Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I have very mixed feelings about this one. I was really looking forward to reading this and wanted it to be the first "I JUST LOVED IT" book of my vacation reading....
it just wasn't.

The book is engaging and exciting. But there are so many holes. More than once I felt like I was watching a bad horror movie and yelling at the TV - Don't go in there!!!

Robert Langdon, the main character from Angels and Demons and DaVinci Code, is back. The book opens as he is flying to Washington DC to give a speech for his good friend Peter Solomon. When he arrives at the Capitol Rotunda - there is no speech and no Peter...instead he finds a severed hand, and the head of the CIA. And the book is off and running.

I am usually a reader who just takes the story as it comes. I am not overly critical and completely believe that every book has potential. But, this one really annoyed me. Langdon takes all his cues from cell phone messages from Peter's assistant...never Peter. The CIA director is completely alienating him because national security is at stake, but she is on Langdon's side. And Peter's sister, the brilliant mind scientist, can't seem to remember to use her mind in any situation. There is lots of tight places perfect for Langdon's claustrophobia - which he controls beautifully.

And then there is a mysterious villian who is tattooed from head to toe in blue. Every part of him - except the very top of his head...he is waiting to find the lost word which will open all knowledge to him after he tattoos it there - and he will do that himself after killing and maiming and kidnapping and all other bad stuff.

But, the most disappointing thing about the book is the end, after the end. The basic story is a search for ancient mysteries and knowledge hidden somewhere in Washington DC and guarded by the Masons. Langdon doesn't believe there are actual physical mysteries - but more symbolic. He is wrong...or that's what Brown wants you to think.

So the story basically ends - all is well
...and the book goes on.
I've really liked this technique in some stories. It grounds the characters in a reality when you get to see who they are after the excitement of the event. This isn't that sort of action. INstead this is 20 + pages of preaching and explaining and rambling that were totally not necessary.

So...would I recommend this?

I would.

It is exciting and filled with amazing wonders of our fore fathers and Washington DC.
But, it is way to preachy and too safe. Brown takes no chances here. The threat to national security is more like a threat to national reputation and the bad guy may be horrible to look at but lacks the horror of the albino monk.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Testimony by Anita Shreve

I really didn't like this one either...I'm sort of on a roll here! And not a happy one!

This is the story of a horrible sex scandal at a small private Vermont school. The events were videotaped, posted on the internet and handed over to the headmaster. And lives are forever changed - three marriages destroyed, high school prospects evaporated and a life ended.

As one of the characters described...this is a story of doors. As the characters proceed from door to door - opening one after the other - there is no going back.

But, Shreve tells this story through 20 different narrators and not in chronological order. The opening chapter is the moment the headmaster watches the tape...from there it travels ahead two years to a researcher interviewing the main characters. The tale moves back and forth through time and through voices until the final chapters tie all the loose ends together.

>the plot is incredibly depressing - especially if you are the parent of a teenager, work with teenagers or have any connection whatsoever with teenagers. these are the supposedly good kids in the school
>the story ignores conventions of narrator and time

There are redeeming moments...through out the entire book you read about a researcher seeking information about the events. The researcher is never identified. Just like the person holding the video camera is never revealed. Instead these two pay silent testimony to the events that unfolded around them - knowing all the sides, hearing all the secret details and sharing nothing. I sort of liked that.

There is also a sweet love story between two of the main characters - Silas and Noelle. It is innocent in a way that is in stark contrast to the events that open the tale. Silas is clearly two different people and it is only in the very end that you find out exactly why...why he cracked and why he opened a door that Noelle could not go through. That is really the only why that the reader discovers though.

The story is also about all the sides of a scandal. You hear from the main characters but you also hear from the fringe players - those who floated on the edges and reacted to the events. There were so many moments when the course of the event could have been changed - so many people who could have made a difference. But, when you hear their voices you realize the inevitability of this event.

Weighing the pros and the cons...

I wouldn't recommend it very strongly. It sort of reminds me of John Green's Saving Alaska. But much darker and more depressing - hearing from the adults somehow makes it even sadder!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult

I must be done with grad classes - because this is the second book I've finished this week! Yippee!!!

