Sunday, December 28, 2008

Patty Jane's House of Curls by Lorna Landvik

Yes, this is my vacation and the way I unwind is to speed read. So, at the start of vacation I made a stack of books I hadn't got to - and I'm working down through the stack.

Lorna Landvik is another of my favorite authors - a good mid-western voice - lots of quirky characters, some heart ache, some tears both of joy and sorrow and a happy rather expected ending. Just what I need on a cold Sunday afternoon! Patty Jane didn't disappoint.

Patty Jane and her sister Harriet are the children of alcoholics - the connections between them deeper than some sisters due to this shared burden. Patty Jane falls deeply and soundly in love with Thor - gets pregnant immediately after their marriage and then Thor promptly disappears a few days before his daughter's birth. Meanwhile Harriet is swept off her tall and shapely legs by little portly Avel. Their love is deep and passionate. Avel, an older rich man leaves on a business trip in the months before their wedding and dies in a plane crash. Sound like a love story?? Or just a tale to compare your life to and come out on the winning side?

The book goes on from there. That's one of my favorite parts of Landvik's writing. Many books end as the heroine is left alone and empty -yet somehow triumphant. Landvik's story, like life, continues.

Patty Jane, Ione (Thor's mom), Nora (the daughter) and Harriet create a life for themselves in the beauty parlor attached to their house - the House of Curls. But, it's more than only a beauty parlor, they begin to offer classes on everything from the NASDAQ to art appreciation. And the women of the town respond.

Then Landvik really offers a punch - a mysterious stranger, a long lost and completely changed love and a nasty cancer death.

Again, the story continues...

Anyway, I loved it in the same way I love my ratty old sweatshirt and warm fuzzy socks. It warmed me up both on the inside and the outside - and yes I shed a couple of tears... :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

This is one of those fast and furious young adult books. It's a bit predictable, but still fun.

The premise is a city that was set up underground due to some upcoming catastrophe on the topside. The city has been happily churning along for 200 years - and now things are running out and being used up and falling apart.

When the Builders created the city they left escape instructions for the mayor of the city to be passed down from generation to generation - unfortunately, that didn't quite happen. Now noone in the city is aware there was a before, an above ground, another way of life.

Enter two kids - 12 year olds just graduating from school. On their final day of school each school child draws a job which they will do for the next 3 years. These important jobs keep the city running. Lina is made messenger and Doon begins his work with the pipeworks.

Lina loves running but dreams of another city - one of light and color and tall buildings. Doon has a sense that he is supposed to do something important to help the city - which he sees falling apart in front of his eyes. Then Lina discovers a secret - the secret of escaping Ember. No one will believe her or Doon when he discovers the Mayor is stealing from the underground stores. The two are labeled as problems.

Together they take off to try to find the way out.

From the pictures included in this movie edition of the book - Hollywood has done it again. The story thousands will see on the screen is not the same as the one I read on the pages of the book. Are we surprised???

I would recommend this to any kiddo or adult ready for a quick and easy adventure.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This is the first novel I've had to read for my library science classes! It made me feel like a real librarian! :) Our assignment was to read a book on a banned list. I've never read this one - so here was my opportunity. I read East of Eden several years ago and remember feeling the same way when I got to the that really what life is like? How depressing...

Lenny and George are ranchmen in California - working the land and moving from place to place. That is an oddity - two men traveling along together -George looking after Lennie. But, Lennie needs it, he is incredibly strong and not incredibly smart. He reacts to fear by squeezing - mice, dogs, women. The results are not good.

George keeps weaving this word picture of the perfect little ranch to Lennie - a nice little place with their own animals and Lennie can raise rabbits. George describes it to Lennie like a parent would tell the same bedtime story over and over. The comfort is in the repetition, and Lennie responds.

Their dream begins to spill over to Candy, an old swamper at the current ranch. Candy has the money that they need to get their dream started. But...

Lennie gets scared, makes a mistake, it wasn't really is fault, but he is the culprit. Now, George has a decision to make. At what point is Lennie more of a liability than a responsibility? And, what do you do? George must decide.

So, this book lines up a row of misfits who have created a 'family' of sorts. Each knows they are not of the norm - except Lennie. The fragile strings that tie him to George break on one warm Sunday afternoon. George's solution to the problem leaves me sad and a little empty. Is that really our life?

So -why would this book be on the banned list? Hmmm...interesting quesition...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alright -I admit this title was just too odd to overlook. When I saw it in the book order - I had to scarf it up! Evil librarians??? It's something I had to know more about - since I am trying to become a librarian and all. And what I found out made me, not really.

This is an odd book about an odd boy and his odd family and their odd war against the librarians who control all the knowledge of the world and dish it out slowly to the Hushlanders of the known world. This knowledge keeps them docile and content to fill their head with empty garbage instead of seeking out the truth of the Free Kingdoms, of which Alcatraz and his family are a part.

Sound odd enough?

This was a really fun book to read. There are all sorts of interesting quotes and comments focused at the Hushlanders and their inability to discern what the truth is even when it is right in front of them. And the librarians who control them by controlling the knowledge are the all powerful rulers.

It is just the reverse of the Noah Wylie movies about the Librarian. There he is the keeper of knowledge for good. Here they are the keeper of knowledge for evil.

So, what does that really say about librarians? Is the world a little in awe of the knowledge they are privy to? Maybe that is why they 'hide in the stacks' and make everyone keep quiet. The knowledge is just too much to deal with...hmmm.

Interesting thoughts on a odd little book...

Oh yeah - and today truly marks the beginning of vacation -this is the third book I finished today... YIPPEE!!!

The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd

This is a fast and involved book. I read it this morning...ok -I'll admit I did skim some of it. :)
The basic premise is Nina Mosely, the ex-wife of a convicted serial killer is found out by one of the victim's fathers'. As she reels with the way her new world has crashed down she is most concerned with her 7-year-old son's perspective. He thought that his father was convicted of robbery and killed in prison. Unfortunately, that was not quite the case.

This crazed father believes that Nina somehow was involved in the murders and just covered up for her husband. So the book jumps back and forth through time -from the beginning of their relationship to the birth of their son and the moment of the discovery of his horrible crimes.

The story becomes more intense when one of his 'victims' turns up to carry on the job that Randy Mosely didn't finish.

This is a quick and intense book. It answered some of the continuing quesitons - how can the family not know...and how can you deal with the guilt of not knowing...
But, it didn't answer why she was spared. He had started killing before he met her - but she lived why??

That is part of the guilt she has to carry.

I'd recommend this as escapism.. in a creepy sort of way!

