“Whale Talk,” by Chris Crutcher

“Whale Talk,” by Chris Crutcher is an novel about the fight between misfits and popular people.

Author Chris Crutcher touches on many different issues within “Whale Talk.” The main character, T. J. Jones, aka The Tao Jones, is a multi-racial boy who is both smart and athletic. However, he shuns team sports at his school because he doesn't like the attitude of the “jocks” who make up the school's prominent teams. Even the coaches and organizers are racist and cruel to animals.

Although T. J. Jones has always refused to support the organized sports at his school, he sees an opportunity to get back at coaches and athletes at his school by supporting a new swim team. There is only one problem. The Cutter High School swim team doesn't even have a pool to practice in. T. J. Jones doesn't let this stop him, though. He recruits some of the school's most unpopular misfits: a fat boy, a one legged boy with a bad attitude, and a boy usually ridiculed for being retarded. T. J. Jones is determined to make sure that each of the boys earns a varsity letter jacket. This jacket is a highly coveted symbol that is usually reserved for white jocks who are buddies with the coaches that T. J. Jones despises so much.

As T. J. Jones helps the motley group of misfits to become an organized swim team he finds that they are also developing in other ways too. Under the influence of friendship and a feeling of being wanted the boys come to realize that their own worth does not depend on their popularity with the other students.

“Whale Talk” is a fairly broad reaching book. In reading it I felt that Chris Crutcher was trying to cover every issue available, from racism, to school corruption, to child abuse. “Whale Talk” is not exactly a polished masterpiece. I felt that Crutcher used far too much profanity. By choosing to tell the story through T. J. Jones he gives the novel a personal attitude, but T. J. Jones himself has an attitude half admirable, half disappointing. Overall “Whale Talk” was not a book that appealed to me. Sports and school popularity struggles can be good plot topics if they are handled properly. However, “Whale Talk” comes across as rough, with an ending that fails to satisfy.

“Whale Talk” is a book that I wouldn't waste my time reading.

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-31T10:03:00-05:00

Interview with Author Nancy Springer

Today Inkweaver Review presents an interview with Nancy Springer, author of the Enola Holmes series, which is currently being reviewed here on Inkweaver Review.

Meet Nancy Springer

"Conform, go crazy, or become an artist." I have a rubber stamp declaring those words, and they pretty much delineate my life. Conforming was the thing to do when I was raised, in the fifties. Even my mother, who spent her days painting animal portraits at an easel in the corner of the kitchen, tried to conform via housecleaning, bridge parties, and a new outfit every spring. My father, who was born into a British-mannered Protestant family in southern Ireland, emigrated to America as a young man and idolized the "melting pot" because at last he fit in. Once in a rare while he recited "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" or told a tale of a leprechaun, but most of the time he was an earnest naturalized American who expected exemplary behavior of his children. My mother was a charming Pollyanna who would not entertain negative sentiments in herself or anyone around her. As their only girl and the baby of the family, I was coddled, yet hardly ever got a chance to be other than excruciatingly good.

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Interview with Author Nancy Springer
Inkweaver Review 2009-05-28T10:00:00-05:00

“The Robot King,” by Brian Selznick

“The Robot King,” by Brian Selznick is a beautiful fantasy novel about two Victorian children who build a fantastic robot.

Book Cover Art for The Robot King by Brian SelznickEzra and Lucy are two motherless children who spend their days at the graveyard where their mother is buried. In this melancholy place, beneath the ruined skeleton of an abandoned fairground they daydream and Lucy makes up stories about their mother and the way their lives could have been. Ezra doesn’t talk at all.

After they leave the graveyard they return home, to the attic where Ezra and Lucy store their special possessions. Ezra likes to gather small items, pieces of glass, pebbles, marbles, silverware, lost keys. Lucy likes to make devices out of things that Ezra gathers. She has made a toy that walked like an insect on twig legs, doll heads on wheels that race around the attic, and other fascinating mechanical wind ups. One day, thought, Lucy tells Ezra that she needs just one more thing to complete her latest project.

Together Lucy and Ezra take their dead mother’s treasured music box and snap it into place in Lucy’s device. It is a fantastic clockwork man, and the music box is his heart, carefully hidden away in the deepest part of the clockwork man’s chest.

Lucy names her creation the Robot King, and after Ezra winds up the music box heart, the Robot King begins to move. At first the Robot King totters and jerks like a new baby learning to move, but slowly it gains confidence and begins to learn about its surroundings. And then Lucy and Ezra discover the wonderful power of their creation, and the Robot King changes their life completely.

“The Robot King,” by Brian Selznick is a wonderful piece of writing and art. The text is very sensitive, with delicate imagery, and sublime emotional content. Selznick’s portrayal of Ezra and Lucy is filled with love. In addition, the scenes and places are filled with fascinating details that are further enlivened by Brian Selznick’s black and white pencil drawings. The amazing Robot King is the key to the entire story, and in this respect both the drawings of him and the text about him is wonderful.

“The Robot King” is a wonderful story that is enhanced by the beautiful and moving images that accompany it.

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-27T12:20:00-05:00

“A Study in Scarlet,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“A Study in Scarlet,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a fascinating detective mystery story that introduces Sherlock Holmes to the world.Book Cover Art for A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The story starts by introducing John H. Watson, an army doctor recently returned to London after a disastrous tour in India. Watson is happy to be in London again, but he soon finds that he needs better quarters. Unfortunately, his income is so low that he can not afford anything decent.

Through a friend Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, who has found a comfortable apartment but needs someone to share the rent with. At first Watson is a little bit skeptical about Holmes, who seems to be a very eccentric individual indeed, but when Watson visits the apartment that Holmes wants to rent, he decides that he might as well try it out.