I have broken one of my most steadfast rules - I had three books going at one time.
I NEVER do that!
But - none of the books held me in such a tight grip that I couldn't put them down. Instead, I kept picking up alternatives and hoping...

I am sorry to say this was one of the three. I sort of feel that Jodi has let me down. Either that - or I've read enough of hers that they are predictable.

This is the story of a broken family - Jane is married to the amazing marine biologist - Oliver Jones - eminent scholar on humpback whales. They have one 15 year old daughter Rebecca.

The story opens with Jane commiting the sin of all sins - she slaps Oliver in the heat of the moment - and takes off in her station wagon with Rebecca. This has been brewing for their entire marriage. In fact, she left Oliver once before and fled to her parents in the East. Oliver threatened to take away Rebecca - so Jane sent her back on an airplane - that crashed - in Iowa - What Cheer, IA. Rebecca was one of a few survivors.

Sounds intriguing doesn't it - I mean What Cheer, IA!!!

Now the part of this that I really didn't like...the story is told in many voices.
I usually like adds depth and interest.
But Rebecca's story is told backwards. So the first chapter in Rebecca'a voice - is actually the last thing that happens. So you know of a horrific event from the very beginning... I HATED THAT!

Part of reading a book is anticipating - building up the plot to a culminating event. This does that - but it is such a let down after the awful event that Rebecca tells.

Not only that - but I really hate the ending. It is all wrong. It defeats the entire story. It just plain makes me mad!!!

So - I became very engrossed in the story. It has all the earmarks of Picoult's amazing story telling skills. But - I really didn't like the book.

Really didn't like the book.

Shucks!! That's not the way my vacation is supposed to go!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I'm not sure this is the best book to break my reading haitus.
I wanted to like it.
I wanted to love it.
I wanted to see the beauty and the elegance in this.
But, instead it felt as prickly as a porcupine - not a hedgehog.

The story takes place in Paris. Renee is the dumpy, invisible conceierge in an upscale apartment building. She is also a closet snob and incredibly intelligent. Her whole theory is that she grew up as a poor, ugly woman and that is what she will matter what.

The other member in the house is Paloma - a 12 year old who has decided to commit suicide before 13. She believes that the world is a sad and unhopeful place one that she doesn't want to experience as an adult. But, she is also a very intelligent girl who decides to look for hope jsut to mae very sure that she is making the right decision.

The story follows these two women through a period of time. Then a new tenant moves in - Mr. Ozu a Japanese gentleman. Life in the building changes and the circles of these two intersect with Mr. Ozu.

The basic story is appealing and interesting - but there is so much other narrative about art and beauty and intelligence and blah blah blah...clearly I am not a part of the intelligent society.

So - I found myself skimming and scooting hoping for the story to open up and draw me in. Instead I just kept plodding along until it ended. I wanted to like it. I wanted to be in the know...but I've decided this proves that I am really not in the know!

Oh well!!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You may have noticed..

So - you may have noticed that my postings have become almost none existent in the past year. I am in the midst of a grad program in Library Science - that means toms of reading for class and I just haven't had the time to do my own reading...

But - the end is in sight! I finish in May.

So - stay tuned! :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

I'm finally back to reading for felt really good. This was a great book to get me back to reading!! It was the October entry for the KE book club, Booker Babes. The club is meeting tonight... as you can see I'm not a part of it. It's just really hard for me to follow their schedule...

Back to the story.
First of all - this is a work of fiction...but the way the Indians are handled is not a fiction.

May Dodd was the first wave of a group of white women to be given to the Cheyenne tribes to bear children who would be welcome in the white world. May had been sent to an insane asylum due to her love of a man below her means, her life in sin with him, and her families overwhelming disapproval.

When a government agent arrived at the asylum to invite her to join this experiment...she didn't even hesitate.

Thus began her next life. A life that she could not even imagine. Her train ride across the plains, her love encounter with an army officer, and her subsequent marriage to the chief of a Cheyenne tribe called Little Wolf.

The book is told in a series of journal entries tracing May's life across the west. You can easily fall in to the story Fergus weaves, questioning if it is real or if it is fake.

