A new year means a new list of book reviews! Since my memory isn't terribly reliable, I'm keeping track of every book that I read in the form of mini-reviews. I began with 2008, kept going in 2009, and now here we are again. Happy reading!
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
I wish I had been more clear-headed when I began this incredible novel, because I might not have been so confused in the beginning by Mengestu's non-chronological storytelling style. Having started this immediately on the heels of a book of short stories that frequently addressed an African immigrant experience in the U.S., I instantly felt a different tone in this narrative, focusing more on the emotional depths that are universal to all, regardless of citizenship. Told through the eyes of Jonas, the son of Ethiopian immigrants, this story centers on the ideas of truth and personal perspectives. As Jonas wanders through his parents' history, both what he knows to be true and the embellishments that he purposefully creates, he rediscovers more of the deep-seated fears and worries that have been a part of him for as long as he can remember. Haunting and deeply affecting, this novel begs to be read a second time for me- like the stories told by Jonas, this one is full of details and emotion that deserve a second look.
Voice of America by E.C. Osondu
These short stories give a taste of the differences between life in Nigeria and the U.S. and the difficulties faced by those who straddle both worlds. Osondu has a sharp writing style- not many words are used to convey a personality of a character and his or her cultural perspectives. Oftentimes, I found his style to be jarring. The story would be going along at one pace and suddenly a major happening would be very anticlimactically presented in just one sentence, leaving me shaken for a moment before I could continue reading. My favorite story, Welcome to America, presents a more assimilated character looking back upon his early years in the U.S. with a level of his innocence and trusting nature now changed. The tone in which he looks back on this time is reverent and realistic. I'm happy to have found another short story author who can pack so much into such a compact story!
My Grammar and I... Or Should That Be Me? by Caroline Taggart and J.A. Wines
I enjoyed this one best of the whole Blackboard Books Boxed Set. This one had the most useful information for me personally, and I anticipate returning to this little guide in the future. As a self-identified "comma happy" writer, I tried to pay close attention to the section on commas, and I found the entire punctuation chapter extremely helpful. I like the subtle humor throughout the book, helping to make what very well could have been a dry and boring read much more entertaining.
i before e (except after c): Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff by Judy Parkinson
This one was full of mnemonic devices to remember a ton of information, but I found that I never knew much of that info in the first place, so this one wasn't as fun to read as the others. It was fun to be reminded of some of the rhymes I learned as a child, and there were so many others that I had never even heard.
I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School by Caroline Taggart
I'm just the type of geek/dork/nerd (whichever one is most appropriate) to love this book. I (annoyingly) read many passages aloud to my husband who wasn't as interested in playing along as I was. I also enjoyed sharing segments with my ten year old son, in hopes of solidifying some facts in his head before he forgets them as well! This is a great little book for folks who once prided themselves on being star students! (BTW, that was a little bit of alliteration I just used there at the end-- I didn't forget that!)
Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family by Mark Leslie
Part foodie tribute, part cookbook, part memoir- all parts come together to create a unique look at one man's experience immersing himself in Italian culture. While living with a family in Viterbo, Italy, Mark Leslie gets a hands-on education in authentic Italian cooking with Nonna, the grandmother of the family and receives daily language instruction from the mother of the family during his four week stay. This educational program goes far beyond a simple teacher-student relationship as the family welcomes Mark with much warmth. This reads like a diary, or a blog, with each day given a chapter that highlights his touristy sight-seeing and personal experiences with his host family in addition to the cooking and language lesson happenings. With each chapter concluding with a full recipe, it became fun to guess throughout each chapter which of the delicious sounding foods he was talking about would be presented in full at the end. I love the personal tone that this book takes, showing one person's perspective on immersion into the Italian culture with respect, awe and determination to experience everything to the fullest.
I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas by Lewis Black
I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but this book surprised me. Sure, there were some rants in the tone that fans have come to expect from Lewis Black, but they were actually pretty short and not as frequent as I had hoped. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy reading Black's thoughts about Christmas-as-he-knows-it, but this was more self-reflective than I had anticipated. He goes on for much of the book about his lack of the adult life that most expect- a marriage, family, whiny children and all, and it was a bit touching to read his honest and often sad declarations... although of course, he ends it all with acceptance and a big old eff you so readers aren't left worrying about his happiness.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
I'm ashamed to say that I had never heard of Claudette Colvin before reading this book, and now I'm anxious to share this book with my own children so that I can help make sure that this incredible figure in the civil rights movement isn't forgotten by another generation. Colvin has an incredible story, and she helps to tell it herself in Hoose's book, which is flawlessly presented with personal memories shared by key figures, photographs and newspaper articles and images that are just so difficult for me to process and believe. As a child in the 80s, it seemed that the civil rights movement was SO long before my time, but as an adult now, I cannot fathom how this was all happening during my parents' infancy years. This is a must read book for people of all ages- and should be highlighted in every school library.
You'll Lose the Baby Weight (And Other Lies About Pregnancy And Childbirth) by Dawn Meehan
For fans of Meehan's blog, this book will be more of the same parenting humor, but focused back on the days of pregnancy and birth. Meehan's style is fun to read, with lots of sarcasm, usually conveyed through crossed out words (she is a big fan of the strike command). She has received much recognition for her blog, for her down-to-earth, average-mom-ness, and this book follows suit. This would be a fun gift for a new mom-to-be, especially one with a great sense of humor!
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
I remember reading this in high school and enjoying it, but reading it again as an adult, a wife, a mother... oh yeah, I *get* this. I know it can be argued that one isn't supposed to read a play, which I understand, but since I couldn't command a performance here in my living room, I opted to read it in print and try to recall a performance I saw of it in college. There's much to shake your head at in this story of a powerless wife who finds her back up against the wall as a secret she has kept for her family's well-being is now upon the precipice of being revealed-- the society that doesn't allow her the same rights as her husband and the consequential attitude assumed by her husband that may seem loving, but is in reality controlling and condescending. I'd love to see another performance of this play!
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Yup, I've read it again. (Fourth time.) When I went for my tattoo on 11/14/10, I began it anew, and I've just finished it, sobbing as usual. I felt compelled, as I often do, to read it again, and I've put all other reading on hold this week just so I could hold this story in my mind alone. I love the moments when my mind grasps the time concept, but it's slippery in my hand, like trying to catch running water. I love this novel above all others for its ability to make me really ponder love and commitment and the pain that we inflict on each other in ways that aren't even under our control- just the nature of the beast. For even a man who knows what is coming can't make it stop, but must simply hold on for the ride. Time is nothing, as Henry says. All times at once.