Soon Watson and Holmes have moved into their apartment on Baker Street. From the very start Watson finds himself wondering about Holmes. For one thing Holmes doesn’t seem to have any regular employment, and he has a very strange system of knowledge and study.

After a few failed attempts, Sherlock Holmes himself tells Watson of his career. He is a “consulting detective.” When the police and Scotland Yard are unable to solve a mystery or catch a criminal, they contact Holmes, who uses scientific principals to shed new light on the mystery or track down the culprit.

Soon enough Holmes has a chance to demonstrate his skill. When a murdered man is found in an empty building nearby the police are baffled. The murdered victim has no wound on his body, yet the room is marked with blood. In addition, none of the victims personal possessions were stolen, his money and various other valuables are untouched.

Sherlock Holmes agrees to take the case. When he arrives at the seen of the crime, however, the whole matter seems to get even more complicated, rather than clearing up. First a woman’s wedding ring is discovered on the floor beneath the dead body. Then the word “Rache” is discovered written on the wall with blood.

Sherlock Holmes’ investigation will uncover events that began decades ago in America. The crime is a deadly revenge plot that has taken decades to come to culmination. The daring and persistent perpetrator is a determined person though, and it will take careful panning on Holmes part to capture him.

“A Study in Scarlet” was first published in 1887. This classic story is a good introduction to Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, in this book Doyle shows Holmes in a slightly unflattering light, portraying him as proud and angry that he doesn’t get enough recognition for his skill. Other than that “A Study in Scarlet” is a great mystery story. The plot is realistic and reasonably unusual.

All mystery lovers should read the classic “A Study in Scarlet.”

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-25T09:39:00-05:00

“Each Little Bird that Sings,” by Deborah Wiles

“Each Little Bird that Sings,” by Deborah Wiles is a touching and sensitive story about three deaths that effect a family that works in the funeral business.
Book Cover Art for Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles
Ten-year-old Comfort Snowberger has kept track of every funeral she had ever attended, all 247 of them. The Snowberger family runs the only funeral home in Snapfinger, Mississippi, so everyone who dies comes to Snowberger’s for their last few days above ground.

Comfort has always thought of herself as being well acquainted and able to cope with death, but when two of her close relatives, Great-uncle Edisto, and Great-great-aunt Florentine, die within six months of each other it leaves a great gap in the Snowberger family. Great-uncle Edisto started the Snowberger family funeral home. One of his favorite expressions was “Everybody’s kin.” In the small town of Snapfinger, Mississippi everyone is family, and whenever someone dies, everyone comes to the funeral, bringing kind words and their favorite southern comfort food.

To Comfort, though, everything goes wrong shortly after her Great-uncle Edisto dies. First her pathetic younger cousin Peach makes a scene at the funeral and ruins everything. Then Comfort’s best friend Declaration turns mean and leaves her for two new best friends that are much cooler and who don’t write obituaries in their spare time like Comfort does.

Comfort must find the strength to deal with these disasters and problems and at the same time mourn the loss of two close relatives.

I enjoyed reading “Each Little Bird that Sings.” The story’s plot is filled with strong emotion that readers are sure to remember long after they close the book. In addition the characters are very sensitive, and I feel that Deborah Wiles did a good job balancing them with and against each other. All the characters have unusual names: Comfort, Merry, Declaration, Tidings, and Dismay. This, however, merely adds to the unique flavor of “Each Little Bird that Sings.”

“Each Little Bird that Sings” teaches strong lessons about death and coping with the loss of a relative or friend. I recommend it to all young readers.

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-24T09:28:00-05:00

“The Wrong Box,” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Wrong Box,” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic farce first published in the 1800’s.

Book Cover Art for The Wrong Box by Robert Louis StevensonSimply summarized “The Wrong Box” is a rather ridiculous book full of slapstick humor and foolish turns. The plot begins with a Tontine, a scheme in which subscribers invest their funds in a common pool that is then paid to the last person in the group who is still alive. As Stevenson puts it:

“The proceeds are fluttered for a moment in the face of the last survivor, who is probably deaf, so that he can not even hear of his success-and who is certainly dying, so that he might just as well have lost.”

In “The Wrong Box” the plot revolves around a Tontine in which many youths, including two brothers, were all subscribed. By some freak of chance the last two surviving members of the Tontine are the two brothers, Joseph Finsbury and Masterman. Now they are both very old men with sons of their own.

Old Joseph Finsbury is kept under lock and key by his two sons Morris and John, who view their father as a sort of investment. They are determined that he will outlive his brother, their uncle, and that they, the two sons will get the whole Tontine as an inheritance. Therefore Morris keeps a strict watch on his father, making sure that he always dresses for the weather, and ordering routine doctor’s visits to make sure his health is in good condition. Joseph Finsbury resents the intrusions on his life, though.

Everything changes, though, when Joseph and his two sons Morris and John are traveling and are involved in a deadly train wreck. When Morris and John awake they find themselves in the midst of a scene of scattered destruction, but their father is nowhere to be found. After a brief search they find a body that they are convinced must be that of their father, Joseph.

At that moment there begins one of the most foolish and desperate blunderings ever portrayed in literature. Morris and John decide to hide the body so that they can still win the Tontine by concealing their father’s death and waiting for their uncle to die. But of course, somewhere along the way the body is mislaid. Morris and John are left afraid that the body will be found. On the other end the body ends up being transported by a variety of different means, in a variety of different conveyances, finally ending up in a grand piano.

Little do Morris and John realize, though, but the body that they took such great pains to conceal is not even that of their father. Joseph Finsbury survived the accident, yet saw it as a chance to escape the oppressive life that his sons imposed upon him.