This was a great read...a 1:00 am read!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Katniss lives in a world of the future.
...a world where the United States is no more.
...a world where each region is forced to send two of their children to the capital to take part in the Hunger Games
...a world that watches the Hunger Games each year
...a world that thinks children fighting to the death is some type of entertainment
...a world I hope to NOT be a part of

Katniss is changing that world without even knowing it. When she accepted her younger sister's place in the Hunger Games nothing will ever be the same.

This is a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The brutality and the desperation are perfectly balanced with Katniss and her vow to all costs.

Read it!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fire by Cashore

Graceling by Cashore

I've kept myself away from fantasy for the entire summer and this was an amazing one to wait on. I devoured this!!

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo, a 17-yr-old, high school senior who is also on the Autistic spectrum. Marcelo is fixated on two things...religion and his IM (inner music) – his own brand of inner noise.

Marcelo is anticipating his final year at Paterson - a school for disabled kids – and his job in the stable. Dad has other ideas he wants him to work at his law firm to get a taste of the real world. Dad makes a deal with Marcelo – if he follows the rules for the summer he will allow Marcelo to decide where he attends his final year of high school. Marcelo becomes a mailroom worker with Jasmine. She is open and honest and doesn’t really want him there. But, a friendship develops. Each gives the other a listening ear without judgements attached.

The law firm is defending a windshield manufacturer for negligence. The windshield is supposed to splinter and break instead it breaks in big pieces and kills and maims people. Marcelo and Jasmine discover a photograph of a girl who lived through the horror. Now, Marcelo must decide what to do – get in touch with the lawyer for the girl and share that the company knew about the problem, or stand by his dad…

It's a story of a young man entering the bigger world and figuring out what it means to stand.

This is an excellent book for anyone who has worked with kids on the spectrum. It really provides an insight into what their world is like. How scary, how exciting and how different their view is from what we accept as our reality.

I loved this!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is amazing! This is another book that has you on edge the entire time.

You enter the world of a Lia - a girl slowly starving herself to death. You hear her inner battle - the belief that hunger is strength. The desire to eat and the decision to stay strong. The understanding that driving requires some calories - but there is always a price to pay.

Lia is a senior who finds out that her ex-best friend, Cassie, has just died. Cassie was found alone in a motel room. Cassie had purged herself to death. She was bulemic and the wear and tear of her disease eventually killed her.

She died alone...
She called Lia over and over...
Lia ignored the calls...
Cassie is dead...

Anderson has a way of weaving a story in bits and pieces and before you know it you are embedded in the tale.

As I read this I kept debating if I really liked Lia. She had so many positives in her life, so many moments when others tried to reach out to her. But, she kept giving in to her own demons...until...

Lia's little step sister loves her, idolizes her and Lia becomes a different person with Emma. But, she crosses the line and Emma witnesses her downfall.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I want to speak after I read this - I want to tell everyone I can to read this story. To read this story and then to listen very closely for the silence of those teenagers in your life. That is sometimes the only way they can really communicate!

Mel begins freshman year as an outcast by choice. As the world moves forward Mel is stuck – the words are stuck in her throat, her forward motion is stuck, her life is stuck. But, you the reader, don't really know why she is stuck... there are clues. But it's late in the book that Mel actually tells what happened that night at the party before school started.

Mel is ostracized for calling the cops on a party – when she was actually reporting something very different that underage drinking. How do you fit in after that? How do you get to the point where you even want to fit in? That is what Mel explores through this yearlong journey.

I don't want to say too much...I don't want to give anything more away. But, this is a heartbreaking story of a girl who just doesn't know how to move on. And then a teacher, not a cardboard cut-out adult, but a flesh and blood teacher, starts to break through Mel's shell.

Read it!!

Chanda's Secrets and Chanda's Wars by Allan Stratton

Chanda is a spirited teenager growing up poor in a small city in a fictional African country. She is very smart and loyal to her mother and her family.