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I'm not sure about this book... I read it really slowly - due to class assignments and the Twilight books, they were a little more compelling. So, it's hard to give a very good read on this book.

This is one of those quiet stories - a bit depressing - about how life is not what you thought it was going to be. Four main characters slowly spin the story of their lives as they come closer and closer to crossing paths. And all of it is tied to the book The History of Love.

There is Alma, the young girl, pining after her died father, her mother who is translating the book from Spanish to English for an unknown man, the brother, Bird, who believes he is some type of Jewish hero and Leo Gursky, the original author of the book.

Each of these people's gripe on reality is tinged with the loss of the love of their lives. A loss from which they really can not recover - instead they are all sleep walking through their lives. It is especially awful for the children.

So, you see this is not the griping book that I needed to read right now - instead I would read a little, put it down and promptly forget.

I always like books that follow separate threads and use different storytellers perspectives, so I think this would be one that I could have really liked at a different time....

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

image from LibraryThing
This has to be one of my all time favorite books. I just finished reading it out loud to my 4th graders. I have probably read it 15+ times and I never get tired of it!

What a great story!

It has something for everyone - silly dog stories, the action of the hunt, the nasty Pritchard boys and the simple life of a country boy in the hills of the Ozark Mountains.

I get choked up every time I read it. But, it's interesting that different things hit me now. I identify so much more with the Mother - she is always worried and jumping to conclusions about how dangerous everything is. Well, as my daughters have grown - I understand that more and more.

Anyway - I would recommend this to anyone who needs a heartwarming read about the innocent love between a boy and his dogs!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

image from LibraryThing

Well - I finished them all.

Of course, now I wish I was still in the midst of Bella's story.

This is the longest of the four books - it is also my least favorite of the books. Odd things happen in here - things that I did not want to happen.

In the end all is well, but I was not happy with the direction Stephanie took some of the characters. Some of it was just too contrived, too neat and tidy even for a vampire. The tension wasn't as real as the other books. I found myself just wanting to finish some parts.

But, as a whole the books hang together very well. I can't imagine reading them over the course of years - I was so immersed I couldn't stop reading!!

I still say that Jacob is my favorite!

Read these!!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyers

OK - This is just as good!!
Or is it better??
I can't quite decide.

Bella is the center of all again. Her life is is spinning closer and closer to the moment when she will change from human to vampire at her own choosing. Or will she?

I don't want to give anything away!


New Moon by Stephenie Meyers

The second book - I really liked this one almost more...almost. I think that Jacob Black is my favorite character. He is honest, and real. Unlike Edward - all polished and perfect and poised. Bella is not that way - so what in the world is going on???

This book starts great and spirals out of control very quickly. Edward decides that the way to keep Bella safe is to erase himself from her life.

Bella does not react well - Bella melts down to the core - and Jacob is there to slowly put her back together. He has his own secrets and Bella slowly unravels them as she begins to put herself back together.

There is still danger surrounding her, but Jacob is keeping her safe.

And then - Edward returns...

There is another scary episode with Bella in the middle - of course.

This is another really good one and I flew through it too!!!!

Twilight by Stephenie Meyers

Let's just say I read this book in a flash!!

And the next one...

And the next one...

So we start here. Bella Swan is a new kid at the Forks Washington High School. She has moved from sunny Phoenix to live with her father in dark and rainy Washington. And there she meet... Edward Cullen. A high school boy like no other - really like no other. He is a vegetarian vampire. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Bella is drawn to Edward and against Edward's better judgement he is also drawn to her.

Bella uses her friend Jacob Black, a local native American, to find out about this odd man and his family. Jacob tells her a story about an ancient truce made between some 'bloodsuckers' and his great grandfather's tribe. From there Bella guesses just what Edward is. Instead of scaring her away - the knowledge seems to draw her even closer to Edward.

As their friendship grows to something more - Bella draws bad luck and pain to her from all over.

This is a love story - a romance between two unlikely people. The fact that one is a vampire gives it a twist. But the story flies and draws the reader in.
Stephanie Meyer is quite a storyteller!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

image from LibraryThing
Another great adventure with the boy genius, but this time it's two boy geniuses...and both are Artemis.

Artemis's mother is dying of a horrible disease that he himself infected her with by using magic to wipe her memory. If the guilt of that isn't enough - the only cure is brain fluid from an extinct animal that a younger Artemis sold into extinction.

The only solution is for Artemis and Holly Short to go back in time to the moment of the sale and rescue the Lemur.

As in all Artemis books, what sounds clear and easy is anything but. The young Artemis is a devious and conceited thing who is not easily swayed from his path, selling the Lemur to the Extinctionists for bucket loads of money.

Then in typical Colfer fashion there is a huge surprise!

This is a head scratching book, though.
If Artemis hadn't gone back in time, his mother may not have gotten sick, but because his mother was sick, he had to go back in time. Thus the paradox.

So, it got me thinking about time travel. Would I want to be able to go back and change things? Are there things I think I need to change? Hmm...

Artemis had the opportunity to try to alter a wrong - but that alteration created a much bigger wrong. So, how big a wrong would it need to be to justify the costs? I think I'm glad this is only hypothetical!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh My Stars! By Lorna Landvik

image from LibraryThing
Another Landvik gem. I love her quirky characters and her northern settings. The people ring true because they are like the people that we know...

Here is a story of a woman who has had all the hardship life has to offer before she is 16 - her mother ran off, her father abused her and neglected her, she was dreadfully poor and only had a tree to love. Then life started to improve - she got a factory job in a thread factory, made friends and began to see life differently -but on her 16th birthday her life changed...she lost an arm in a accident, her ears filled with the buzzing of bees and there didn't seem to be a reason to continue on...

So, Violet boards a bus to San Francisco to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Then life starts to throw her a rope...there is a bus crash and she is rescued by two unusual musicians - Kjel (prounced Shell) the most amazing looking blond North Dakota has to offer and Austin the blackest of all black men with the largest vocabulary of smooth and high talk. That crash and rescue change the course of Violet's life.

Austin and Kjel are musicians and they invite Violet to join them on a whim. They begin an amazing band called the "Pearltones." They start a tour with Austin's brother Dallas through the small towns changing their lives and the lives of those who hear them play through a very memorable summer.

In typical Landvik fashion nothing seems to go like they planned. But, life continues. Also in Landvik fashion, this book covers Violet's life from childhood through her old age with many stops and starts and curves and twists in between. It is filled with music and beauty and characters that I wish I could meet!

The title is from Kjel - each morning he greets the world with "oh my stars!" a prayer and a song to the beauty of the heavens and world that was created around him!