“The Wrong Box” is simply silly. Unlike some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s much better writings “The Wrong Box” seems very rough, lacking grace. The passages are loquacious to the extreme, yet the plot still seems ill thought and clumsy.

Overall, “The Wrong Box” is definitely an eccentric book, and for that fact it is mildly interesting, but I definitely could not consider it to be a classic masterpiece.

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-23T12:34:00-05:00

“Theodore in November,” by Natalie Williams

“Theodore in November,” by Natalie Williams is a poetry collection about the symbolism and sensations of love.

The focus of the collection, and its title, are not particularly obvious. However, one recurring character throughout the poems is Theodore. According to Natalie Williams “Theodore is true love’s fight to discover itself, and in some ways is undiscovered. It is an ideal that becomes tainted by experience but then matured by it.” Many of the poems use the word Theodore in different contexts and forms. For example “Theodored” is used as a verb, as in “You Theodored me.” In other poems “Theodore” is used as a noun or even an adjective.

The second major concept throughout the poetry collection is “November.” In her foreword Natalie Williams explains “November, to me, is a middle time between some place, between winter, summer and autumn; a metaphor for an Eden, and undiscovered country.” Much of “Theodore in November” is about love as journey, and a development that changes over time. In “Theodore in November” love is never completed experience. It is always in the middle, always wanting more and growing stronger and closer.

The poetry in “Theodore in November” has a style very different from that which I usually enjoy. Many of the lines are very short and terse, and although this allows better emphasis on some key words, it also breaks up the flow. Personally I like poetry that my eye can flow through very smoothly, and the constant line breaks in “Theodore in November” make me stop again and again to move down the page. However, “Theodore in November” stands true to Natalie Williams personal style, and in that regard I’m sure that many people enjoy poetry with short lines. My enjoyment of poems with longer lines is simply personal preference.

In “Theodore in November” Natalie William’s take on love is fresh, as if she has purposely avoided the all too common poetic cliches about love. I enjoyed some of the vivid word pictures that are scattered through her poems like flowers in a field of grass.

Overall, I would say that “Theodore in November” is a decent collection of poetry, and I’m sure that most readers will enjoy it.

Inkweaver Book Rating:

★★★★Poetic Voice



Inkweaver Review 2009-05-23T09:00:00-05:00

Book History: The Development of Writing and the Scroll

There are two major ingredients that make up a book. The first of these is the structure of the book, the pages or surfaces that make up its body. The second critical ingredient is the writing that fills the book and gives its body a soul.

The history of the book therefore begins with the history of writing. No one knows for sure how writing began, for many millenniums of human history have made writing and reading such an integral part of life that it seems as if writing must have always existed.

However, theories as to the origin of writing abound. One of these theories sets the development of writing at about 8000 B.C.E. It is known that tokens of different shapes and sizes were used to keep track of goods and symbolize transactions between buyers and sellers. These tokens were also buried with the deceased and used at temples for ritual offerings.

Around 3700 B.C.E people started storing these important tokens in hollow clay balls for storage. However, after the clay balls had been sealed it was difficult to determine what tokens were in which clay balls. It is thought that people began pressing the token into the clay surface to make an impression of it, therefore marking the clay with a symbol of the token.

This small fragment is inscribed with what may be the very earliest discovered form of writing.

From there it was a small step to scratching the token’s shape in the clay. Over time the round clay storage balls were flattened, and the symbolic tokens were done away with, replaced with the new markings that could be scratched in the flat clay tablet.

Another theory about the development of writing says that people started writing when they wanted to mark the surfaces of clay jars to signify their contents.

However writing began, it was always symbolic in nature. For example, in early Egyptian hieroglyphics, the symbol for a town is a cross inside of a circle. This glyph is representative of a town wall and the intersection of two roads.

Phonetic (or syllabic) writing was the next major development. By combining pictographs that represented words with specific sounds, scribes could recreate the sounds of a word that was a personal name, or some other concept that had no designated symbolic glyph.

Over time this system became more popular because it greatly reduced the number of glyphs that needed to be remembered. In this way phonetic writing made reading possible for a considerably larger subset of people. Symbolic writing involved thousands of symbols, making reading and writing a very difficult skill learned only by the scribes and religious leaders. Phonetic writing made writing and reading easier to learn, and slowly increased literacy rates among early peoples. Most serious writing and reading was still done by scribes, but for the first time learning to read and write was a task that although difficult, was possible. Archaeologists have found millions of pottery fragments marked with early writing, showing that many common people may have learned to read and write. They used pieces of shattered pottery as a surface on which to write notes and important religious and scriptural texts.

This early stage of writing is called cuneiform writing (from the Latin word cuneus for wedge), and it typically takes the form of wedge shaped markings in clay tablets. While these clay tablets are not very similar to modern books they were the precursors that would eventually develop into books as we know it.

The early Rongorongo writing discovered on Easter Island takes the form of both geometrical and natural shapes. Rongorongo has never been deciphered.
Another example of early writing, called Rongorongo, was discovered in the 1800‘s on Easter Island. A total of about twenty-four different Rongorongo marked wooden tablets and objects were discovered. Despite their extremely weathered and damaged condition, distinct geometrical, human, plant, and animal forms can be seen on their surfaces. These carved objects are very diverse, including a chieftain's staff, an statue, and several small ornaments.

The importance of Rongorongo is that it is a move from clay writing materials to wood. From 3000 B.C.E onward early people began using wood and other vegetable ingredients for writing. In China early books took the form of bamboo tablets, while the Egyptians used papyrus reeds to create a form of paper.