The story opens with Chanda buying the coffin for her 1½ year old sister. Chanda’s good friend Esther no longer attends school, but earns a living doing odd jobs for tourists (hooking). It is only after a horrible attack and rape that Esther admits that this is the only way to earn money to buy back her siblings following her parents’ deaths. Then mama becomes sick. She leaves the family to go to her ancestral home. Chanda goes seeking her and finds her almost dead in an old cattle shed. As Chanda brings her mama home the neighborhood is faced with a dilemma. They all know it’s AIDS, but no one can voice that. Chanda is tired of the secrets, calls it what it is and celebrates her mother’s life.

There are more secrets for Chanda to keep or share, but through this she grows from a young girl to a young woman.

Chanda's Wars picks up right where the first book stopped.

Chanda again attempts to save her family – this time from an evil rebel leader who steals children, brands and brainwashes them to fight in his army while he kills families and loots villages. When Soly and Iris are stolen Chanda tracks the group cross country with Nelson’s (the boy her family wanted her to marry) reluctant help. Using a bees’ nest, a slingshot and the cover of darkness, they create enough confusion to rescue Soly, Iris and Nelson’s brother Paka, maim General Mandiki, and escape into the bush.

This story deals with the awful realities the children in Africa must face as they are thrown into the midst of civil wars. When Soly and Iris are taken, General Mandiki tells them that to return to their family would be certain death for them and their loved ones. He brands them with a hot iron on their chests and tells them that noone will trust them if they see his brand.

Parts of this story reminded me so much of A long Way Gone. It is a reality that I hope we never have to experience!!

Looking for Alaska by John Green

This is one of those angst filled high school books that I love! There are quirky characters, cardboard adult figures, and amazing pranks.

All sounds rosy at Culver Creek boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama. But...
(can't you almost hear the da da da daaaaa music)

Miles Halter decides his life as a nothing high school student just isn't enough - so he transfers as a junior from Florida to Alabama. He is roommates with Chip aka the Colonel. And the third leg of the friendship triangle is Alaska. An odd duck of a girl that every boy is in love with, every girl wants to be her friend, and she is driven by unspoken demons that rear their head when she is mighty drunk.

This threesome studies, dreams, smokes and plans pranks together.

Then tragedy... (there is that music again)
You knew there would be tragedy - that's how all these books work.

But, the book doesn't end with the tragedy -rather it divides the book into before and after. The chapters in the first half of the book are all the number of days before and the last half are the number of days after.

I really can't say much more... I don't want to give anything away. But, I really enjoyed this...

I will tell you there is an ongoing theme of trying to find your way out of the labyrinth - you can decide what it is that keeps you stuck inside the labyrinth. For Alaska it's suffering. For Miles it's invisibility. For Colonel -not sure...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos

This the first biography I've read in a long time. It's the second book for my YA lit class that we are reading together.

Jack has the writing bug – but can’t seem to figure out how to go about writing. Instead he floats through life making questionable choices, but not actually getting into much trouble until he meets Rik. Rik offers him the opportunity of his life – serve as second mate on a sailboat smuggling hash to NYC from St. Croix and earn $10,000. It seems like an easy way to make the money he needs to get into college – so Jack agrees.

The mission is doomed from the beginning, with storms, a broken sextant and a crazy skipper. But, Jack is hopeful. They arrive in NYC and aren’t caught until most of the hash is sold. Though Jack was not directly involved with the sale of drugs, he was an accomplice and put into prison.

Here his life begins to change. For the first time – he actually has something to write about. He uses the Brothers Karamazov as a journal and writes himself into a better frame of mind as he works in the prison hospital as an X-ray tech. After 15 months he is released.

The book is graphic in it's description of prison life and exploits. It is also very free in the details about doing drugs. I wanted to like Jack - but I really didn't care about him very much. So, if this was meant to be a cautionary tale about drug use - it was lost on me!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

This is the first book for my YA Lit class. It was an interesting one to start with. I had read other Hinton books, but not this one.

Hinton does a great job of pulling you in to a gang of boys who look, from the outside, as if they have nothing going for them. Yet watching the events play out from inside - through Ponyboy's eyes - you have a completely different sense.