I loved this!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Singing Hands by Delia Ray

image from LibraryThing
My good friend, Phyllis, recommended this book to me. She knows my connections to sign language. It's one of the new books in our school library this year.

Here is a great moment in time captured by the granddaughter of two deaf grandparents. So, it's based on many real family stories of Delia. The story centers around Gussie who hates that her deaf parents aren't like everyone else in Birmingham. It all comes to a head one hot summer. It begins with her humming loudly during the worship service at the deaf church where her father is the minister - she and her two hearing sisters are the only ones that can hear her.

Her nasty and obstinate side continues through clandestine searches through the boarders rooms upstairs and continues to her skipping Sunday school at the hearing church downtown. All this naughtiness comes to a screeching halt when she is discovered. Her punishment is a very eye-opening experience which changes the way she sees her family and her life.

I worked with hearing impaired students for 2 years in Ohio and lived with a hearing impaired adult. Nancy taught me sign language and a whole lot more. I think she would really like this book.

Nancy grew up in the mid 70s when signing was still not really very accepted. She went through hearing schools and was proud of her lip reading abilities. That is until she went to Galludet College in Washington DC. It was there that she understood and embraced what it meant to be deaf. She completely changed her life. She became a teacher of deaf children - starting a preschool for deaf kids in Wooster, OH. That's where I came to know her. Today, Nancy is teaching deaf children in Belize.

This book made me think about what life was like for Nancy - growing up different. When I lived in Ohio, Nancy and I went out to eat one time and sat at the table signing back and forth to each other. I didn't really think about it until the waitress came to our table and didn't know what to do. She stood and stared and then bent over and very carefully and clearly asked us for our order. There was a moment when I had to decide what to do... I answered her, she blushed and moved away. In that moment - I understood what it really felt like to be different - to be deaf.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mercy by Jodi Picoult

image from LibraryThing

WOW! This is one of those I couldn't put down - until I got mad! Then I stopped. I didn't want it to end. I wanted it to end. I wanted to go to sleep. I couldn't go to sleep. I was a mess! I don't know whether to thank Kim for recommending it or to be mad at her for messing with sleep again!

This is another amazing Picoult story. She has a way of drawing the reader in to a world that you didn't even know you wanted to experience. I am so impressed every time I read one of her books. Even the one I really didn't love (Tenth Circle) - still drew me in to the story!!

The story opens with a garage sale. A woman has taken every bit of her husband's paraphernalia out of the house and displayed it on the lawn to be sold... she is more interested in emptying the house than in making money. Because of that - everything but a few pairs of boxers is sold. When her husband comes home that night he sees the remains of the sale as his wife walks away across the lawn.

This is a story about that kind of all or nothing love. There seems to be no gray. A commitment can not be partial. So - the solution is just as complete.

Anyway - this is the story of two marriages with many similarities and startling differences. Jamie and Maggie enter the story as Jamie climbs out of the cab of his pickup in front of the police station announcing that he killed his wife who was sitting in the cab beside him. Cameron, the police chief and his overly devoted wife Allie react very differently to this moment. Cameron with the weight of his position as the chief of his clan and Allie as a woman who understands giving yourself for another person.

Then Mia, enters the story and Cam is tempted in a way he never expects.

You can probably guess what will happen and you will only be partially right.

Read it!!

This was chosen for our October Book club book - Booker Babes!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

March by Geraldine Brook

image from LibraryThing

This is our August Book Club book.

It has been a long time since I read Little Women...a really long time. I remember the movie much more than the book.

Because of that, I came to this book as much more of a stand alone. I didn't know what to expect and I think that helped. I can't say that I enjoyed the book - it took me quite a while to get into it. But I was intrigued. March actually tried to live what his ideals called him to do. I got tired of his pie in the sky attitude and his inability to really engage in the world around him. It especially irritated me when he was in the hospital at the end.

But, it is in the midst of that scene that I found my very favorite part. Marmee was really giving it to March for wanting to go back to the war and single handedly right all his imagined wrongs. Her comment, "You are not God. You do not determine the outcome," resonated with me.

I think this is one of those little blips in my soul that I keep forgetting. Every time I think it is my responsibility to remake the life of a child, to be the one to break through a difficult shell or to make the leap that brings the understanding of reading to a 4th grader, I have forgotten this fact. I am but one. It's not all up to me...instead it's up to all of us to do our part.

I couldn't help but ponder the Iraqi war we are embroiled in. What do my ideals call me to do? March joined the cause with one set of ideals - faced something completely different as he tried to work within the army and then came against a new set of realities working on the plantation with Ethan. So much that he thought he knew and understood was false. Is that the way war still is? I can imagine the soldiers coming home from Iraq are faced with the same turmoil that March was as he tried to connect with the far away world of his family.So, although this is a story about blacks and whites - I think many parallels can be drawn between Muslims and Christians.

Would I say this was one of my favorite books? No - but I'm glad I read it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

image from LibraryThing

I haven't read a Michael Crichton book for a long time. This was just the book I needed to escape. My grandfather died this week and I wanted something to make me forget all the things I needed to do and relax. State of Fear is one of those books that you need to be fairly focused on - there are lots of things going on - because it makes you question what you thought you knew.

The basic premise is an environmental agency that is a money sucking hole and to convince people of the need to donate money to the global warming crisis - they create climate events to scare peoples' checkbooks open.

Peter Evans, a mild mannered lawyer, gets sucked into crisis by representing George Morton, an odd duck of an environmentalist and a very rich man. George begins to become disillusioned with NERF, the environmental group he is funding, and starts to ask many quesitons. Drake, the leader of the group, becomes suspecious and begins pressuring George to change his mind by threatening to kill him. After a drunken acceptance speech - George is killed in a fiery car crash.

Peter thinks things are over, but then he meets Kenner, George's accomplice and a naysayer for all things environmental. Actually, he isn't a naysayer - but a questioner. He pushes Peter to question all he knows about global warming by presenting studies and facts that contradict the general understanding. As Peter becomes more and more embroiled in whatever is happening with NERF, his life is threatened in the Anarctic, in the desert of the Southwest and finally on a little island in the Pacific - that one is the most gruesome - he learns there are still cannibals...