The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor
A cool collection of photos and stories from individuals who have opted to have literary quotes, images, and ideas inked into their skins, forever linking themselves with these words and thoughts. I love this idea, and I was hugely interested in seeing which authors would make an appearance in the collection. Some that I expected- Shakespeare, Twain- were there, and others- Eric Carle- surprised me. There were definitely some obscure quotes and authors, which still intrigued me as much as those with which I'm strongly familiar. This book has me thinking...
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
THIS is the kind of writing that I like best- fresh, solid and convincing voices that draw me in within a few lines. This collection of short stories showcase Evans' talent at creating original characters that come alive in the reader's mind, and over the course of eight stories, there are recurring themes that retain the uniqueness. The modern settings are wholly believable, and the stories themselves depict realistic experiences that are often uncomfortable, but always immediate. With this as a debut release, I hope to see much, much more from Evans in the future!
The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman
A truly one of a kind book- a neat combination of narrative and illustrations in a middle grade novel of a girl searching against all odds for her sister, abandoned by their parents. Highly imaginative, this book presents a world where memories and dreams are kept organized in one central bank, run by people with their own unique pasts. Ultimately, this story is a captivating tale of a sister's love, with mysteries and secrets to be unearthed, and hope to be had. My ten year old and I read this together and loved it.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
I have NO idea how to assign a rating to this book. I'm not exactly sure what I expected, but this wasn't exactly it. It was much darker than I anticipated, although I have to appreciate the ways in which Sedaris captured the seedy sides of humanity. I was entertained, but I'm not itching to re-read this one right away, as I often feel after reading Sedaris' other books. I'm not even sure that I want to recommend this one to a friend... perhaps because I'm not sure how the recommendation would reflect upon me!
The Other Side of Organized by Linda Samuels
Less of a how-to-guide and more of a general outline for how to approach your own organizing goals. With a generous amount of cheerleading and reassurance, the author presents a variety of steps toward establishing a level of organization that fits individual readers. It's a very quick read with many memorable quotes and tidbits that I found myself highlighting to refer back to in times of organizational crisis!
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
5 stars, plus five more. What a beautiful book. The innocence of childhood meets the reality of life during the Depression as a black, orphaned child. Bud is a fabulous narrator, always straightforward and letting the reader in on his unique perspective. He's intelligent, and definitely a survivor, but he still has a lack of awareness of the adult world in some ways. With all that he's been through, he holds on to his pride, even if he couldn't articulate that as his motivation. Although Bud has experienced much sadness and abuse in the foster care system, the details are sparing about those experiences, making for fewer dirty details for younger readers. For adult readers, who should not be deterred from reading a middle grade novel, the details are all too imaginable, and I longed to gather Bud in my arms for a reassuring hug. Beautiful story!
The Slippery Year by Melanie Gideon
A friend loaned me this book, a friend who is apparently much more intuitive than I imagined, since she told me, "I think I know you well enough to know that you'll really relate to this book." Yup, she had me pegged. Gideon's memoir is about all the ordinary stuff we live with in marriage and motherhood, and her honesty is refreshing. Nothing extraordinary happens in her life-- don't take that as a negative point, though-- and this is what makes this memoir so relatable! Her struggles with reinvigorating her marriage totally hit home, and she shares her feelings in a way that makes you want to grab a cup of tea and just hang out and chat.
The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook Gross Junior Edition by David Borgenicht, Nathaniel Marunas, and Robin Epstein
Yup- the title says it all. PERFECT for older elementary school aged kids, there are cool facts and tips about all the gross stuff they encounter-- about the body, at school, at home, and in the world at large. We're talking poop, snot, puke, blood, and germs that might make adults squirm to think about but will surely crack kids up!
What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
Brutally honest. Wherever you fall on the pro-choice to pro-life spectrum, I would hope that you could appreciate Alice Eve Cohen's honesty in telling her story. Goodness knows I would never want to question any feeling she experienced or option she pursued (or even thought to pursue), because her story is so extremely fraught with complications. It seems as if she just kept hitting every worst-case-scenario wall there was in her VERY surprising pregnancy experience. Her writing comes off as fast- as if she's breathlessly telling you her story, with a fervor in her tone that displays the magnitude of what you're hearing. I respected the fact that she didn't white-wash anything- not her conflicts with her partner nor her own internal conflicts. Her descriptions of her depression rang genuine to me, and memories of my own experience filled my head. This is a brave book that doesn't go down easily, challenging readers to be thoughtful about issues that aren't always as black and white as they seem.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
While I knew this story was based upon the experiences of the "Lost Boys of Sudan," I didn't realize that the main character is a real person- Salva Dut. With tears already flowing and my voice all choked up as I read this aloud with my ten year old son, the realization that there was one specific person on this planet who experienced these very events only heightened my emotions. (The ten year old's, too.) Linda Sue Park does a magnificent job making this intensely terrible saga accessible to younger readers-- explaining the conflict in straightforward and uncomplicated terms, while emphasizing the human side of the war in Sudan. The length of this novel fits with its intended audience, and as a whole, this makes for a thoughtful parent-child read, provoking discussions about a real-life topic of utmost importance.
Plumbing and Renovations by Lauri Romanzi, MD
This is a fabulous resource for women with gynecological/urological issues who may be too confused and embarrassed to even start a conversation with their doctors. Although somewhat heavy on the medical terms involved in the several conditions covered, the author does a great job rephrasing everything in terms understandable to the average woman. Comprehensive coverage about pelvic health in relation to prolapse and laxity, a serious topic that the author approaches with common sense and subtle humor. The cover says it all- "If you have a uterus or know someone who does, this book is for you."
Vanishing and Other Stories by Deborah Willis
What a talent it takes to create a vivid picture of multidimensional characters in only a few pages. Without the advantage of a novel's many chapters, these stories are simply snapshots of a moment, a conflict, a fear, a love, a mistake. While completely separate entities, these stories are threaded with common themes and with similar mannerisms, often transitioning between periods of time in the characters' lives, providing important or relevant snippets of information or experiences that help to put the current moment in perspective. Willis has a masterful command of words-- beautifully constructed phrases and sentences kept popping out at me, wanting to be remembered. Such an enjoyable read!
Stretch by Neal Pollack
Sorry, Neal. In the opening pages, you had me laughing, and I pictured you as a guy that would fit right in with my group of couple/parent friends. The beginning of the book was balanced between personal introspection and relatable interactions with your wife, and an interesting pursuit of a "better you" through yoga. But... as I kept going, I laughed much less and began to edge you out of my group of friends, because as you apparently felt you were going deeper and becoming more introspective, you kinda became an ass. Suddenly, there were no more interactions with your wife beyond her telling you to eff off, and you became a person intent on two personal highs, one at the hand of a yogi and the other from pot. And both got really damn boring to read about.