Papyrus was an important development in book history. It was produced by taking the marrow of papyrus reed plants, cutting it into strips, and placing the strips side by side in two layers. One layer was set at a right angle to the other layer. The sticky pith inside the plant made these two layers of strips stick together. Then the two layers were pounded using a hammer so that they bonded tightly, becoming a single sheet. After the papyrus had dried it could be polished with a smooth object to remove any irregularities. Scribes used ink to mark symbols onto these scrolls rather than scratching them into the surface such as had been done with early clay and wood tablets.

The scroll was a much more convenient writing device than the clay or wooden tablet. Before the scroll and long piece of writing would result in a large pile of clay or wooden tablets that would tend to get mixed up or lost. For this reason, most of the clay or wooden tablets found are not long works of writing but rather short legal or business documents. These pieces of writing could never be considered books. In contrast the scroll could be produced in sheets many feet long. After the scribes were done writing on them the scroll would be rolled up into a compact tube shape. When a person wanted to read a scroll they would simple unroll it on one end, and as they read they would roll up the other end of the scroll. In this way the scroll made longer works of writing much more feasible, both from the writing and the reading point of view. This was a major step toward the development of the book.

One of the earliest surviving translated books is the Egyptian Book of the Dead, thought to have been written about 1800 B.C.E. This important Egyptian funerary text was written on papyrus scrolls and buried with the deceased. It described the steps that would be needed for the deceased to successfully navigate the afterlife. It also contained written hymns and spells.

This scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead demonstrates the rich illustrations and symbolic writing that the Egyptians had developed.
(Click to enlarge.)
The Book of the Dead was copied in funeral workshops, the same facilities where the dead were embalmed. Copies of the Book of the Dead were extremely expensive, costing more than half a years pay for the common laborer. Nonetheless, the quality of copies of the Book of the Dead was usually terrible. Surviving copies are full of scribal mistakes.

To summarize, early books began with the start of writing. Over the formative years of writing, better and better writing surfaces were developed, starting with clay, and then progressing to wood and finally papyrus scrolls. Each development in writing technology played an important part in making the book possible.

Coming Next:

The next installment of this Book History series will cover writing and books during the era of Greece and Rome. This important time period saw the start of book culture and book conservation as libraries were developed.
Inkweaver Review 2009-05-22T12:23:00-05:00

Interview with Author Rebecca Stead

About Rebecca Stead

Rebecca Stead grew up in New York City, where she was lucky enough to attend the kind of elementary school where you could sit in a windowsill, or even under a table, and read, or draw, or write, and no one told you to come out and be serious (well, eventually someone did, but not right away). It was here that she began writing.

Rebecca lives in New York with her husband and their two sons. Her second novel, "When You Reach Me", will be published by Wendy Lamb Books in July, 2009.
Inkweaver Review is moving to a new web address. Please read this interview with author Rebecca Stead at our new location:

Interview with Author Rebecca Stead

Inkweaver Review 2009-05-21T08:14:00-05:00

Critical Analysis: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe is a classic novel that was said to have provoked the American Civil War. By discussing the issue of slavery and showing the cruel aspects of it Harriet Beecher Stowe motivated people to take sides over the issue.

The main focus of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is to show that African American’s have souls and feelings just like other humans. In her time it was common for white plantation owners and slave holders to view black people as cattle or a degraded species of humans. Slave auctioneers and sellers separated mothers and children on the idea that they couldn’t really feel the loss, at least not like white people.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s goal in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is to show African American’s as people. Her basic argument is that black’s suffer just as much as whites, and therefore it is just as wrong to mistreat them. Throughout the book Stowe approaches the idea of slavery from an unwavering Christian viewpoint. This is not surprising considering that she had a very religious family, with her father being a famous minister.

The single most important character in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is Uncle Tom himself. Uncle Tom is a middle aged black man who is very honest and intelligent. Uncle Tom’s master, Mr. Shelby, entrusts him with many of the dealings of his house, even trusting him to take large sums of money of business trips for his master. For Uncle Tom this could be a prime opportunity to escape. However, Uncle Tom always returns because he cannot violate Mr. Shelby’s trust by running away with his master’s money. Given Harriet Stowe’s religious background it isn’t surprising that Uncle Tom’s story mirrors the biblical story of Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt. Even as the Joseph’s Egyptian master Potiphar chose to entrust Joseph with all his belongings, so Mr. Shelby entrusts his dealings to Uncle Tom.

Uncle Tom enjoys a rather comfortable if limited lifestyle at the home of Mr. Shelby. Mr. Shelby respects Uncle Tom for his Christian values and gives him many freedoms that other slave owners wouldn’t. Uncle Tom enjoys spending time with his family, wife, and children in their own small cabin.

The turning point in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” comes when Mr. Shelby finds himself in debt to Haley, a slave trader. Although Mr. Shelby tries to avoid it there is only one solution to his debt. He has to give Uncle Tom to Haley to get his debt canceled. Haley even refuses to accept Uncle Tom as payment unless Mr. Shelby throws in Harry, the son of Eliza, one of Mr. Shelby’s maids.

At this point the plot splits off in two major directions. Eliza doesn’t want to part with her son Harry, so she runs away with him, later meeting up with her husband George. George ran away from his cruel master who forced him to do manual labor despite his intelligence and skill working at a local business. A rather humorous scene shows the slave trader Haley trying to catch Eliza, but hindered by the covert sabotage of Mr. Shelby’s other slaves, who first “accidently” set his horse loose in the field. Then they use reverse psychology to direct him down the wrong road. They mention a small back road offhand and then they swear up and down that Eliza is sure to take the more direct main road. Ever suspicious Haley is sure that the slaves are lying to him, so he orders them to take him down the back road. Naturally, this was exactly what the slaves wanted, so they quickly end up completely lost, and is hours before they finally get to the town where Eliza was headed. Eliza manages to escape across the frozen river and evade Haley.