I really enjoyed this book. Although it helped me to escape - it also forced me to think about what I understand and what I believe. It made me believe that the only way to escape this state of fear is to trust in things that are not of this world! :)

Enjoy this!

ps - I read this outloud to Rod right after I finished! So - this should actually count as two books. I think I liked it even better the second time around!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg

image from LibraryThing
This is a great read! Another story of a single mother and a remarkable daughter. What is it about single mothers and their daughters?? This is the story of Jean and Griff, her daughter. Jean has bounced from one awful man to another. Roy, the last boyfriend, beats her and Griff finally convinces mom to leave him - to leave Iowa. They take off for the ocean - but their car spontaneously combusts near Estherville. They have enough money to catch the bus to the little hole in the wall town in Wyoming where Jean grew up and to the grandfather that Griff never knew she had.

There is bad - awful bad-  blood between Jean and Einar, the grandfather. But, Griff is just what the relationship needed. Griff is the unpretentious little girl that sees all and quietly helps the situation.

Jean is only agreeing to stay for a month. Mitch, the black cowboy that Einar has cared for since a bear mauling, becomes Griff's friend and slowly things begin to work out. Until the night the Einar sees Jean in his dead wife's dress. Words are said, Jean runs again but this time Griff puts down her foot and runs back to the ranch.

Life gets interesting as a bear freeing escapade goes wrong, Roy shows up again ready for blood and Jean finds out that life in a small town can be utterly amazing- everyone is watching out for you!

Anyway - i really liked it. It was a bit predictable, but the language is beautiful and you really like Griff - like her a lot. And the secrets that all the main characters keep are dooled out slowly - you get to savor the knowledge, just like Griff does.

Quick and fun read.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club

image from LibraryThing
It's been a while since I've been into a book. This was a great book to lose myself in! When I started reading this I thought I had it all figured out. Self-suffecient Georgia - single mom, business owner, beautiful and focused. She doesn't really need anyone. But, there is a big hole in her heart created by James the absent father of her wonderful daughter Dakota. Georgia plays it safe and carefully creates a place where she is in control of everything...

Georgia has an amazing mentor named Anita. She met her on a park bench in Central Park when she was pregnant and sad and scared and knitting. With Anita's encouragement she began knitting for hire, opened a successful knitting store in New York City instead of running home to her parents in Pennsylvania. She surrounded herself with interesting friends - but she was always the one in control, always the one they went to.

So, I expected James to come back break her heart and leave her to depend on the other women of the knitting group...

But, things didn't go that way. Kathy - the best friend turned back-stabbing, college spot stealing Cat - shows up and wants to make up with Georgia.

Slowly that happens. Very slowly

Then something awful happens that made me sob and sob!! And I'm not telling you anything!
Just read the book!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The View From Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik

image from LibraryThing
This is WONDERFUL!! I laughed and I cried and I couldn't put it down. It's a classic Landvik!!

This is the story of Joe Andreson and finding his view of Mount Joy!

He's your typical high hockey star - a good kid whose father was killed and whose mother is trying. So, the story opens with Joe moving to Minneapolis as a senior in high school. Joe becomes fast pals with Darva, the girl who is amazing, but doesn't quite fit in and Kristi Casey the girl who is everything and will let you know that. Joe and Darva have a deep friendship that stays a friendship for a lifetime. Kristi is a user of everything: drugs, people, money, prestige, and most of all Joe. She pops in and out of his life at her whim. Joe falls under her spell for brief moments and then comes back to his real life.

And it's Joe's real life where the story actually is. He fills his life with friends - Ed Haugland being one. Ed is the saddened middle age man who owns Haugland Foods. Joe works for him and plays keyboard for him and stays with him as he slowly dies of MD. And Joe inherits the store he doesn't really want, But, it is the store where Joe finds his joy! On a slow day he decided to start odd little contests - all the groceries you can gather in two minutes for free, a free pie if you are buying eggs, a box of books if you can recite a Walt Whitman poem. The contests are often rigged to share with the less fortunate (grocery run) or to meet a newcomer-eventually to be wife (eggs) or to get others to meet.

As the grocery store becomes more successful, Joe's family grows and thrives and Kristi's star shoots across the sky as the voice of God. Her radio and then TV personea hidden by the layers of makeup and the talk that she spews. Yet, when she is really down and out - it's Joe she calls and Joe who is her friend.

I LOVED this book. Why? The fake of Kristi is so perfectly played against the reality of day to day joy of Joe's life. What we think we want way out there is not what we need close to home. Joe finds his Mount Joy right beside him as he watches his two sons and Darva's daughter who is now his daughter, as he stands close to Jenny the love of his life whose flute playing enchanted him the night he discovered his mother was an amazing teacher and his aunt was gay.

By the way, Mount Joy was named for the spot where Kristi and Joe stood and watched the most amazing northern lights in a drug induced state. Later, Kristi claimed that was the moment she first heard God speak her name. Joe remembers it as a time they stood in awe of nature and the pure happiness of friendship.

So, what is the view from your Mount Joy? Is it a place where secrets are shared and stories are told? Or is it the amazing view of a life lived well? Hmmmm.....

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

This is a great example of  an intriguing cover and title, but the book not quite living up to their potential.

image from LibraryThing
The story takes place in Wales right after D-Day. It follows Esther, a Welsh girl, and Karstan, a German prisoner of war. It sounded like a book you could curl up with and loose yourself in. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to do that. It moved rather slowly. There seemed to be gaps in my understanding of what was happening, or things I should have already known, or I just was skimming too much! Esther's father is a very nationalistic Welsh shepherd who would much rather be working in the slate quarry. But, due to a strike years before and failing economy, he is stuck with his sheep. Esther is also stuck - she has been proposed to by Rhys as he was getting ready to leave for war. She quickly turns him down. Then in the opening scene of the story, she is attacked by her English date. She tells no one and as the story plods through you discover that she is pregnant - long before she ever admits it to herself. The village is the new home of a POW camp for captured Germans. Karstan appears here after he surrenders. He is also trapped; by the fence, by his understanding of English and his deep realization that Germany will loose the war, by the hopes of his mother and the hero status of his WWI father.

As the book slogs through time the characters slog through their unwanted lives.

For a WWII book about the winning side - there is very little euphoria, very little hope. Instead it's like Esther's ride to Ireland on the train for an abortion. As they arrive in town and she sees the extent of the bombing and destruction she imagines all the places she will never see, all the experiences she will never have all the possibilities that no longer exist because the war has changed them - not only the landscape - but who they are.

So, it's hard to recommend this very strongly. There are some beautifully written passages - but the pace is as slow as the winters in the war!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

image from LibraryThing

I have loved the Mitford books and Father Tim for many years. Some of the books have been a little slow in the middle of the story. But, I have always resonated with the real christianity that Tim tries so hard to live. He is more than the sum of his parts - he is human and God-filled. But, there is a dark and depressed side of Father Tim. A side that stays hidden much of the time. This is the book that explains it all. Here are the answers.