The story is told by a 14 year old on the edge of the gang, the school, the family. His is the textbook definition of an outsider from so many different angles. Yet, he also belongs to many different groups. He describes himself as a person who sees the sunset. His friend Johnny calls him Gold after Ponyboy recites a Robert Frost poem. Let's see - how may other 'greasers' would be able to recite poetry? How many non-greasers would be able to recite poetry?

I found the story sad, yet in a very detached way. Maybe it's because I am so many decades away from 14 - or maybe because this was an assigned book, but I wasn't able to sympathize the way I usually do. Instead, I could respect Ponyboy and the rest of the gang's perspective.

But, my motherly side wanted to shout at them and shake them and remind them that 'rumbling' will not make the problem go away, it only exacerbates it if they beat the Socs. So - for a pack of unmothered young men - they make some lousy decisions and come to some amazing ahha moments.

My favorite part is that it doesn't end at any event - instead it ends as it begins..."I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I starting reading this book with no preconcieved wasn't until after I finished that I read the reviews and the connections to Laura Bush. I even missed the disclaimer in the first page. I'm not slow or anything - I realized who the story was about - but I didn't understand that this was REALLY about Laura.

I have never been a fan of George Bush - not his politics or his demeanor. But, I believed that there must be more to him than we saw...because I really like Laura. She seemed to have it all. She was a librarian after all!! So he couldn't be all bad...he just couldn't be.

Then I read this book.

Now - I don't know.

I really liked the first sections. I liked the story. I felt for the difficulties of Alice's life. I appreciated her craving for quiet and peace. I also respected her choice of Charlie. He was what she wasn't. All that was easy and free in him was contained and uncomfortable in her. They were a perfect compliment.

But things changed. It is sort of like the picture on the cover. What a horrible choice for a cover photo. Alice is unpretentious and almost plain - and here is this headless torso in lace and gloves. Her wedding dress was described by her mother-in-law as peasanty. Clearly this isn't that Alice. Instead it's what she morphs into later...

That brings us to the last section - which I did not like at all. It felt like a big sloppy justification. The long monologues about why things were the way they were just annoyed me. It was as if Alice had forgotten things she had said her feeling that Charlie explaining that he wanted his life to matter showed that it might not matter. Now Alice was caught in that same cycle.

I wanted to shake Alice and're his wife - why don't you talk to him??? How can you let him be such a jerk! How can you think that it's endearing??? How can you forget who you are?

This book made me not like Laura as much.

This story annoyed me like so many other "based on facts" stories do...I constantly wondered which details of Laura's life match Alice's and I'm not sure if I really want to know. I would rather watch her from afar. And keep liking her and disliking her husband. After all, my Fellowship in the library program is courtesy of Laura.

So - what's the bottom line? As a novel, I found the first sections interesting and endearing. I found the last section annoying - and I found myself skimming to find the thread of the story again.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Percy Jackson and the Olympiads; Books 4 & 5

I just finished the last two books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympiads series. These are stories filled with Kronos the father of the gods is reconstituted with the help of Luke the traitor, Percy and Annabeth must battle first in a shifting labyrinth and later in the Empire State Building to save the known w

I liked these - but they were actually a bit more predictable than the earlier books. They were more driven by the action of battle than by the characters inside.

There were some interesting scenes though...
Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the odd mortal girl who can see through the mist.
Nico, the son of Hades, calling up a skeleton army and playing catch with a
hell hound
Annabeth and Percy finding the center of the labyrinth to be a modern day
labratory rather than an ancient dungeon

But, I think my favorite part is when Percy is chatting with Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. She is reminding him of the reasons people protect hearth and home. It was in that scene the Percy seems to grow up - to realize that this battle is real and he needs to focus on what is at stake.

Anyway - these are fun books filled with monsters, myths and lots of fighting! So - I of course loved them!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Percy Jackson and the Olympiads; Books 1 - 3

It's time for me to start reading for my next life...Middle school and High school library!

At the last of my classes I asked current librarians for some suggestions to get me started. This is one series they suggested. There are 5 books in the series and I've read the first 3 and really enjoyed them.

The story is about Percy Jackson, a typical ADD kid with dyslexia who seems to have a special talent for getting thrown out of schools. In the Lightening Thief he discovers who he really is. In an odd fight at the Museum of Natural History in NYC he kills his math teacher, who has turned into some kind of a flying bird/woman, with a pen his English teacher gives him. The pen magically turns into a sword that he somehow knows how to use.

