have Gideon, the oh so perfect love interest who is so sweet and charming towards Gwen one minute and a complete jerk the next.  It’s hard to decided if I want him and Gwen to be together with everything he does and yet by the epilogue I was back on his side.

I thought the book was pretty fast-paced and enjoyable but as with the first book it was a little confusing to follow the interactions and characters, especially Count Saint-Germain and the Guardians, and there are lots of questions that still need to be answered.  We still don’t know what will happen once all 12 time travelers are read into the chronograph or why Lucy and Paul stole the chronograph.  And what is Gwen’s role in all of this? This book does end in a cliffhanger which is annoying since the third book will not be out in english for a while.


The Radleys by Matt Haig February 13, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 6:49 pm
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the radleys

The Radleys are you average British family.  Like all suburbanites, they are hiding a deep, dark secret.  They are a family of vampires.

Parents Peter and Helen have chosen the “stiff upper lip” route by following the Abstainer’s Handbook and not giving in to their urge to drink blood.  So hidden is their true nature, children Rowan and Clara don’t know they are vampires.  The two Radley children are pale pariahs, plagued by photosensitivity and weakness.  It’s not until one night young Clara accidentally kills a classmate while fending off unwanted advances that the truth comes to light.  Unable to hide the secret anymore, the Radleys must face their true identities.  To complicate matters, Peter’s wayward brother Will, an unabashed blood drinker, arrives to “clean up” the mess Clara left behind.  A complicated history between the family members reemerges during this crisis.

Matt Haig deftly illuminates the repressed British struggle under the guise of a modern vampire tale.  The Radleys is a wry and witty dark comedy with enough blood and guts to please any vampire lover.