Tim travels by himself back to Holly Springs, Mississippi after receiving a letter - no name, nothing more. The letter simply asks him to come. And so he does, not having any idea why. He has a whole group of people to look for in Holly Springs - Willie with only one thumb, Tommy Noles his best friend and blood brother, Peggy, who raised him and Louis and Sally from the farm. His family has long since died - but their ghosts seem to surround Holly Springs.

What Tim finds is much, much more than he imagined. It is the story of a past of questions being answered. Not always the way he would have wanted them to be answered, but answered they are. In the midst of this search he also makes new friend, T and Ray who are restoring his old home, Red at the hardware store. Each of these fills a place for him.

The story also features Cynthia, his amazing wife and Dooley his adopted son.

It's been quite a while since I've read any of these stories -and I have to say - this is one of the best!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff

image from LibraryThing
Well - this just proves that summer is actually here! It's the first evening of summer vacation, it's 11:23 and I've finished my first book. I didn't start it tonight - it just so happened I finished it tonight!

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I loved the Kommadant's Girl. So, I picked up this one in the book store. I read the back and it sounded amazingly familiar - I figured it would be a repeat of the Kommadant and wasn't all that intrigued...until I started reading it!

This is the story of Marta - the Kommadant's killer. The story begins from the moment she drops over on the bridge after seeing Emma off to a safe future. Marta is captured and tortured by the Gestapo hoping for information about the resistance. She is eventually rescued by Paul, an American who is liberating the Nazi prison where she is kept.

They have a whirlwind romance and Paul proposes. Marta travels to London before Paul to meet up with the aunt of a fellow refugee. But, Paul never shows up - killed in a plane crash on the way to London. Devastated, Marta marries Simon, a diplomat she met on the boat ride to London.

That's about all I can tell you...except Marta does a covert mission back to Germany and meets up with Emma and finds out what really happened to Jacob and just whose baby Emma was carrying at the end of Kommandant.

She also meets up with....

You will just have to read it. This is another great story by Jenoff. There are just enough twists and turns to keep you involved, yet it's predictible enough to be comfortable. And true love prevails! Yippee! :)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Welcome to the Great Mysterious by Lorna Landvik

I really enjoyed this one too!
image from LibraryThing

It's another Lorna Landvik book, and I think it's one of my very favorites. It is very predictable.. from the beginning you pretty much know that Geneva the Broadway actress is going to connect with her Downs' Syndrome nephew in a deep way and fall in love with the small town mailman...but, that's not the great part.

The great part is how it all happens. This isn't one of the amazing surprises that sometimes Landvik throws, instead it's a comfortable stroll through the growing up moments of one very self-centered former Minnesotan!

Geneva is a twin to Ann who has been offered a once in a lifetime 2nd honeymoon to Italy. The only problem is childcare for Rich - the 15year old son. Geneva has been patronizing of Rich, but to think about spending time with him is more than a little daunting. So, she agrees because she likes the thought of doing it - that seems to be more important to her than actually doing it. What she discovers is an amazing young man and his surrounding cast of characters. She becomes friends with Barb and her son Conrad, Rich's best friend. Connie has cerebral palsy and a contagious outlook on life! But, most of all she meets James, the mild mannered mailman next door.

But, my favorite part of this book is the book they reveal...The Great Mysterious. When Ann and Geneva were girls they created a pocket book with a question on each page. Their mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, ant and uncle wrote their answers on slips of paper to be read by the group. I love that idea. Adults and kid answering the questions together. Each sharing their answers and thier ideas to create a great mysterious. The best part is that they continue the practice through this book. I really like this idea... I would love to try it...

Anyway - I would happily recommend this book!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

image from LibraryThing
I loved this book. It has all the best of the South in the 50's - movie stars, innnocence, and ridiculous characters. Daisy is the only child of an alcoholic father and a socially frustrated mom. Daisy with her chipped front tooth, gullible and accepting attitude and the sweet innocence of a girl on the edge of womanhood.

From there the book flows from one interesting character and incident to another. From Daisy playing poker in the black pool hall to her and a friend peeking in the curtains of the girlie show. Each get-rich-quick scheme of her father's from raising worms to having the best soda shop on the out of the way beach to having Daisy die and come back to life. Each escpade has it's truth and it's fiction and it's hard to know what to believe and what not to..much like it is for Daisy Fay.

The final joke is on her when she enters a beauty contest to win the runner-up prize to college in NYC. Who is laughing when she actually wins...

This is a fun read!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dingley Falls by Michael Malone

imag from LibraryThing
I'm not sure about this book. I liked this but I didn't like it....

I was in the mood for a big old fat book that sucked me in to the world of the story. This didn't quite do that. It was big and fat - 588 pages. It was filled with odd and quirky New England characters. It took place in 1976 -the year of the bicentennial. But, I just couldn't quite get immersed. There were too many story lines, too many characters and not quite enough connection. It had everything it needed - but it just didn't quite make me escape.

So, let's see. Dingley falls is a basic village started by a disgruntled old English fellow who made his money and started factories in the 1800s. The town is divided by a river with the working class and factories on one side of the river and the stores and land owners on the other. Typical of lots of other places.

The story begins with 4 women who are some of the uppity ups. They are sucked in to the world of avant garde art of the 70s and bring a disgusting poet to thier town to read some of his filthy poems. He needs to be shown around the town to kill time and Beanie Abernathy is stuck with that. But, there is a connection between them - and by the end of the afternoon Beanie is willing to walk away from a 30 year marriage to "feel" with Richard Rage the poet.

So - at this point I was intrigued. I kept reading.

I was introduced to Polly and Joy - two girls on the edge of adulthood. A pharmacist, Sammy Smalter, who is also a hidden crime author. Oh yeah, he is also a descendent of one of the town founders and a 'dwarf.' There is also Judith Haig who is a real ice princess with a bad heart and her husband is the town cop. And then there is Limon Barnum, an antique shop owner and hidden neo-nazi with a desire to feel his life - it doesn't really matter if that is a good or a bad feeling. There is Chin Henry, the Vietnamese refugee married to a total wacko, Maynard Henry. A cynical newspaperman, a male librarian connected to the elite and a town dr. sure that people are exhibiting signs of heart problems when none should exist. It kept sounding more and more like Gilmore Girls - a dark Gilmore Girls.

And then.. hidden on a stretch of swamp outside the town there is an odd government facility. A germ warfare facility that noone in town knows anything about.