After this incident he is whisked away to a summer camp like none other. It is the camp for the children of the gods. Each child has one parent who is Greek god from Mt. Olympiad. Some the kids haven't been claimed, like Percy. But during a to the death capture the flag, Neptune, the god of the sea, claims Percy.

Each of the next books takes Percy on some type of life threatening quest. It seems there is some prophecy that one of the children of the 3 most major gods, Zeus, Neptune and the god of the dead, will make a decision on their 16th birthday which will be the downfall of Mt. Olympus and the gods. Percy is thought to be that child. So the Titans, those who controlled the world before the gods, want to get him on their side and work to overthrow the current rulers.

So, if you are interested in Greek mythology and adventure - this is a great series. I really don't know much about mythology. I've read bits and pieces of the stories, but these books make them come to life. All the stories are interrelated and depend on one another. It sort of reminds me of the dirty laundry that is aired on Desperate Housewives - who is involved with whom and all the damage and the problems that happen because of that.

Even Percy's life. The big 3 gods had taken a vow after WWII not to have anymore children with mortals. But, each of them does. (It was their quarreling and their children's power hungry ways that started WWII.)

I have really enjoyed these and look forward to finishing the series soon!

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

This is a depressing book and one that I really didn't want to read, and couldn't really stop.

The story flows from the everyday life of Ishmael in Sierra Leone. He is a young boy infatuated with rap music and the 'gangsta' world of hip hop. Then his childhood ends as the rebels take over the village where he lives. He is separated from his parents and all he knew ended.

I couldn't help but wonder how the children in my life would react. We live in a world of conveniences and ease. Ishmael lived in a world of story and family and love and hard work. As the story began he and his friends were walking 16 miles to a larger town to take part in a talent show. They never made it back to the home they left.

IC is 16 miles I read I imagined children raoming the countryside between here and IC. Wandering around starved and searching for family and food. And finding only death.

The story is told in Ishmael's 10 year old voice. Through the yearnings to belong and be something. It is a told as a story - moving through a shady timeline. Weaving through the images and the happenings of the next several months. And they are awful...he must constantly kep away from the rebels and slowly make his way to the army. Yet that doesn't solve things either...

So, I kept reading - through the blood shed and the heartache. Knowing there must be a redemption...I found one. Ishmael was rescued. Against his better wishes he was sent away from the army into the arms of aid workers. These workers helped to rehabilitate him and reunite him with his uncle.

So - you breathe a sigh of relief. You relax. But, just like any horror movie, it isn't really over. The war finds them in the capital of Sierra Leone - his uncle dies and Ishmael just escape again.

I finished the book, I am glad I read it. And I understand why the images were necessary. But, that doesn't make me like what I read.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Wow! This is one of those books that begs you to not stop reading. I read late into the night and then stopped. I wanted to savor the last couple hundred pages. I was not disappointed!

This is a story of a mother and the decisions that she must make in an impossible time. Anna is the privileged German daughter of a wealthy and horrible man. She falls desperately in love with a Jewish doctor at the start of WWII. When the SS come to get Max she hides him in her home. It is here that she conceives her daughter.

Her father turns Max in and he is taken to Buchenwald, the camp near the town of Weimar where they live. Anna leaves her father's home and end up at the bakery run by a large woman with sympathies toward the Jews.

So, the next phase of Anna's life begins. After the birth of Trudy, she becomes the baker's apprentice. This continues until the baker make a fateful decision and Anna is left alone with Trudy. As she waits for her fate, a tall man with pale eyes and very small feet appears at the door. He is the head of the camp and he wants Anna for his mistress. Her or death.

The decisions made in the next several years never really leave Anna. The story moves between a modern day Trudy, searching for ways to deal with her silent elderly mother and the lives they lived through the war.

Trudy grows up knowing nothing of her history but for a small picture of her and her mother and a Nazi officer hidden in the depths of her mothers dresser drawers. Her mother refuses to say anything about their lives before being saved by Jack, the tall American.