It Started with a Dare by Lindsay Faith Rech
Have you seen the movie Mean Girls? Well, the movie was basically the same story as this book, but with some added depth to the characters and a lot fewer obscenities. I couldn't get comfortable with this supposed 15 year old protagonist who was just a little too much... everything. She cursed too comfortably for a 15 year old. She was definitely too comfortable deceiving everyone around her. She was much too detached from others' feelings, and I guess I just wanted too strongly to shake some sense into her to empathize with her at any point in the book. Even by the resolution, she comes clean, but really with no compassionate understanding... it seemed as if it was just the easier thing to do, not because she felt badly about her choices. Ugh. Please don't let my own daughter find this book in ten years or so when she's a teenager.
Betti on the High Wire by Lisa Railsback
Hugely impressive. Lisa Railsback has captured the voice of a frightened, yet full of bravado, ten-year-old orphan who is adopted from her (unspecified) war-torn country and brought to America by her new family. The follies of understanding the English language are ever present, but it's Betti (formerly Babo) herself that makes this story shine. Her spirit and courage are incredible, and the depiction of her emotional roller-coaster is realistically painful and beautiful. Learning to trust and rely on others isn't an easy task for Betti, but the process is amazing to witness.
House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block
Adorable and quaint, this book is definitely above the full understanding level of my four year old daughter who checked it out from the library, but we read it aloud together nonetheless. She adored the illustrations, and I loved introducing such grand vocabulary to her-- this felt delightfully mature and girly! The story has a deeply resonating message of loving and caring for others, and even though much of it went over my daughter's head, she loved the experience and I greatly enjoyed the reminders to treasure my own little ones.
Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie
A ghost story might not have been the best thing to read whilst living outdoors for a weekend camping trip, but I'm happy to report that while a bit suspenseful, this ghost story never terrified, but did in fact make me laugh more than once. I've never read anything before by Crusie, but I quickly figured out that I like her wit and way of making characters' words and thoughts sound so very realistic. A bit of a love story mixed with an old house, a few angry ghosts and a couple of surly (understandingly so) children make for an entertaining novel.
66. 8/25/10 and 8/31/10
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
What can I say without saying too much? The action and intensity are on par with the others, but there's a growing sense of hopelessness in this one that tore at my heart. The atrocities that can be justified by people in power are again overwhelming, and the socio-political statements here are as thinly veiled as ever. The irony in the "Peacekeepers" moniker is just the beginning, and there's so much that can be dissected, discussed and pondered over in this world that Collins has created- a world that reads in horrors, so unreal and unimaginable, until tiny cracks of reality peek through. It's beyond horrific to think that anything like this could ever truly occur, but it's even more frightening to imagine the small events and actions that could eventually lead to something none too different. Brilliantly conceived book and trilogy. I don't imagine I'll be sleeping soundly tonight.
Upon finishing it again a week later, I'm surprised at how much more strongly I reacted to the ending. Sobbing, people. During this week, I've read lots of people's opinions online, and it seems that many folks are upset by the ending, the decision for her and Peeta to be together, for her to acquiesce to having children, among other details. I still loved it. I noticed more clearly several holes in the last section, but I could let that go, since we've been side-by-side with Katniss since the beginning, and unfortunately, much of this time period has a ton of holes for her. She's traumatized and checked-out, as well, which irritated many readers, but I understand it (thanks to Betsey for the PTSD reference!) and can accept it. Since I wasn't consuming it like melting chocolate on a hot day, the horrors were even more outstanding for me in the second reading-- war is hell they say, and this hell was depicted in minute details. Suzanne Collins- you amaze me.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Holy cow, again. This one overwhelmed me maybe a little less than when I read it last year (on this same exact date!!), but I was still a wreck, nonetheless. The horror and disgust I feel toward the Capitol is all consuming, and it's just so hard to stomach the idea that those in power could so willfully mastermind such suffering on other human beings. I'm fully caught up now, and Mockingjay just made its way to my doorstep about an hour ago, so I anticipate I won't be getting much sleep tonight!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Okay, so I'm putting this in my official count even though I've already read it once before. Holy cow. I found myself tagging pages that suddenly had new significance or emotional reactions after reading Catching Fire. And yes, this re-read is in honor of Mockingjay which releases TOMORROW, and will hopefully be delivered from my friends at Amazon by the end of the day. (Which means I have one morning/naptime to re-read that one, too!)
Mission:Explore by The Geography Collective
What a fabulous little book of adventures! I like the unique concept of "geography" in this book, certainly encouraging kids to look at their communities and neighborhoods in a completely new way. I especially appreciate the safety tips sections that acknowledge common sense guidelines, but do so in a humorous way that definitely sends kids the message that the writers are confident that they can conduct themselves responsibly in completing these missions. Encouragement and trust- what more could you ask for?
Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka
Too funny. Jon Scieszka will hopefully be forever known as the creator of books like no others, with this latest one included. I really enjoyed the humor factor to this book- I could hear the alien characters imitating commercial jingles and taglines as I read along, and I knew exactly why my son was giggling when he read it before me. The Internet tie-ins are hilarious (I'm SPHDZ #7389, Chewier Dill Pickle- that's me), and definitely add extra appeal for some readers. I'm excited to find out what happens next with book two, and I think this is the exact type of book that would be recommended for those "reluctant readers" I keep hearing about.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
I did like it, yes, although there's really no way to feel happy while reading this story at any point. I'm a fan of Wharton's writing style, but the melancholy and misery that pervade this novel are overwhelming and definitely affecting. Poor Ethan. Poor Mattie. And poor Zeena. That's all I can think after reading this short novel for the second time in my life.
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Beyond the "Oh my god, *Steve Martin* wrote this?!" requisite comments, I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed this quiet and delicate novella. Martin worked words and phrases together in a unique way- "down and going" to describe a porn star was my favorite, by far. An interesting story of a brief time in these characters lives, but with an unassuming tone that made it feel like a much thicker novel. Next up will have to be a viewing of the movie, of course.
Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation by Matt Myklusch
LOVED IT! Sure, it's another story of an orphaned boy who isn't aware of the powers hiding within him, and yes, he goes off to another world hidden within the one we reside, and yup, this is only the beginning of a series. It's undeniable that comparisons will be drawn between Jack and Harry, and they both are truly likable, honorable and incredible young men. But credit must go to Matt Myklusch for creating a unique story that will break free of these comparisons, because truth be told, it's a format that's been around a lot longer than Rowling. Jack's experiences pop off the page with boldness and power, just like the comic book stories that form much of the background. Full of action, heroes and villains, and tempered with valuable messages of honesty, honor, courage and friendship. I predict this will become a much loved series!