So these are some of the players. I was waiting for all these players to meet up and explode. But, that didn't happen. Instead some of the players sort of fizzle out to nothing. Others flash and explode in unexpected ways. But, I still didn't really care.

And. then. the. book. just. ENDS....

So, I feel like I've slogged through all these pages, been engrossed and been bored and at the end it just stopped.

I hate books like that!!!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson and Relin

image from LibraryThing
Our April book club book.

What an amazing book! I don't think you can read this book and not be changed. I went right to the CAI website and bought 2 copies of the book to give to others to read, and because a donation is made to the CAI (Central Asian Institute).

Now let me tell you about the story. Greg Mortenson is a failed climber... He was attempting to climb K2 when he got separated from the other hikers and his porter. He was discovered after a cold and miserable night only to be separated a second time. This time he ended up in the village of Korphe. A tremendously remote and incredibly poor northern Pakistani village. As he wandered in he was made to feel so welcome. He was sheltered, fed and sent on the correct path, but not before making a vow to come back and help the building them a school.

So begins Greg's life. He is the child of missionaries in Africa - his dad helped begin a medical school and his mom a different school. But, Greg was a bit of a maverick - not really having a profession - trained as a nurse, but spending most of his time, energy and money climbing, preparing to climb or returning from mountain climbing.

Suddenly, he had a new purpose. He raised the money and returned to the village a year later ready to build the school...but Korphe really needed a bridge to cross the deep river first. And Greg learned his first lesson - listen to the people. Their most important need and his were not quite the same...This was followed by many other lessons - living in a Pakistani world as a Pakistani, not an American, wisdom comes from many different people - often those we don't expect and PATIENCE - with others and with ourselves.

These lessons have carried him across the ocean countless times - through the wilds of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congress. He founded an organization called the Central Asian Institute to build schools and women's centers in this remote and volitale part of the world. Through his hands on approach to the people both in Asia and here he has successfully built dozens of schools. He has educated girls in a male-dominated world. He has put a face on Muslims in Asia. He has become the voice of reason in the "War on Terror." His philosophy is that education breaks down barriers and leads to true peace. Education and relationship building is changing the world.

The book does not make Greg Mortenson out to be a saint. Rather it shows you his limitations alongside his incredible gifts - just like the rest of us. It makes you believe that each of us has the same potential. He is a reluctant hero...that makes him all the more endearing

Now - I read this and feel guilty for being stressed by the pressure of report cards and life in small town Iowa. But, that is missing the real meaning of htis book. This is an actual hero - and he is inviting us to change the world with him. By helping out this cause, we can be a part of the solution.

This is an amazing and empowering story!!!

I would recommend it with as many stars as there are to offer!1

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

image from LibraryThing

Oh my goodness!!

That's about all I can say about this book.

Our book club is reading Midwives or Double Bind for the March book and oh my goodness!

This is the story of Laurel, a young woman brutally attacked by two men while riding bike in Vermont. She graduates from college as a social worker and begins working at BEDS a homeless shelter/low rent housing facility in Burlington, Vermont, very close to the town of her attack. An older man, Bobbie, dies and in his things is a box of photographs of famous people, houses and a blurry young woman riding a bike on a road in Vermont.

So begins Laurel's quest to figure out who Bobbie was, why he ended up homeless and why in the world he had a picture of her...

I can't say more - because it is so fragily woven it would unravel in my retelling.

Suffice it to say I would strongly recommend this one. It's a typical Bohjalian - a little hard to read - a little wordy - a little plodding at parts - but so worth the end.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

image from LibraryThing
This is the kind of book that you need to pause and reread. It's a very short book and an easy read.
 But, there is so much to it.

On the surface it's a simple travel story about a simple young Spanish man who wants to travel instead of becoming a priest. He becomes a shepherd so that he may travel around the Spanish countryside and see what the world is. He is happy.

Then he has a dream of treasure, meets a gypsy fortune teller who asks him for 1/10th of the treasure he will find by the pyramids in Egypt, and an old man in a village who tells him of the Soul of the world and the quest for his Personal Journey.

Suddenly it is not enough to simply be a shepherd, instead he feels the challenge and the call of the unknown.

So, why does this mean anything to me? It's the idea of a personal journey. Something that we feel and understand when we are children and slowly give up as we grow older. That nudge that we feel toward a certain something...and then it gets buried deeply under the pieces of our life.

What have I buried? What would it take to seek it out again. That is what this book asks me. And as the young man travels and meets others and learns to listen to the sounds of the desert and the camels and the world and as he notices the omens in his path I wonder.

What have I failed to hear and notice?
What have I been afraid to notice?
Is it too late??

There was one story in particular that brought me up short. It is a story told about an old man who is assured one of his sons' words will be known for generations. One of his sons was a warrior and the other a poet. The father is thrilled to think his poet son will be remembered. Then at his death he is taken into the future and he sees his son's words. But, they are not the words of a poet, rather they are the words of a Centurion who believed that Jesus Christ could heal his servant with out even being there. The faith and the belief of this warrior son have lived on for thousands of years.

So I want to read again. I want to read it with a pencil in my hand, because I'm pretty sure it's right in front of me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trapped in Slickrock Canyon by Gloria Skurzynski

image from LibraryThing
This is another one I read to my students. This is a GREAT read aloud - filled with action and adventure.

Justin and Gina are first cousin who despise one another. There is so much cousin rivalary that they can hardly stand to be in the same place.

Justin grew up on a farm in Arizona working hard to earn everything he has. Gina grew up in Denver daughter of an orthepedic surgeon and a mom who decided to leave home to throw pots in San Franciso.

This story takes place in the canyon land of Arizona. Justin and Gina's Dads have gone rock climbing. When Gina's dad almomst falls everyone decided it's too hard for Gina to watch, so Justin unhappily leads her on a hike to see a rock petroglyph. As they near the rock carving they hear a buzz saw and discover two men stealing the carving. When Gina lets out a huge scream, the men discover them and the chase is on... Add to this quick sand, gun shots, a cloud burst and a flash flood and you have just the kind of book 4th graders love to hear.

This was a Iowa Children's Choice Book one of the first years I taught.... that was a long time ago!! But, my students have enjoyed it every time I've read it since.

Punished by David Lubar

image from LibraryThing

Another great read aloud!

This is the story of Logan. Logan and his friend are playing tag in the basement of the library when Logan gets stopped by a mysterious man... and punished.

Really he is PUNished. From that moment on everything that comes out of his mouth is a pun. It's fun at first. Then his life begins to fall apart. He gets in trouble at school, sent to the principal who luckily enjoys his puns. But, Logan wants this to stop.