It is through a research study on the lives of Germans during the war, that Trudy meets a man who knew her mother.

This is one of those stories that is filled with unanswered questions...why... what would I have done... is it survival worth it...

It reminds me of the Commadant's Girl and the Diplomat's Wife. Yet, it has it's own place. It is not the story of those living through the atrocities, but how those decisions continue to change the lives of the next generation. The war has ended, but the shame and the pain and the secrets continue.

I would strongly recommend this story!!! It would be another good discussion starter!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

An Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish

I feel like I've very unelegantly slogged through those snows from the title. The premise of this book is wonderful...eight women have been gathering at different houses to connect with one another's lives. Then following a late night session when Sandy, a 40 year old admits that she is pregnant with her lover's baby, the group decides to start walking.

And that they do... they walk out the front door and into the media frenzy that centers on them.

But, because they are in rural Wisconsin, the police and the people respect their need for privacy and keep the media hounds and the curious and the nosy and the deranged away from them and allow them to walk... just to walk. Their identities are never revealed, they are never interviewed or photographed. They simply walk.

Sounds good doesn't it! As they walk they tell their stories, they cry and they laugh and they love and they heal and they gather the strength to change their lives. To face the past and to take a new step.

As the story of the walk unfolds there are the stories of the walkers told in their own voice. It makes you understand why it is they are on the walk. There are also snippets of those sent to watch the walkers, reporters, and police. And there are tales of women who gain the courage to change their lives due to the imagined courage of the walkers.

This is the kind of book I really like. I even wrote down a quote...
"But I have learned in these days to stop lingering on what could have been and to simply to head to what I need now." It totally spoke to me...

BUT I HATE THIS BOOK! The writing is awful. I kept slogging and slogging through needless description, ridiculuos personal preaching, political blahing and cliche after cliche. Radish is a columnist - she must have an amazing editor - because this book was just crying out for a red pen.

I never react this way.. The story was so good - but there is no way I can recommend this because it's just too painful to try to read....


Friday, March 6, 2009

Song Without Words by Ann Packer

I really like Ann Packer, but there are moments that I really hate Ann Packer. She has a way of peeling back the covers we use to hide what we really are and her characters stand exposed in front of the world. It's not a pretty site, and it's absolutely beautiful!

Sarabeth and Liz grow up intertwined: best friends, neighbors, survivors. Sarabeth's mom commits suicide while Sarabeth is in high school. She moves in with Liz and her family when her dad flees the life he is left with.

Then the story speeds up to today...Sarabeth and Liz still live tangled lives. Liz is the responsible stay-at-home mom of two teens and Sarabeth has a series of 1/2 jobs and barely gets by on her bohemian lifestyle.

But - then things change...Lauren (Liz's daughter) attempts suicide...and life falls apart of one and all. Liz, who has always been the one on top, the one with it all together, the one who doesn't stumble has had her life shredded into tiny unfamiliar pieces. And she falls flat on her face.

So, Sarabeth, who's life has been a train wreck should be there to help her best friend...but she can't be. She is frozen in the hell of her own life. Hiding in a living room filled with tiny items scavenged from each relationship she has been a part of.

This isn't one of those books that is easy and fast and a true escape. No way..instead it's hard and uncomfortable and moves in spurts and stutters and is rather ugly for much of the time and then without anyone really noticing, it's better. It's life.

I waited and waited for the title to make sense.. Sarabeth comments a couple of time about the song she hears in her head. Near the end we find out that hearing the song is fine - it's when you start to hear the words that are in the song...that's when you need to be afraid! It was the words that drove Lauren to make four long cuts on one wrist and two on the other.

That gives me something to think about... me who listens to the negative voice in my head way to often...maybe I need to strain to hear the music instead! :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil

This one was for the future librarian in me. Alexander Short is an eccentric reference librarian at the NYC public library. His life is filled with call slips and odd jottings in his 'girdle' book - a book attached to his coat through a leather tab in the buttonhole. In the book he jots lists of oddities...a major oddity in itself.

Then he meets Henry James Jesson, an even odder old man. His interests lies in antiques, small spaces and a stolen watch.