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Having seen the movie before reading the book, I knew what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie was quite true to Paterson's story. Even knowing what to expect, I still was in need of a box of tissues by the end of this very powerful and touching book. Tackling heavy topics may not be everyone's idea of a good book for kids, but in a way, I'm pleased that my son has already read this one. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, children are thinking about the topics addressed here, and a book like this gives them an opportunity to process these thoughts in a context of loving characters and fabulous writing.
The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen
The second half of this novel appealed to me more than the first, but I'm thinking that it took a little bit to truly understand the main character Lindsey. The depth of her character becomes revealed as her life changes drastically on the career and personal fronts, and as a result, she appears more believable and likable, in my opinion. I thought this novel was very well-written "chick lit," not subscribing to the more fluffy aspects of that label, while still certainly appealing to female readers. Emotional exploration into sibling relationship marks the core of this story, but there is much more self-discovery happening here as well. An often amusing and endearing novel!
Five Days Apart by Chris Binchy
Meh. One-dimensional characters who experience zero growth (and possibly even a bit of backsliding) and a repetitive plot line that doesn't go anywhere make for a boring story in which I cared very little for or about any of the three main characters. David is paranoid and stuck in his own head in a way that someone like Holden Caulfield can pull off while still remaining interesting, but for David this plays out in an exhausting and exasperating manner. Alex is just a cad, and nothing much more. Camille, the object of David's obsession and Alex's girlfriend, is never fleshed out enough to be a full character, unfortunately. I just didn't think there was much to this one at all.
Fragile by Lisa Unger
I'm not much of a mystery/thriller reader, but this book was a good combo of mystery and strong character development so I stayed interested. While I had some small nitpicking about the writer's style (certain oft-repeated phrases in particular), I did enjoy the story and its wide range of characters. I do have to admit that with the layover of the flashbacks among many characters, I was reminded of an episode of "Cold Case" while I read! Overall, this small town mystery filled with the effects of abused power and psychological drama was an engaging read.
Long Division by Jane Berentson
What can I say about Annie Harper? Yes, she's a bit self-absorbed, but really, who isn't when they're young, not yet a parent, and in possession of a lot of down time? Her focus on herself is intentional, since the format of the novel revolves around her recordings of day to day life and feelings while her boyfriend is deployed to Iraq. I found Annie to be funny and self-deprecating, irreverent and profane at times, making me think we would have had fun hanging out when I was twenty-four! Slightly political, but leaning in the direction that I prefer, this novel was a fun and semi-lighthearted look at the time spent back home by one girlfriend of a soldier.
Far Away Across the Sea by Toon Tellegen
I read these short stories with my two year old (who was mostly disinterested), my four year old (who was captivated), and occasionally my nine year old (who didn't want to admit how interested he really was). They are definitely unique, a little odd, and decidedly European in tone to me, although I'm not sure anyone else would understand the meaning of that last statement. Much like the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, many larger topics are addressed in these thoughtful stories, but in a breezy and dreamy sort of way. I'm interested in reading some of Toon Tellegen's other collections now.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
What a beautiful and thoughtful novel! I admit that some of the philosophical narrative went a bit over my head, but I did find many a passage that spoke such truth to me that I read it over and over, just savoring in the way the words sounded in my head. Funny to say that this book with so very little action excited me, but it is true. Realizing that I was holding my breath with some parts solidified the assessment that this book touched me. This amazing novel pushed my mind and heart to concentrate and focus and take it all in. Wonderful.
Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives: The Case of the Crooked Carnival by Michele Torrey
I had never heard of any of the Doyle and Fossey Science Detectives Books for middle grade readers, but after reading this newest offering, I'm thrilled to know they're out there! With humor and silly mysteries as the context, kids are exposed to the Scientific Method and real-world issues such as invasive plant species, magnetism, resonance, and amplification, which are the four issues addressed in this book. At the end of the book, there are directions for children to replicate the experiments on their own... perfect for Science Fair Project time!
The Kids Are All Right by Liz Welch, Diana Welch, Amanda Welch and Dan Welch
Survival through a childhood wracked with grief and loss sure does make for good memoir material, and for some unknown reason, I'm attracted to these types of tales. Written in alternating voices of the four Welch siblings, this memoir captures individual perspectives on the experience of growing up in the shadow of losing both parents within a few years, and the crazy aftermath of separation and personal struggles. Each Welch siblings' perspective is definitely unique, although there is no squabbling over details here-- just a whole lot of coping, much of it unhealthy and potentially destructive, and an eventual calming down of their lives. The book doesn't provide much of a "where are they now?" synopsis in the end, but I'm hoping that the title is true and that as their lives continued where the book left off, they all did in fact turn out all right.
The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen
I adore character driven novels, and this one grabbed me from the very beginning. Knowing that the main character will soon find out that she was a "milk carton kid," having been abducted by her father when she was eight, gives the reader an insider's perspective when first introduced to Lila. Just as she physically bares herself as an art class model, her persona is laid bare for readers to observe and take in, and she definitely makes for an interesting character study. While it would be simple, and perhaps most comfortable, to paint the main players in a parental custody battle on clearly marked fields of Good and Bad, Tish Cohen supplies us with layered issues making it difficult to cast anyone in only one light, which of course makes for a more rich reading experience.
Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting by Amy Lou Jenkins
Ratings that go above and beyond the five stars should be made specially available for books like this one. Magnificent. Beautiful. Intelligent. Thoughtful. Touching. Each essay provides an informative journey into Wisconsin's natural world through Jenkins' incredible retelling and clearly researched history that conveys an honoring through her writing. Exploring the natural environment while simultaneously creating a significant set of experiences with her son makes for an opportunity to contemplate huge issues like religion, spirituality, and personal relationships, while giving respect to the small details of the world, such as the sound of a bird in the tree or the shimmer of light on a lake. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
The Fat Boy Chronicles by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan
The journal format of this fictional, but inspired by a true story, book really worked for me, giving Jimmy Winterpock a realistic voice. Freshman year of high school can be a cruel experience, especially if you're "different," and being significantly overweight is at the top of the list. Jimmy is obviously very intelligent, and through the course of his first year in high school, he becomes quite introspective and thoughtful of the struggles of others, learning to put life's challenges in perspective. I'm interested in seeing the movie adaptation, hopeful that Jimmy's knowledge, and innocence, can be accurately depicted.
The Starlet by Mary McNamara
Oh what fun! McNamara presents the craziness of Hollywood with the perfect mix of TMZ and surprising compassion, especially for the character of a young star whose personal life, as directed by her manager/mother, is a complete mess. It was difficult not to mentally picture real-life starlets in her place while reading along. A whirl of romance, mystery, drugs, sex and death make up this fast-paced, absolutely 21st century novel, perfect for summer escape reading!