Haley is forced to give up for the moment, though he sends few slave catchers after Eliza and her boy. Angry and tired, Haley returns to Mr. Shelby’s farm. Uncle Tom, honest as always, agrees that he will not run away like Eliza. He knows that if Mr. Shelby doesn’t get the debt paid by selling Uncle Tom then he will just have to sell some of the other slaves. So instead, Uncle Tom prepares to part from his family. The slave trader Haley plans to take Uncle Tom down the river, and sell him in the deep South. Uncle Tom’s wife Aunt Chloe is heartbroken, not only because of the parting, but also because she knows that very few slaves ever return from the deep South. The plantation owners kill them off by overworking them, even when they are sick or hurt. The only hope for Uncle Tom is that Haley sells him to a kind master who will recognize his worth and intelligence and treat him well.

Haley takes Uncle Tom with him on a riverboat that travels down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. Along the way author Harriet Beecher Stowe takes the time to show a typical and all to common occurrence, the parting of a young black mother from her child. During the course of the journey the mother commits suicide by throwing herself overboard. Uncle Tom, though also missing his family, perseveres with great courage and meekness. He uses the boat ride as an opportunity to befriend young Evangeline, a white girl who is the daughter of an affluent slave owner. When Eva falls overboard and Uncle Tom saves her life by jumping in after her, it leads to Eva’s father, Augustine St. Clare, buying Uncle Tom to serve as a horse driver.

I find the reflection between the young mother jumping overboard and Uncle Tom jumping overboard to be quite interesting. Both of them jumped overboard because of a child, one because she lost a child, the other to save a child. In the young mother’s case it was a desperate thing that did no good in the long run except sacrifice her life. In Uncle Tom’s case it was a beneficial action that not only saved the child’s life but gained a beneficial position for him. I think that author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s point here is clear: she knows that the slaves feel bad about their situation, but there are still things that they can do to make it better for themselves. Committing suicide is not the answer.

Uncle Tom’s new life with Augustine St. Clare is not only a big change in his life, but it also marks the start of a new writing theme in the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Author Harriet Beecher Stowe uses this relatively peaceful interlude to allow her white characters to have intellectual and philosophical discussions about slavery. There are several key players in these arguments and discussions.

One principal character is Augustine St. Clare. He is a fundamentally lazy man, who doesn’t like slavery, but can’t seem to build up the strength to oppose it. He even purchases slaves for himself because he doesn’t want to appear different. In his mind slavery is an institution that he can do nothing to oppose, at least, nothing by himself.

Marie St. Clare is Augustine St. Clare’s wife. In the story Augustine married her in rapid desperation after receiving the rejection of another woman who he loved. After his marriage to Marie, however, he discovered that the rejection of the other woman was actually fabricated by her relatives who did not want her to marry him. He can not get along with her, not only because he never really loved her, but also because she is a spoiled woman used to being looked after by men. She does not understand Augustine’s dry humor and wit. Marie St. Clare tries to gain Augustine’s attentions by constantly complaining of various imaginary ills such as “sick headaches.” Marie is very attached to the institution of slavery. In her mind the slaves are there to do her bidding. She take out her anger and frustration at her husband on the slaves.

The third character is Miss Ophelia, Augustine’s cousin. Miss Ophelia is from the North, and as such she is fundamentally opposed to slavery. However, she also has a great loathing for the black slaves. She can not tolerate them touching her, an so she maintains a frigid distance from them. Miss Ophelia also does not like Marie St. Clare. She feels that Augustine could have done much better in choosing a wife, and indeed he could, and should, have.

The fourth character that Harriet Beecher Stowe introduces is Augustine St. Clare’s brother, Alfred. Alfred is the exact opposite of his brother Augustine. Whereas Augustine feels that slavery is wrong, Alfred’s opinion is that slavery is a necessary thing, and that there is nothing wrong with it as long as he is able to dominate the slaves. Augustine does nothing about his feelings, though. Alfred ridicules his brother for being a hypocrite and not doing something to advocate an end to slavery.

The fifth player in Stowe’s philosophical discussions is Eva, Augustine St. Clare’s young daughter. In the story Stowe portrays Eva as an angel of sorts. Eva does not approve of slavery, and she wants her father to free all the slaves. Augustine always laughs when he daughter makes this suggestion, but he admires her innocence.

Harriet Beecher Stowe uses these five characters to explore the different views about slavery and the attitudes that people have toward it. In between these discussions Stowe develops a rather heartbreaking plot: Eva develops a wasting disease that gradually kills her. This leaves both Augustine and Marie heartbroken. Soon after Eva’s death Augustine also dies, and this leaves Uncle Tom in the ownership of the cruel Marie St. Clare. Marie ends up selling the slaves to another slave trader and moving North.

Unfortunately, the very thing Aunt Chloe feared most happens: Uncle Tom is sold to Simon Legree, an evil man who has a very different view of slaves than Augustine or Mr. Shelby had. Simon Legree works his slaves to death. According to Simon Legree:
I don’t go for savin’ niggers. Use up, and buy more, ‘s my way;--makes you less trouble, and I’m quite sure it comes cheaper in the end….

Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three…

When one nigger ’s dead, I buy another, and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way.
Harriet Beecher Stowe shows Simon Legree as an animalistic man, who sets his slaves against each other, even putting two of the slaves as task masters over the others. Legree encourages the slaves to snitch on each other.

To Uncle Tom, this doesn’t make sense. He is determined to help the other slaves, even at his own expense. When he notices an older woman struggling to meet her daily quota of cotton he transfers some cotton from his own bag to hers. Uncle Tom helps many of the slaves and he even uses his Bible to preach to them about Jesus.