He 'happens' to befriend Alexander and together they begin researching the missing watch to complete his antique compartment display.

Against Alexander's wife, Nic's, wishes he becomes more and more enmeshed in Jesson's life - to the point of moving into his house. It is there that Alexander discovers that Jesson has created the entire story and research - in his loneliness Jesson has created this elaborate scheme to gain a friend...what a loser!

Anyway - it was a book to be enjoyed by a future librarian for it's library humor - library references and library connections. Otherwise - it was not one of my favorites...a little slow, a little odd, a little too full of references to things and people I really didn't know...

one of my favorite quotes was...
"Remember library work is not science, whatever claims our profession might make. Never forget that luck and error are the handmaidens of all research." Hmmm....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

This is not one of my favorites...really not one of my favorites.
But, there were parts that lifted it up a bit. It is the story of Helen - a truly twisted tale of a murder. Helen is telling the story of the murder of her mother - and she is the murderess. (Weird word - murderess)

Anyway - Helen's mother is an agrophobe who has slowly smothered her...or so we think. Helen's father committed suicide years earlier. Helen has carried the weight of her mother in her outlook, her relationships and her very being. Murdering her should have lifted that weight - rather she is bound to the house, the body, and the braid that hung down her mother's back.

It's a dark story and very depressing!

But - there was a standout scene - that remains with me...Helen's father cared for her mother in a loving and doting way as he dealt with his own mental illness. She didn't really understand this until he took her to see his old home. It was in a town that had been moved due to a dam and the coming flood. But, the flood didn't really happen, instead it was more of an oozing of mud and muck which kept people out and caused the houses to die a slow death for a dejected place. It was there, in that empty world, her father found solace. There he created the family and the life he really wanted. He shared that with his daughter on a summer afternoon. Her father had created wooden cutouts of family scenes in the deserted rooms of his family house, scenes depicting events from his childhood and Helen's including the siblings that Helen would never have.

That scene seems to me to be the center of this story - a woman caught in an impossible life, a life that should have changed with a whoosh as she was freed from her mother through marriage and moving. Instead she was tied to the decaying life of her mother and the scenes of an imagined world.

So - I followed Helen through the day following the death of her mother. Hoping for some sort of resolution at the end...WRONG. It just just stops. I really hate that. That in itself made me decide how much I really didn't like the book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

The Sleeping Beauty story with more than a couple of twists. I can't say I loved this one - there are too many self-absorbed parts. But, the message is clear once again - LOVE YOURSELF!!! That seems to be Levine's overriding theme through all the redone fairy tales.

This is the story of Aza, an adopted daughter of an innkeeper in the singing land of Ayorthera. Aza longs for beauty - instead she is trapped in a large body with pale skin, too dark hair and bright red lips.

She travels to the court to see the wedding of the king with a crochety old woman who stays at her parents' inn. It it there that Ivi, the new queen, befriends her and takes her over. She also meets Ijori the prince who she is in love with. They become fast friends.

There is a mirror that talks, beauty potions, an injured king, odd songs in front of all the kingdom and lots of betrayal. Also gnomes, poisoned apples and weddings.

So - the old fairy tale turned on it's head and remade. Better? Hmmm.... read it and see.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brother and Sister by Joanna Trollope

This was a little slow for me...actually it was quite slow. The story revolves around Nathalie and David - adopted siblings. Nathalie has reveled in her adopted state, proudly proclaiming that she had no need to find her birth mom. Actually, she had some major connection issues and hid behind her difference - keeping others at arms length. Others including her husband. All were deemed different except David - he could really understand her problems, she thought. So, when she was ready to find her mother she assumed David, her puppy dog brother would do the same. Against David's judgement he did...

That's the premise. The story weaves between this brother and sister pair, their spouses, their adoptive parents and their birth mothers. None of the group seems really happy with the search process, much less the result. There are many disappointments - many sadnesses and many bad decisions....

Sounds like just the book for me - but for some reason I couldn't really care about these two. They both annoyed me with Nathalie's certainities and David's inability to make a decision. And their spouses were no better.

So - I slogged through this and finally can put it back on the shelf at school!!