Guest House by Barbara K. Richardson
There are books that you just don't "feel" from the get-go. This was one of them. I found the writing to be simple at times, and actually confusing at others. The vast majority of the characters were quite despicable- really no redeeming qualities whatsoever, which made them very one dimensional, and the two characters who were likable were so beat down by the events in the story that I was physically uncomfortable reading. I was surprised by a very specific, often referenced disdain for the LDS church-- several anti-Mormon generalities were made, that were too specific to feel fictional.
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter
The first section of this book had me gripped-- the main character was easy to empathize with, and though the struggles she faced were heartbreaking, she handled them with an amazing amount of grace and self-preservation. And then suddenly, the tone of the book shifted, and a lighthearted tone replaced the previously more serious one. That shift in tone accompanied a change in the protagonist's behavior, going from self-preservation to more of a vindictive streak that didn't mesh for me, as a reader. I didn't see the change come naturally, so it felt hard to believe. The writing style and cultural references appealed to me, but my reading experience switched a few times from enjoyable to somewhat annoying.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Well. Technically, I read the play, while I watched along with the Kenneth Branagh movie version. I was entertained, there were parts in which I laughed out loud, but I'm not sure that I would have gotten the story as well without the visual interpretation. (That just goes to show how much difficulty I have with reading Shakespeare...) I guess I just didn't understand how the characters would so quickly go from one extreme emotion to another without thinking much about what they're so immediately accepting as truth. Eh. I liked it- I especially liked Benedick's character, but I can't say that it was a favorite of mine of the few Shakespeare pieces that I'm familiar with.
The Center of the Universe by Nancy Bachrach
A memoir that can chronicle observations of a mentally ill mother and the subsequent different-than-average perspective on relationships and the world at large is a powerful thing, but one that can do it with a sublime sense of humor is remarkable. Bachrach's tone sometimes appears detached, while at other times is painfully entrenched in the emotional upheaval of the universe revolving around her mother, yet never falls into the realm of sorrow. One can almost see the smirk on her face as she presents this utterly incredible story of a wild family history that includes systemic abuse, mental illness, and more than its fair share of covering it all up, because it seems as if all they have left is the ability to have a few chuckles and wonder at it all, or else who knows where'd they be. A painful, yet so very funny, memoir that reminded me of the writing style of Augusten Burroughs-- leaving me shaking my head in amazement that people can survive experiences such as these.
Free to a Good Home by Eve Marie Mont
A cute story about a thirty-something year old woman who has been a bit stuck in her life-- still reeling over her now-finalized divorce and not quite sure how to get over her ex, but always available to help others. Over the course of one year, things begin to change, partly from her willingness to help others, but also as a result of her beginning to take a few small chances here and there. With the main character working in an animal shelter, a pleasant theme of caring for animals runs throughout the novel.
The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch
It felt like this book took a while to gain its momentum-- the beginning felt less than remarkable, not really distinguishing itself in the large field of "chick lit." I wasn't sure that the framework of the story that revolves around the main character having a change in her "clarity" after visiting an old friend-turned-fortune teller was going to work for me, and while it felt a bit shallow in the beginning, like the book as a whole, it fleshed out more as the story deepened. Tackling the concepts of discontent in adult life- whether specific to marriage or career or in reference to life in general- is common fodder for many books written with a female reading audience in mind, and the second half of this book depicts a character finally ready to address issues that she may not have even been aware of earlier in her life. A quick read- this makes for good summer reading at the beach or poolside.
Weird & Wonderful: Discoveries from the Mysterious World of Forgotten Children's Books by Welleran Poltarnees
Holy cow-- I had no idea that children's literature could have been so absolutely ODD as all out before I read this interesting book. The illustrations and the texts collected and showcased here are truly incredible-- making you reflect on the journey societies have taken over that last century or so in their visions of childhood and literature. This is the perfect gift for a children's lit enthusiast!
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I did it!! I read something undeniably categorized as a "classic," and not only did I make it all the way to the end, but I actually enjoyed it! The 4/5 stars is more of an indication of my reading abilities and preferences than of the quality of Austen's beloved novel. While this took me longer than the average contemporary novel does, I was so pleasantly surprised by the level of humor and lightness in this classic, so I tried to sneak away as much reading time as possible. I also haven't seen the well-known movie version, but sadly, I did find myself drawing parallels to the Bridget Jones book/movie, with which I am familiar.
Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins
Such fun-- a chapter book that I could read with both JAM and Red (9 and 4)-- with gentle humor and a sweetness that both children could relate to. (Shhh... don't tell anyone about the 9 year old's beloved small bunny who still lives up on his "high bed.") Recommended (and sent!) by a reading friend, this was a lovely story to read aloud with the children. I look forward to revisiting it in a year or so when my 2.5 year old may be better able to sit and listen with us, too!
You're Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child by Betsy Brown Braun
Yes, the information and suggestions in this parenting book have been written and read before, but I have to say that the organization and "angle" of this guide works incredibly well at conveying to parents not only solid advice, but also driving home the points of WHY the advice makes sense. While the title points the action toward the child, the bulk of the advice is geared toward parental behavior. Personally, this is one that I found myself nodding, dog-earing and highlighting along for so much of the reading time!
Weight Watchers Eat! Move! Play! A Parent's Guide for Raising Healthy, Happy Kids
A fabulous comprehensive guide for families trying to be conscious of how they stay healthy in their eating and exercise habits, this book includes information and thought-provoking sections on the contemporary challenges to healthy living. Solid advice and points to consider when making personal decisions are respectfully conveyed, and there are even pages that invite readers to jot down their own questions, ideas, goals and plans. Almost half of the book consists of easy, healthy and delicious looking recipes (even to this VERY picky eater, who realizes that she needs to push her own eating boundaries a little bit). A great resource for families!
Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There by Mark Di Vincenzo
A neat collection of advice on when to do and buy a whole wide range of things. Some of my favorites-- best time to write poetry (teens and 20's), best time to clean your house (4 pm), and best time to visit Paris (September and early October). A good chunk of this info is common sense, at least I think, but the author does cite an impressive amount of sources showing some solid research.
Pistonhead by Thomas A. Hauck
Maybe because I couldn't relate to the plot or the main character all that much, but this short novel did not really appeal to me. I thought the writing was pretty rudimentary, and in my opinion, the characters were slightly one-dimensional. It may appeal to others who are more into the small circuit rock scene, but it was not my thing.
Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron
Oh to be a teenager again. And, more importantly, to be a teenager who's cool, even though he doesn't know it, and on the cusp of figuring out who he really wants to be...oh... I was seriously left wistfully remembering my late adolescence when I finished this book, even though the closest I had to any experiences this intense were definitely more college-timed than high school! Sammy, however, is definitely living through a hugely memorable time in his teen years-- with his musical ambition more than just a passing fancy, he lives and breathes music in a way that I think some teen readers will identify with (and many more will think they identify with!) But even for just the average radio-listener (does any teen do that anymore??), the story is strong enough to engage. There's a speed to the flow of the plot that makes it difficult to find a good spot for a bookmark, so I found it easier to just keep reading. The voice of adolescence that Jon Skovron has created here is authentic enough to ring true to any reader, current OR former teen.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I could end the review there, and it would be as complete as possible.