This captures the attention of Simon Legree and his two black task masters. The last thing Simon Legree wants is for his slaves to have Christian values, a thing he hates himself. Legree is determined to crush this spirit in Uncle Tom. He wants to make Uncle Tom a taskmaster over his slaves. To do this, he needs to get Uncle Tom to start doing things for himself rather than helping others.

Simon Legree commands Uncle Tom to flog one of the slave women for not bringing in her full quota of cotton. Uncle Tom refuses, saying:
I’m willin’ to work, night and day, and work while there’s life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can’t feel it right to do; and Mas’r, I never shall do it, never.
Needless to say Simon Legree is outraged. He screams in rage:
Well, here’s a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners! A saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us about out sins! Powerful holy critter, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious, didn’t you never hear, out of yer Bible, “Servants obey your masters”? An’t yer mine, now, body and soul?
Uncle Tom returns:
No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it, ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!
Uncle Tom says that his soul has been bought by Jesus, and that Simon Legree will never get him to leave behind his Christian values. In Uncle Tom’s eyes, the ultimate reward of living a Christian life is well worth the pain of anything Simon Legree can do to him.

Simon Legree orders that Uncle Tom be beaten until he obeys. In the end Uncle Tom ends up following in the tracks of Eva. Just like Eva he dies despite being a good person. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows Uncle Tom as winning despite his death. According to her Uncle Tom was a good person so he went to heaven. The reverse of this statement is also true. Stowe hints that Legree’s ultimate destination will be the fire of hell. This religious theme would not be nearly as effective today as it was when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was first published.

At the time this idea that black people had souls just like white people was a very novel idea. For the first time it made white people responsible for their actions either to the good or to the bad of their black slaves. Rather than just viewing black people as animals, the slave owners were forced to see their slaves as humans just like them.

This is the reason why “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was so powerful, and ultimately was one small spark that helped to ignite the Civil War between the anti-slavery North and the slave holders of the South.

I don’t think that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a book is particularly amazing. Neither the plot, nor Uncle Tom’s heavenly escape hatch, are very satisfying. Fortunately, the characters are extremely rich and vibrant, and this makes up for many of the book’s shortcomings. I also feel that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is important because it teaches about the slavery that effects thousands upon thousands of Americans in the past. I would definitely recommend “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a historical book that all people should read at least once.

More info about Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe...
Inkweaver Review 2009-05-20T08:24:00-05:00

“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Arthur Conan Doyle

“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Arthur Conan Doyle is a classic mystery story that pits the detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Watson against a mysterious, possibly supernatural, animal.

Book Cover Art for The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan DoyleThe story begins, as usual, with the appearance of a visitor at Sherlock Holmes’ quarters on Baker Street. The man is a doctor, Dr. Mortimer, and he has come to Holmes with a rather intriguing problem. He begins by reading an ancient manuscript that was committed to his care by a man named Sir Charles Baskerville. Dr. Mortimer served as Charles Baskerville’s doctor before his sudden and rather unusual death.

The manuscript that Dr. Mortimer reads is a strange legend passed down through the Baskerville family for many years. According to the legend a certain Hugo Baskerville of the Baskerville line was a wanton and evil man guilty of many wrongs. One night while out on the nearby moor he was seen being pursued by a strange hound creature of unusual size, with glowing, dripping jaws. This hound of hell apparently hunted down and killed Hugo Baskerville. The legend ends with a warning to all men of the Baskerville line that whatever they do they should never go out on the moor at nighttime, for fear that they too may be pursued by the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Holmes is only a little amused by the story, but then Dr. Mortimer goes on to relate the real reason why he has come to seek help. Dr. Mortimer tells Sherlock Holmes and Watson the tale of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death.

Sir Charles Baskerville was found dead in a small alley near his estate. It was evident that he had died from some sort of heart strain. Dr. Mortimer tells Holmes the specifics of Sir Charles Baskerville’s death as reported by the local newspaper, but then he tells Holmes the rest of the story that the press has not been told.

Before his death Sir Charles Baskerville had a strange fear of the moor and told Dr. Mortimer that he feared that he was being pursued by a hound-like creature. When Dr. Mortimer examined Sir Charles Body he also found footprints off to the side, not the footprints of a human, but the footprints of a giant dog.

It is far too late for Sir Charles Baskerville, but Dr. Mortimer has an important issue that need to be considered. The heir to the Baskerville estate is Sir Henry Baskerville, and soon he will come to live on the moor where his father did. Dr. Mortimer fears that whatever it was that killed Sir Charles Baskerville may also be a danger to Sir Henry Baskerville.

The case becomes even stranger when Sir Henry Baskerville makes his visit to Holmes the next day. He tells Holmes and Watson that he has received a strange warning made of words cut from a newspaper. It says, “As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.” Before long Holmes determines that Sir Henry Baskerville is being followed by someone.

Sherlock Holmes feels that something very strange is happening with relation to Sir Henry Baskerville, but he has a very important case that he must finish first. Instead Watson is sent to Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry Baskerville to keep watch on the situation and keep Holmes alerted if anything important happens.

Before long it becomes even clearer that there are very strange things happening around Baskerville Hall. Sir Henry Baskerville has a definite enemy, and whether it is a supernatural creature, an animal, or a human is unclear. Only Holmes will be able to unravel the mystery before it is too late.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” by Arthur Conan Doyle was originally published in The Strand magazine between August 1901 and April 1902. It was this novel that really launched Doyle’s wonderful character Sherlock Holmes into international fame. Readers lined up in front of The Strand’s London offices to read each new installment of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as it came out.

Compared with the other shorter stories about Sherlock Holmes, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is able to go into much greater detail about Holmes’ scientific and intuitive method of untangling mysteries and tracking down crime. In addition the story has a lot more characters than other Sherlock stories. Arthur Conan Doyle does a good job of defining them and referring to them in such a way that the reader can keep track of them.