He makes his way back to the library and finds the man again. That's when he begins his quest to break the curse. He has 3 days to find seven palindromes, seven anagrams and 7 oxymorons or he will be cursed with a life of puns.

My class was eager to find examples of puns, palindromes, anagrams and oxymorons. ( all words they didn't know before we started reading.) Lubar made this task fun!

We enjoyed this one too!

Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

image from LibraryThing
I've decided to add a few books that I've recently read aloud to my 4th graders. This is a new book in our library and was a fun and fast read....

The book takes place in a small seaside town in the northeast. Roxie is a meek and mild girl who lives through her uncle's adventure stories as he accompanies Lord Thistlebottom to the wilds and through many narrow escapes. She has poured over each of his books and memorized his many methods of escapes - always beginning with "Don't Panic."

Roxie's life is also filled with adventures - but of a nasty nature. She is ruthlessly harrassed by a gang of bullies she calls the hooligans. They have chosen this little girl due to her huge ears. Each day they pursue her and the escape gap gets narrower and narrower until one day...

Roxie is walking along the edge of a dumpster to get to an open window - the holligans are right behind her. And bing, bang, boom they all fall down...into the depths of garbage. At that moment, the dumpster man arrives to take the dumpster away - to a ship - to be dumped in the ocean.

So begins the real adventure. Roxie uses her wits and the wisdom of her uncle's books to keep herself and the hooligans alive on a small island - not deserted but inhabited by 2 bank robbers.

This book sounds English - and seemed a little hard to get into... but only at first. My 4th graders loved it!

it's got a great anti-bullying message - the harrassed girl saves the savages and they begin to understand one another!

We all loved it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Stone Cold by David Baldacci

image from LibraryThing

This is the third Camel Club book and they just get better!!!

I don't want to say too much - because nothing should be given away.

I will say that this picks up the story right after The Collectors.

Loose ends are tied up - new ravelings are discovered and teased open to leave gapping holes in the known past.

The Camel Club is important, but they are not the center of the story - instead Oliver and Annabelle are.

Oliver Stone/John Carr is amazing.

All I can say is BRAVO David Baldacci!!!

Read this one for sure - but not before you have read The Camel Club and The Collectors!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer

image from LibraryThing
The next book in the Artemis Fowl series. Artemis Fowl is an ultra rich genius 14 year old Irish boy who has discovered the world of fairies and how to communicate with them. In his early books he is a devious self-absorbed twit who only wants the fairy gold and knowledge that they hold. In the last book he began to evolve into a much more humane character. This book he is actually self-less...I like that - but I enjoyed the twit as well! :)

I have recommended these books to different 4th graders over the years - and a few have really seemed to enjoy them. The copy of Lost Colony I read was actually from one of my former 4th graders - he bought it and knew I would enjoy it - so he loaned it to me!! Thank you Jackson!! I did enjoy it! :)

This installment introduces two new characters - demons and Minerva. Neither the demons or the girl are what we expect. The demons are much easier for Artemis to deal with than Minerva - the cute 12 year old genius who crosses his path. It turns out the the demons were expelled from the world 10,000 years ago after the battle between people and fairies. Demons are actually a type of fairy and they were sent into limbo land via a time spell. But, that spell is unraveling and both Artemis and Minerva are racing to intercept these reappearing demons for very different reasons.

In a typical Fowl display of technology and logic the demon entry is planned perfectly, but intercepted by Minerva rather than Artemis. The Fowl followers including Holly Short (Fairy recon spy) follow the captives - recapture - are double crossed - end up in limbo and help to save the land of the demons.

The story ends with a mature Artemis reflecting in a very un-selfish way! And with a huge foreshadowing for the next book!

I enjoyed this - the description of fairy technology is always intriguing and amazing. Colfer draws the new characters with as much personality as the ones we already know. Who would imagine a demon caring about others???

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

image from LibraryThing

This was a really fun read! Bryson's writing is witty and laugh out loud funny. This is the rather exaggerated story of his growing up years - in Des Moines - in the 50s. He believes he has come to this planet to save it from morons as the Thunderbolt Kid... able to reduce imbeciles to a pile of smoldering ashes by his amazing glance.

The book weaves Bryson's life into the tale of the long forgotten Des Moines of the 50s - sharing the history and good will of the times with the deep ironies that it was. What other decade had such awful toys, such a joy of blowing things up yet had the year voted cheerfulest year (1957)???

He doesn't necessarily long for the good old days, rather he seems to understand that he was privileged to be a part of something that could never happen again. The granduer of old movie houses, the innocence of a unracist school and growing up amid scores and hordes of kids - all out doors without an adult in the vicinity!

Bryson doesn't sentamentalize the 50s as much as he just shares the good and the bad.

His closing chapter - looking back at why society has felt the need to destroy the old rather than revitalizing and connecting it with the possibilities of the new is a point to ponder.

This is the second Bryson book I've read - A Walk in the Woods - is his hilarious story of hiking the Appalachian Trail!

On a side note - the guys dad grew up in Winfield!!! Small world???

This gets a hearty recommendation!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

image from LibraryThing

I seem to be in a bit of a rut..books that I can't seem to get into. This was much more than that though. I just could not have cared less about these characters, nothing redeemed them.

The book follows 3 main characters around NYC for three months before 9/11 and another month after. Good premise, but...

Danielle is a documentary film maker loving her independence from her Indiana mom, Julius is a Vietnamese gay man from Michigan bent on living the good life and making waves in NYC without actually working, and Marina is the spoiled pampered daughter of a famous journalist known for his cutting edge truth, caught in his shadow and only sort of trying the shed it.

Sounds like a good beginning, but...

Danielle gets involved with Marina's dad (YUCK!) Yes, it' her best friend and he has been her father figure! Julius finally falls in love with the Down Jones workaholic Dave and ignores the other two - then decides that a 1 man relationship is too 1950s for him. Marina has been working on a stupid book about Children's fashion for 10 years and when she falls for Seely, a slimy, Australian who hates everybody and everything, but mostly Marina's father - she finally finishes it to her father and friends horror.

The title of this book comes from Marina's book. "The Emperor's Children have no Clothes" The book is supposed to trace human history through the way we dress our children.

The only character that seemed to have some potential was Bootie, Marina's 1st cousin. He comes to NYC to be near the famous Murray Thwaite (Marina's father) because he believes that Murray is an honest and thought provoking man after Emerson's ideal. What he finds is that behind the facade there is only an ordinary man. So, Bootie writes an article to uncover the facade. Even this could have been redeeming - but Bootie's reaction to 9/11 took away any redeeming qualities lurking in his story. Anyway - There isn't a character you like or root for - not really.