Really, I have no idea how to "review" this book, I can only say what the reading experience was like. Confusing. Painful. Compelling. Sad. So, so sad. And maybe more than a bit hopeful by the end.
I've read this for my online book club, but I'm not sure how the discussion part is going to go, because I'm not sure how to discuss it. Foer certainly has a style all his own, and these characters will not soon be forgotten by me.
The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone
This is the very first book that I've read solely on my eReader, and I found it a little challenging to follow along with the dual stories in different time frames at first, because I couldn't easily flip back through the pages for clarification. So, it probably took me a little longer to get with the program than had I been reading it in the traditional book format. Either way, once I began to put all the characters into place, I became engrossed by the two main plot lines. The theme of seeking relief from the pains that life can bring in the form of abuse, neglect and hurtful relationships was expertly intertwined between the two protagonists' stories, and when the links were made among the large cast of characters, it was as complexly interconnected as could be. Remarkable debut novel.
Noonie's Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback, Art by Sarajo Frieden
Such a one-of-a-kind book! With a clever mix of illustrations, doodles, wild color schemes, and a whimsical first-person narrator who is struggling with a significant loss, this middle grade story is both entertaining and touching. I have to admit that I giggled more than once during this reading, and I found my heartstrings being tugged as well.
Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott
How can a quiet and ordinary story be told about extreme circumstances that turn several lives off kilter? Somehow Endicott does that here- peacefully laying out a narrative arc that has more than a few ups and downs, wracked with the fear of potential loss and the bewilderment of suddenly assuming a new life's focus. Even though it may have confused me here and there, I marveled at the impeccable third person voice that switched on a dime in its portrayal of the inner workings of the varied, and very different, characters' perspectives. A work in character study, this novel engaged me, and the title perfectly captures the question of what it means to be good-- the what and how and why that the central character ponders from beginning to end.
So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
That's the most concise way to sum up my reaction to this novel that alternately stunned me, shocked me, humored me, disgusted me, intrigued me and touched my heart. There's the writing: insanely intelligent with long-winded sentences that pack punch after punch, sometimes necessitated a re-read just to be sure I got it all. While the dialogue rang a little less than authentic at times (like every single character was as super smart as the author clearly is), the overall narrative was superbly presented. Follow that with characters and a story line that ask uncomfortable questions, portray the darkest of life experiences and hold nothing back, really nothing at all, and it adds up to a novel unique among books that attempt to address the too often difficult to address issues of relationships, dying, health care, money, and the worth of a life.
Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Condition by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
So, this short book has been sitting in our bathroom basket for months and months, and finally the cute penguins on the cover drew me in. I read this fable-like story, and I know it was supposed to represent how institutions and businesses and the like should approach making large-scale changes, but I can't say that I could apply this to anything in my own day-to-day life, at least not that I can understand. I don't have a business mind, so while I can sort of see how this might work, all I really got out of this was a cute story about a penguin colony surviving a melting iceberg. Yup.
The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor
I'm so torn about how to feel after reading this book. There were aspects of both the story and the writing that I enjoyed, but there were also issues that frustrated or annoyed me, as well. As for the writing, there's no doubt in my mind that Jackson Taylor is a talented storyTELLER (like the leading quote on the cover by Wally Lamb states- the reason that I chose to read this book in the first place), but that doesn't always convey to writing. If he were telling me this story, based upon the real-life experiences of his grandmother, I would have had to stop him several times during the narrative for clarification or to ask him to expound a bit on some details, because as I read the novel, there were several times that I felt it just skipped through some events or experiences quickly and didn't feel as authentic as I would have hoped.
Then there's the story itself. It seems to me that it would be impossible to talk about this book with another person without getting into personal perspectives on the issue of abortion, so there is a definite "hot topic" component to the story. I don't take issue with the premise of the novel, personally, and I could appreciate the context of the time and place in considering casting judgment. However, for so much of the story, I found it difficult to empathize or care for the main character (and I feel guilty, since I know she is the representation of the author's grandmother!), not so much because of her role in the administering of abortions, but because of her continuous lack of self-awareness, even after going through serious, life-changing experiences.
Overall, this was an interesting read, and knowing that the novel is the result of two years of research by the author, I definitely appreciated the historical references that it provided for me about a time and place that I am not terribly familiar with. Not one of my favorites, and certainly controversial to discuss with others because of the key role of abortion to the story, but certainly a book that I will remember.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
I never would have picked this book up on my own, but thanks to my book club, I gave it a try, and I found myself surprised by my immediate engagement with the story. While much of the vocabulary and language structures challenged me, I certainly got pulled in by the intensity of the story. The narrator's voice was compelling and totally believable in a (hopefully) unrealistic story. My favorite passage involved a conversation between the narrator and another man who had so far survived the still-ongoing Martian attack. The man was woeful about the meaning of the attack, wondering why something this horrific was allowed to happen. "All our work undone, all the work-- What are these Martians?" To which the narrator responds, "What are we?" That central theme of considering our role as people among a world, and a universe and beyond, was both humbling and thought-provoking.
Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You: What Your Libido Reveals About Your Life by Diana Hoppe, M.D.
While I won't be saying how this book best served me personally, I can say that this is an interesting guide for women to better understand the effect libido can have on one's overall health. In addition to some basic suggestions for a healthy lifestyle in terms of diet, physical exercise and stress reduction, the author, an OB/GYN and medical researcher, also provides information about the roles that self-esteem, medications, health conditions, and communication all play in a woman's level of sex drive. I can also say that I really appreciated the sections on the differences in male and female brains and their effects on a couple's relationship, in the bedroom and out. (Affirmation is a wonderful thing.)
We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication by Judith Warner
I cannot stress strongly enough how much I want people to read this book. Judith Warner's presentation is informative, yet easy to read, and her assertions here are solidly backed up with research and input from professionals in the field. I love that she set out to write a book confirming the public attitude that too many children are being incorrectly diagnosed and medicated for mental health issues inappropriately. This has often been the tone of the response I've gotten from people when they find out that my son was diagnosed and started medication for ADHD when he was only four years old. The attitude that this disorder, along with others including bipolar disorder, autism and depression among children are diagnosed at such higher rates today than ever before in the past must mean that many children are receiving labels incorrectly is much too simple a viewpoint. Warner lays out several contributing factors that help to explain why the diagnosis rates are higher today, and she sheds light on many of the complexities in the actual experiences of children and families. Bottom line- these disorders are real, and parents like me who opt to medicate their children aren't doing so because of our poor parenting abilities, or because we want to get our child undue special services so they can be super-achievers, or because our children are undisciplined and just plain bad. We are trying to help treat their illnesses with the options available to us, and all we want is for our children to find success in their educational, personal and familial lives. Simply put- READ THIS BOOK.