Although “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is definitely much different from Doyle’s other short stories about Sherlock Holmes I’m sure that all mystery lovers will enjoy this classic novel.

Inkweaver Book Rating:




Inkweaver Review 2009-05-19T09:00:00-05:00

New Feature: Book Cover Art Slideshow

If you are a long term follower of Inkweaver Review you probably remember the time when Inkweaver Review had a slide show of book cover art in the sidebar. This was a great feature that many visitors appreciated, but unfortunately it was powered by Wowzio, an external service that occasionally suffered from glitches and slowdowns caused by their service being overloaded. About six months ago Wowzio was forced to close their system to new users because they could not afford to expand their system to serve more blogs. Despite this fact Wowzio was still a little bit slow, and limited in some features that I wanted.

Eventually I removed the Wowzio slide show widget from the sidebar because I wanted a simpler, more clean look for Inkweaver Review. Recently, however, I decided that I wanted a slide show widget once more. This time I wanted to put it on a separate page specifically designed for it, rather than putting it in the blog sidebar so that it loaded on every page. I tried using the Wowzio widget once more, but I still wasn't satisfied with several aspects of it. First of all, I didn't really have control over which images it displayed and the links that the images directed to. In addition I didn't like the way the widget looked at its small size.

So a few days ago I decided to sit down and program my own slideshow widget for Inkweaver Review. You can access this new feature of Inkweaver Review at any time by clicking the "Book Covers" link in the green menu bar below the Inkweaver Review logo.

This dynamic slide show currently contains the book covers from the last five months of Inkweaver Review reviews. The images and links in this slide show are hand picked to ensure the quality of the selections provided. I will gradually expand the selection over the next weeks until it covers the entire history of Inkweaver Review.

So far I have tested the widget in Firefox, Safari, and Google Chrome, but I haven't yet been able to test in Internet Explorer. If you are an Internet Explorer user then please visit the book cover art slide show with that browser and tell me if you experience any problems.

If you like the slide show widget and you are a book review blogger, or just a blogger in general who would like to implement this feature on your own blog, then feel free to contact me using the contact link above. I can send you the code and instructions that you will need to install your own slide show on your blog.
Inkweaver Review 2009-05-18T09:24:00-05:00

“Firebirds Soaring,” edited by Sharyn November

“Firebirds Soaring,” edited by Sharyn November is a wonderful anthology of original speculative fiction from Firebird Books.Book Cover Art for Firebirds Soaring by Sharyn November

“Speculative fiction” is a term often attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. This term includes all writing about worlds that are unlike ours, including such genres as science fiction, fantasy, utopian and dystopian fiction, and apocalyptic fiction.

In “Firebirds Soaring” readers will find a variety of stories ranging in length from a few pages to almost one hundred pages. The stories also range in subject matter, covering all manner of fantasy worlds from all manners of time, from tens of thousands of years in the past, to far in the future. Contributers are some of the finest fantasy and science fiction writers on the market: Christopher Barzak, Clare Bell, Kara Dalkey, Candas Jane Dorsey, Mike Dringenberg, Carol Emshwiller, Nancy Farmer, Nina Keriki Hoffman, Ellen Klages, Marco Lanagan, Louise Marley, Nick O’Donohoe, Chris Roberson, Sherwood Smith, Nancy Springer, Jo Walton, Elizabeth E. Wein, Laurel Winter, Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple, and Marly Youmans.

Throughout “Firebirds Soaring” the individual stories are decorated by beautiful vignettes. My personal favorite was the very last story entitled “Something Worth Doing.” In this amazing creation writer Elizabeth E. Wein develops a strong a brave girl named Kim. When Kim’s older brother is killed in a tragic accident, she is irate at the way everyone remembers him as never applying himself to anything. Before his death Kim has been planning to stop his escapades and get serious by joining the Royal Air Force. He only lived long enough for his application to be accepted. By posing as her brother she joins the RAF and manages to make it through flight school. Soon she finds herself flying single pilot Spitfires over England defending the island from the invading Germans. All along Kim is motivated by a drive to make sure her brother is not remembered merely as a boy who wasted his life.

The entire effect of “Firebirds Soaring” is simply amazing. The stories have a scope and feeling behind them that gives the anthology as a whole great depth of expression. This worthy anthology is a must read for every fantasy lover.

Inkweaver Book Rating:





Inkweaver Review 2009-05-17T14:07:00-05:00

Historic Books: Aurora Australis by Ernest Shackleton

"Aurora Australis," by Ernest Shackleton was the first book written, printed, illustrated, and bound on the continent of Antarctica.

Ernest Shackleton oversaw the production of "Aurora Australis" during his 1908-1909 polar exploration voyage. There were two main reasons why he wanted to publish a book in Antarctica.

First, the expedition team was forced to spend the winter in cramped quarters on Ross Island in the McMurdo Sound. Shackleton knew from prior experience that when his men were cooped up with nothing to do tempers tended to flare explosively. One of his major ways of preventing this was putting together "cultural activities" to keep the men busy. As part of the process of creating "Aurora Australis" he encouraged his men to write poetry or prose for inclusion in the book. In the end, his men wrote ten chapters covering 120 pages. The book is a sort of anthology of the North, containing three poems, and seven pieces of prose, both fiction and non-fiction. There are also a number of illustrations and plates. The writing, illustrating, and publishing of the book served its purpose of keeping Shackleton's men busy and productive during the otherwise dull winter in Antarctica.