Instead I just kept reading to see what miserable lives these pretty people have. They are so busy making sure that they have no illusions, no pretend, sentimental beliefs that they are really nothing but a flat surface - reflecting what they think others want to see.

It did make the book mildly interesting to have been in NYC this past summer. I had seen many of the areas they talked about.

But - I would NOT recommend this book. That makes me very sad!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix

image from LibraryThing
This is the second book club book for February.

I didn't like this as well as Stuck in Neutral mostly because it wasn't as adult appealing. It was much more predictable. But, I think it would really appeal to kids. I think I will recommend it to my 4th graders. It's not nearly as scary as Neutral.

The story is told from two 10-yr-old girls' perspectives.

Anya is the quiet, shy girl who suddenly began loosing her hair. It was pretty much all gone my Christmas. With the loss of her hair she also looses who she is. She refuses to look in the mirror. She wants/hopes to fade into the walls of her classroom and simply fade away.

The second side is Keely's. Keely is the minion of powerful and nasty Stef. But, she has a tender side. When Stef notices Anya's wig after Christmas vacation and wants to make sure it's a wig by getting Keely to tug on it...Keely stands up to her and tells her to stop.

But - the wig seems to have a mind of it's own - and in the midst of gym class it comes off and all the 4th graders see what Anya really looks like.

As Anya is revealed - so is Keely. Because it's Keely who attempts to connect with Anya and offer some sort of a solution.

Maybe it's because I teach 4th grade - but the adults in the story including the teacher didn't act like the adults I know. Instead, they sort of stood around wringing their hands and crying. It was Keely who went online and did research and it was Keely who crossed the divide and went to Anya's house with an idea...

Anyway- these two books will make for great conversation at book club. Each presents a child in need and very different ways of helping/solving that....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

This is one of two books for our February book club.

image from LibraryThing
It doesn't take long to read the book - but it takes a long time to get the story out of your mind. It's one that will haunt me.

The story is about Shawn McDaniel, told by Shawn. He is a 15-year-old trapped in a body which obeys no one. Shawn was born with cerebral palsy - an extreme form that has affected his brain stem. That means he can not control any voluntary movement in his body. Only involuntary reflexes like swallowing and breathing function. His IQ comes out about 1.3 - that's about a month old baby.

But, there is a dastardly twist. Shawn can remember absolutely everything he hears - forever. He thinks he may be a genius. But, no one will ever know because he can't control his body enough to share that gem.

Add to this a father who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a poem about Shawn. His famous father seems on the brink of a monumental decision... is Shawn's life so painful that the merciful thing to do is to end it. Is that what a loving father would do?

There is the book - a simple enough tale.
But what do we think? At one point Shawn's father asks an audience member on a TV talk show..."Have you ever told someone to pull the plug if you are brain dead following an accident?" With that the audience is silenced - and Shawn and I that what his life is?

What would we do? How do we know what is happening inside a person's head when their body does not allow us to know? And how would a father show his love?

And that is why this short youth fiction book haunts me...and will probably haunt you to!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

image from LibraryThing

This is a story in a story in a story. Margret Lea is a meek and mild bookseller's daughter, a biographer of obscure and long dead ordinary people. Then a letter arrives inviting her to write the biography of one of the best loved and well-known authors in England.

Margret takes a trip to meet Vida Winter - an eccentric old woman with cranberry red hair, emerald green eyes and a quick wit. At the first interview Margret began to wonder - was this woman really telling the truth?? She left with 3 facts she was to check - if they were true she would begin the biography.

But, Margret was hooked long before the facts were proven. Vida could weave a tale - the country hung on each of her books. This was the woman who wrote a book called Thirteen Tales  and then only included 12. The entire country waited for the 13th tale.
But,  Margret had never read a one of her books or really cared about her...until she actually met Vida.

Now she is staying in Vida's house, hearing an odd atonal music, dreaming of her missing twin as she listens to the odd and twisted tale of the Angelfield twins. The deeper Margret is immersed in the tale the murkier the truth and reality become.

And then...everything shifts -all reality is viewed through a new lens and Vida becomes something else all together.

I was not hooked until 1/2 way through this book. I enjoyed it -but I didn't really care. I couldn't feel much for Vida or Margret. But as Vida's story rolled out and the big secret came - I couldn't put it down! This is one of those that surprises you. I thought I knew what was going on..but. NO!

A great winter read!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

image from LibraryThing

This is one of those books that works it's way into your mind and lodges there. As I go through my own easy life I think of Jeannette and her brother and sisters. Their world seems impossible - completely impossible.

Heather recommended this book and I would recommend it too! It's wonderful!!!

At the same time that I was shelling peas and listening to the Watergate coverage on TV, she was a 13 year old working in a jewelry store earning the money to feed her, her father and brother. She had already lived through cross country trips, starvation, and more than one near fatal accident. Her family had started out in the dusty gold mining towns of the south west, moved to Phoenix and finally dead-ended in Welch, West Virginia. Each move came a moment before the law and their bad credit caught up to them. Jeannette's dad was a drunk, a dreamer and an extremely intelligent man. Mom was an artist - a painter and a writer, who didn't feel that the family was her responsibility.

Jeanette was the second - Lori, an artist and Brian a scrawny fellow a couple years younger than Jeannette. Maureen came along several years later and was more of a pet than one of the sufferers. The Walls family was always the poorest, dirtiest, hungriest and scrappiest of any one else in the neighborhood. But, they were also the smartest - each child reading constantly and continually.

Dad and Jeannette had a special connection. Even as Jeannette became old enough to understand what a hopeless schemer he was, she still loved him deeply and wanted so much for his tales to be true.

One year when it was clear there was no money at all for Christmas gifts - Rex Walls took the three oldest kids outside one at a time and spun them a yarn about the no one owned them, they were the first to discover the importance of this amazing real estate. So, he gave each of the kids their own star for Christmas. He told them the stories of the names of the stars and the constellations they were a part of. This was the dichotomy of Jeannette's life... no food, no shelter, but more knowledge than most around.

As the three kids grew they knew that their only chance at a better life is to get away from their hovel and their parents. New York beckoned.

This story reminds me of Barbara Robinette Moss's book - Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. But, her story is about the hatred in a dysfunctional family. Jeannette's mom and dad made bad choices, but they truly loved their children.

These kinds of stories always make me wonder.... what makes a person break the pattern of this kind of a life? Rex Walls was the child of alcoholics and joined their life - but his children did not. How did they find the courage and the drive? Why do so many others fail???