Fireworks over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
I am not ashamed to say that I'm still wiping the tears from my eyes after putting this book down, with an aching head and heart. This was a beautifully told story of an unexpected love in a tumultuous time. A love that opened up a part of two people's souls that were previously hidden away or never fully acknowledged before. A classic story of love and loss, where the short window of time magnifies the intensity of the love experienced. Oh my, how I hung on every word of this book- thankfully it's a quick read, because I didn't want to stop without hearing the full story all at once. I want to read it again, immediately, but I don't think I can muster the energy to cry anymore right now!
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell
If one can believe in reincarnation, I can hope against hope that my soul had a life in Paris in the late 1800's, that I had a finger on the pulse of the beginnings of Impressionism, even if it just meant that I was one face in the crowd at the annual Salon viewing. Oh well. This lovely novel brought that time and place to life for me, which is what I'll have to settle for in this life. Beautifully written with a palpable intensity of the pressure Monet and his contemporary artists undoubtedly felt as they struggled to express themselves through their art, while barely able to support themselves or their families. The love portrayed between Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux is complicated and often fraught with worry about their growing debt and inconsistent housing. They loved each other, but they also failed each other at times, as well, as people often do. Their life's story, however, makes for a wonderful read and what I anticipate will be a successful novel.
Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax
So, this novel is definitely lighter and fluffier than the ones I've been reading lately, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed getting wrapped up in the soap opera-y lives of this cast of characters, and the book reading like a movie made for some distracting entertainment. With a hugely contemporary touch, with references to current pop culture and stories of the day at every turn, this felt like it could have been staged as an HBO or Showtime series. This was like a romantic comedy movie that you watch and even though you know what's coming next, you still enjoy the show all the same.
Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden
Man, I've been picking books that take me for an emotional ride lately. This one certainly fits the bill, and the horrific images and violent events had my heart aching. Again, I have a difficult time saying that I "enjoyed" reading a book with such despair-filled content... but, I did. I thought the writing was powerful, and the setting of the 1950's South was authentic- I could feel the oppressive heat as I turned the pages. The hypocritical ways of the town's male population really bothered me, but I could certainly believe it, unfortunately. This book is filled with much more pain than redemption and more suffering than relief, which doesn't make for a comfortable reading, but who says that everything we read has to have a happy ending?
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Okay, I did really like this book because it made me think, it provided an amazing reading experience with JAM, it used an incredible amount of new vocabulary for him (and me a couple of times!), and it emphasized the power of love, in a way that we are familiar with in literature we enjoy together- Harry Potter, Mysterious Benedict Society, etc. But... I'm still not sure I understood much of the actual events. Maybe that's the point, though- that the stuff was so beyond our pitifully inept brains. :) I'm really glad that we read this together, especially after reading When You Reach Me earlier this year
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
Oh, the third book was as delightful as the previous two! There's so much to think about with these books, and I'm happy that they are written with an intensity level that my own 9 year old can handle, because there are powerful lessons in these pages. With their latest challenges and the need to once again work together, combining their individual skills to one group effort, the four children who make up the Mysterious Benedict Society also come to realize that not one of them is responsible for the entire group- they are all responsible for each other. With that realization, the guilt that accompanied their previous missteps suddenly dissolved. At every point, they did their best, and they always kept each others' welfare in mind. It's a good lesson for us all!
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
More adventure, additional puzzles to solve, the same four honest, brave, strong and amazing children. They're still motivated by love for Mr. Benedict and a desire to save the world from the evil of Mr. Curtain, and they put their lives on the line without hesitation once again. There's a deepening to the characters in this second book- individual struggles being waged and personal revelations happening that point to the fact that they are maturing and growing, gaining understanding of themselves and each other, and as a result, their friendships have become even greater and more central to their very existences. Can you tell that I LOVED this one, too??
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
I'm thrilled beyond belief that I've finally read this book! My mind is abuzz with thoughts about these amazing children and the world within this story, such a very familiar feeling, one that I first experienced when I finished the first book that introduced Harry Potter to my reading world. Surely, a comparison between these two series is more than valid, although I don't think that takes anything away from either series as a result. The themes may be similar, and the characters certainly have much in common, but there's a distinctive feeling to this book that's different. Like I felt with HP, at first I found the oddities of the story entertaining and the reading went along in that manner, and suddenly I found my feelings darken and the nervousness that I had for these characters turned to palpable fear. However, unlike HP, this story holds much more realism, more likeness to the real world, which heightened the suspense even more for me. I truly loved everything about this book!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I'm not sure what I can say about this book except that it made me *feel.* Shame, disappointment, hope, disbelief, anger, comfort- all in the mix. My heart pounded throughout my reading, and I cared so deeply about these characters. This chapter of American history, the whole Jim Crow South time, is seriously so unbelievable to me. It's hard for me to comprehend the intense hatred and cruelty that was so prevalent among Whites towards Blacks, even though I'm well aware of the history of race relations in our country. It's not that I don't believe it, as much as I just can't understand it. While I've heard the criticism made that the author didn't interview any domestic workers in her research for writing this book, I was happy to read about her own personal connection in her note at the end of the book. I'd like to think this book was a sort of penance she took on, a small act of good in the face of generations of awful.
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
Devastating. Unspeakable. Atrocious. Heartbreaking. Malicious. Manipulative. Confounding. These are all words that come to mind when I think about the marriage relationship between Irene and Gil, the main characters in this novel. I couldn't get myself to understand where they were coming from, because their troubles went far beyond the basic ups and downs of long relationships. Their hatred and their love for each other were mirror images- in both their intensity and depths. If they were the only two people affected by their actions, their inactions and their choices, I might be left with less emotion and more interest in studying how they got to their ending points, but because there were three children in the picture, all I'm left with is dull loathing of their inabilities to do right by the people who needed them the most.
After all that, it's odd to say that "I Really Liked this Book" with my Shelfari starred rating, but I was impressed with the quality of writing, the insistent tone, and the way that the characters came alive through the author's unique-feeling prose. Definitely not a "feel-good" book, but a literary accomplishment, for sure.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Oh, Holden Caulfield. When I first read your 200+ page stream of consciousness diatribe as a teenager, I felt your pain somewhat. I understood "phonies" in my own sense, which probably differed a bit from your vision, but the frustration with "others" was certainly something that I could relate to. Now as an adult, I think my reaction was mostly a desire to tell you that your sensitivity and perceptiveness would help you in years to come, if you can learn to channel it more appropriately. Also, I couldn't help but shake my head at how you could simultaneously be so perceptive and also completely clueless about the consequences of your own choices and actions. I guess as a mom, I wanted to hug you AND slap you.