The second reason why Shackleton produced Aurora Australis was to raise money. Shackleton was always interested in getting more money for future exploratory voyages. He probably hoped that the fact that this was the first book produced entirely in Antarctica would make it a curiosity that people would be willing to purchase for high prices. Indeed, his hopes were eventually realized. Today, original copies of Aurora Australis are sold for sums ranging from $50000 to $75000. This is partly due to the age and uniqueness of the book, but also due to its extreme rarity. Somewhere between ninety to one-hundred copies of the book were created, and of these only about thirty are known to have been fully bound. At any rate, despite the high value of original copies of Aurora Australis today, they didn't bring any money to Shackleton. He ended up distributing the copies of Aurora Australis to members of the expedition and benefactors who had contributed to the expedition.

The work involved in producing Aurora Australis was very intensive. To begin with Shackleton had to get the equipment that would be needed to create the plates for printing, and to bind finished copies of the book. Fortunately, most of the equipment was donated by the printing firm Messrs. Joseph Causton and Sons, Limited. This firm also gave the polar expeditionists three weeks of training in the art of printing, and a special penguin stamp to be used on the book's binding.

Once the equipment was procured and set up, the much harder work of printing began. For one thing, none of the men were experienced it printing. There only knowledge of it was the three weeks of training given to them by the printing firm that had provided the equipment. They also discovered other problems. The extreme cold thickened the ink like molasses, rendering it useless for printing. To restore its viscosity, the men had to warm it using the flame of a candle. But then they left the candle in place for too long and melted the only inking roller on the continent!

The materials used to bind each copy of the book were very unique to say the least. Shackleton's men ended up using what they had: harness leather for the book spines, and lightweight venesta wood boards from packing crates for the book covers. This wood was a three-layered composite made of oak or chestnut glued together with waterproof cement. Existing originals of the book still bear the packing crates stenciled labels: "Butter," "Bottled F(ruit)."

There are two variants of Aurora Australis. The first edition of the book contains only ten photographic plates, but has an extra page of text. The second edition of the book has eleven plates. After a comparison of the two editions, one expert has theorized that the book originally contained a passage that would be very offensive to several important contributors to the voyage. After removing the passage, it was necessary to fill the empty space with another photographic plate.

Aurora Australis will stand as a historic book because of the unique conditions under which it was printed.

For more information about Ernest Shackleton and his polar expeidtions you should read the review of "Shackleton's Stowaway," by Victoria McKernan. This amazing historical fiction book is based on the true story of a young boy who stowed away on one of Shackleton's polar expeditions.
Inkweaver Review 2009-05-16T11:12:00-05:00

“Toby Alone,” by Timothée de Fombelle

“Toby Alone,” by Timothée de Fombelle is an exciting fantasy novel about a one and a half millimeter tall boy who lives in a large tree.

Book Cover Art for Toby Alone by Timothee de FombelleToby Lolness and his people live in a huge oak tree that they call home. On its branches they have built their cities and villages. Some of the tree people make their living by making leaf flour. Other’s harvest milk from tree grubs. But Toby’s father, Sim Lolness, is a renowned scientist who studies the Tree and the life in and around it. He is constantly coming up with ideas that other people don’t want to accept.

They don’t want to believe that the Tree that they live in is a plant just like the moss that grows on its branches. They ridicule Sim’s idea that there are other trees out there, and that the birds that visit the Tree probably visit them too.

But then Sim Lolness comes up with something that everyone wants. He invents a small black box that takes the power of Tree sap and turns it into movement, allowing him to turn Toby’s wooden toys into living creatures!

Before long a greedy tycoon named Joe Mitch hears of Sim Lolness’ invention and decides that it has possibilities for him. Joe Mitch is in the business of digging new homes in the tree’s branches using trained weevils. Sim Lolness has denounced this industry in the past, arguing that it is harmful to the Tree, but no one listened to him.

Now everyone wants him to tell the world the secret of his fantastic black box. They want to use it to harness the power of the tree’s sap and use it in their factories. But Sim Lolness refuses to tell the other tree people, saying that he doesn’t want them to bleed the Tree dry using its sap for other purposes.

Suddenly everyone hates the Lolness family, and they are exiled to the Lower Branches, a dark, damp place that no one likes. But Toby likes his new living place, and his new friend Elisha Lee, a daring young girl who lives with her family near the Border between the Tree and the Ground beyond.

When disaster strikes and Toby’s parents are taken captive by Joe Mitch and his cronies, Elisha Lee helps Toby to try to free them and save the Tree from being destroyed by greed.

I thoroughly enjoyed every part of “Toby Alone.” The tree world within its pages is like no other book landscape that I have ever read. The details that Timothée de Fombelle uses to describe its unique landscape make the stunning scenes of “Toby Alone” very vivid.

The plot of “Toby Alone” is slightly convoluted, with lots of flashbacks that break up the story flow. However, by the time the reader has made their way through the first fourth of the book the story begins to make much more sense. The focus of the plot is obvious aimed to reflect today’s growing concern over the environment of our own planet. Timothée de Fombelle makes references to a “hole in the layer of leaves” causing the Tree’s climate to warm up. It think this aspect of the story does a good job of examining the conflict concerning global warming.

The characters in “Toby Alone” are of mixed quality. On the one hand the evil characters such as Joe Mitch and his goons are so idiotic that the reader begins to wonder how these demented people ever managed to capture Toby’s parents. However, the two main characters, Toby and Elisha are very personable and carefully developed. Both are bold and daring, but their weaknesses are also apparent. This makes them seem even more realistic.

All considered, I recommend “Toby Alone” t
o all young readers. One further note: This book ends with a terrible cliffhanger that will leave readers clamoring for a second installment. I, for one, am definitely waiting for a sequel.

Inkweaver Book Rating:





Inkweaver Review 2009-05-15T13:40:00-05:00