What more could be said about Salinger's iconic representation of the disaffected adolescent voice that hasn't been articulated for the last 60 years? I certainly can't add anything new to it, even if you really wanted to hear about it, anyway.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
While I'm still completely unsettled by the ending of this novel, which struck me as more than a bit abrupt, overall I can't help but remain touched by the story. The lives of the main characters are certainly filled with pain, suffering, uncertainty and fear, which only magnifies the strength and fortitude of these characters. While the first person narrative presents one perspective, near the end of the novel a different viewing of their shared life experiences is shared by the narrator's sister. As a reader, I began to question my "loyalty" to the narrator, and forced myself to consider this opposing version. As a whole, this is a beautiful story of sacrifice, sibling rivalry and attachment, and the meaning of "homeland."
Pieces of Someday by Jan Vallone
This was a memoir made up of more questions than answers, more seeking than finding, more wondering than storytelling. I appreciated the author's humility in openly baring her worries and fears and abundant questions about her own life experiences and those of her family members. Vallone writes with elegance and beauty, much more poetically than I would have expected from someone with a background in law! While I was somewhat confused by the bouncing-around nature of the book's chronology, I understood the impact the author was intending with this type of set-up. Personally, I needed to do some shuffling back and forth at times to get reestablished when the time shifted significantly from one chapter to the next, but in the end, I feel that I had gotten all the puzzle pieces in place.
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
If I had read this book and its sequel "After Ever After" in chronological order, I would have been an even bigger mess during the reading, not knowing how it was going to all end. As it was, I was still weepy, and that's because Sonnenblick has mastered the balance of tenderness and teenaged-boy-thought (which is usually not so tender) to create a novel that is funny and touching, and about deep subjects right along side the average girl-obsessed adolescence. Truly a YA genius.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
I can't find the most appropriate glowingly positive adjective to express how I felt about this book. Amazing is too passe. Outstanding sounds too generic. Incredible is fitting, but seems too unoriginal. This book truly blew me away. There's just so much to think about with this story- from the complexities of relationships with peers and family members, to the way we treat people we view as "others," to the effects our actions can have on others' lives. All of this wrapped up with the concept of time travel makes this YA novel an emotion-filled, realistic story with a touch of the sci-fi. (Hmmmm... sounds reminiscent of my very favorite novel ever!!) I do believe the 2009 Newbery Medal was VERY well deserved.
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Well, once I closed the book after reading the final pages, I must admit that I needed a few moments alone to just 'cry it out.' I'm sort of at a loss about what to say about this book, because I just simply enjoyed it so very much. If you're a YA kind of reader, the shortest and best thing that I can say-- go read this book. I'm still finding my way through YA literature, but my gut tells me that this book had the perfect combination of an authentic adolescent narrator and a story line that simultaneously tackled serious, real-world issues while also nailing the little things that are so huge to teenagers. What I didn't realize was that this was a sequel (of sorts), but I can definitely say that it stands on its own. (I do have the previous book lined up to read asap, though. I can only imagine that it is as amazing as this one.) The press release that I got with this book also mentioned that the author's previous YA novel was praised by his former high school teacher... Frank McCourt. Wow.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
It's hard to feel attached to a book that seems, at its core, to be about detachment. While this story revolved around the heaviest emotions and most significant connections in one couple's life, I surprisingly didn't shed a single tear through the whole reading, and there are some heartbreaking moments in here. That's not an indication of my not caring about these characters, because for sure, I felt they were so deeply depicted on the pages, with their complexities in plain view. I cared deeply for them, when I understood their conflicts, as well as when I deplored their actions. Yet, no tears. I can only figure that my lack of emotional display kept pace with the absence of a melodramatic telling of the story. I'm not one to instantly equate melodrama with negativity-- sometimes a melodramatic storytelling voice draws me in and sweeps me away. But for this book, I was as equally drawn in by the matter-of-fact narration, with its straightforward laying out of this sad, sad tale. I'm left feeling that this book is just so human, a thoughtful and engaging human tale, even through its despair.
Up in the Air by Walter Kirn
I could write this mini-review as the shortest one I ever produced, using a mere four words that concisely sum up the thoughts that are left rolling around in my brain as I finally put the book down:
I didn't get it.
None of it. I didn't get the main character. I didn't get his back story, and I didn't get his motivation. I didn't get what made him tick. And quite honestly, I didn't care a lick about anyone or anything in the story. I was perpetually confused by the rambling style of the dialogue. I felt tortured by the process of holding this book in my hands and scanning the text with my eyes.
If I'm completely honest, I have to admit that the book was at a disadvantage when I picked it up, since I had just recently seen the movie adaptation, which I adored. I thought it was thoughtful, portrayed conflicted characters who had actual depth, even if they weren't always 100% likeable. I thought the story was linear, and built upon itself as it rolled along. Every thing that the book ended up not being.
So maybe there's the factor of the book not being able to live up to my previous exposure to the movie, and I would give that weight as a possibility if two had anything in common other than the character's name and pursuit of one million frequent flyer miles. That's where the similarities end, and I for one, think the movie creation deserves a different title, so as not to be associated with this unworthy book.
Making a Family Home by Shannon Honeybloom
Beautiful! I really enjoyed the author's suggestions for creating a mindful, loving, appropriate and beautiful home for a family with young children, even as jealousy was cursing strongly through my veins. Holy cow, did I LOVE this woman's house and yard! While I can't say that I want to get rid of the things that we do have in our home that she advocates against (plastic toys, as an example), there was plenty in here that I appreciated and would like to keep in mind for our own home, especially when we someday move to that "forever house."
The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas
This is a cute book that I would have absolutely adored when I was in elementary school for the mystery, the emotions and the oh-so-perfect happy ending. The chapters are short, and the telling of the story is not too complex, making it a very quick read, even for children. (My nine year old read it in half a day.) I enjoyed the storyline, and perhaps it would have been better to read with my son instead of after him.
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Holy cow- so many of my thoughts have been turned on their heads after finishing this book. The conclusion chapter brought the entire book together- these seemingly different topics about child development all looked at with a new perspective, thinking about honesty, gratitude, praise and such not in an adult framework, but realizing that these very things work differently in children's developing brains. Truly every chapter held extreme interest for me, but the language and self-control development chapters fascinated me the most, possibly. This is a book that I need to own and re-read quite regularly, and will be added to the list of must-read recommendations for parents.
Happy with a book in my hands,