Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George is the book that was calling to me from the Book Fair shelves a few weeks back.  A girl on the cover carrying books and papers with a brainy expression on her face?  Of course it was calling to me.  Once I read the back of the book, it was mandatory that I bring it home.  See for yourself:
Every Tuesday, Castle Glower takes on a life of its own.  It grows new rooms, creates secret passages, and even invents entire wings- all by itself!  No one knows why or how, and only Princess Celie takes the time to record the Castle's many twists and turns. 
The premise of a magic castle brought to mind the love I had as a child for The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop  .  As a matter of fact, I still love that book and I would highly recommend it as well.  In Tuesdays at the Castle , I adored Princess Celie.  She is a refreshingly strong female character who takes risks to protect her family and their cherished home, the Castle.  She is smart and brave and loyal and thoughtful, all characteristics I hope to encourage in my own daughter, and in myself for that matter.  I truly enjoyed this book and it is now on our family summer reading list.  I am delighted to see that it is the first in a series.  The second book, Wednesdays in the Tower , will be released this coming May. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Oh, my!  This month's book club selection, Defending Jacob  by William Landay, almost made me dizzy!  Mysteries aren't really my genre, but that is the beauty of book club- we are all given the opportunity to read something we wouldn't normally pick up at the book store.  Since this is a mystery, I will not do you the disservice of spoiling it for you.  I will, however, supply you with the Goodreads description of the book, since I can't really say more.
Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.
As a parent, this subject matter pulls at me.  What if one of my children were accused of a crime?  Would I believe him or her?  What if all the evidence suggested that I shouldn't?

This book also raises interesting questions about what happens to someone accused of a crime, whether or not that person is actually guilty.  There are always consequences and, as Andy Barber says at one point, "A jury could only declare my son 'not guilty,' never 'innocent.'  The stink would never leave us."
Another interesting discussion is what part of a person's history is he or she permitted to forget?  If a person's parents are bad, may he or she forget them and begin again?  What about grandparents or more distant ancestors?  At what point does the son stop being punished for the sins of the father?  So many intriguing topics that I cannot wait to discuss at our book club meeting!  I truly wish I could say more here, but I just hate it when someone gives away the plot.  Once you read Defending Jacob , let's talk.  I can't wait to hear what you think!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley


This past week was Book Fair week at our school.  I love Book Fair week.  All of those books, ready and waiting to be read.  On the day that I had signed up to volunteer, my son (he's eight) said, "Oh, that must be torture for you!"
"Why?", I asked.
His hilarious response? "All those books and you can't read any of them."
He is a smart, funny boy.  He knows how difficult it is for me to be around books and not be able to buy and read them all.  I did limit myself to buying only two books for myself, but I bought lots for the kids.  This book, The Sisters Grimm was one of the books that was calling to me from the shelves.  Luckily for me, I had just bought a copy the week before at our lovely library book store.  Seeing it set out along with a few of it's sequels inspired me to start it right away.
The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley is the first in a nine book series about two little girls, Sabrina and Daphne who have discovered that the world of fairy tales is very real.  For a year and a half, Sabrina and Daphne's parents have been missing and the girls have been living in an orphanage and various foster homes.  As the book begins, they are finally being sent to live with their long lost grandmother, Relda Grimm.  This is a problem because their whole lives, the girls' father has told them that their grandparents died before they were born. 
Once they meet the old woman, Sabrina is convinced she is a crazy person who just claims to be people's grandmother.  Daphne, on the other hand, is thrilled to have found her Granny Relda.  They then learn that they are descended from The Brothers Grimm and with that comes great family responsibility.  Sabrina continues to resist, but is eventually forced to face the giant truth - a giant!  And so begins a series of books about the Fairy-Tale Detectives. 
I thought this book was a very fun, fast read for me as an adult and I think my children will also enjoy it.  It combines all of the fairy tales and nursery rhymes and long told stories we all remember into one town.  Of course this will present challenges and Sabrina and Daphne will be there to solve them along with their Granny Relda.  I am pleased to find a book with strong female characters because even 11- and 7- year old girls can be heroines, not just damsels in distress.  I already have the next two books in the series in my Amazon cart.  You should read these, with your children or just for yourself.  I think you'll really enjoy them.
One final note:  I always read the dedication at the beginning of books and this one was very special.  The author dedicates this book to the memory of his grandparents after whom he names the grandparents in the book.  I think that is a sweet gesture to two people whom the author must have loved very much.  To name one's characters after a loved one is a high honor.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This month's book club selection is The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  The book jacket had me at, well not hello exactly, but at "there is no problem a library card can't solve."  That is a hook that will reel me in every time.  The Weird Sisters  follows Rose, Bean and Cordy, three daughters of an expert professor of Shakespeare whose real names are Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, named after women in the Bard's plays.  Rose refuses to leave the comfort and stability of living in her home town, Bean is running from mistakes she made living in New York and Cordy has come home after spending most of her adult life wandering from one place to the next.  Ostensibly, the three young women have returned home to care for their ailing mother, but of course there is more to it than that.
While I did really like this book, I must admit it left me wishing there was more to it.  More resolution perhaps, more depth, more meat.  And yet there was so much that was just right.  First of all, the book is written in omniscient first person plural, meaning that where another book might say "I did this or that"  this book said "we".  The reader really never knows who is speaking in which part of the book because the sisters are all one, telling the same story.  It is wonderfully refreshing and a fun change in perspective. 
Also an interesting aspect of this book is that though it is about sisters, they are not the best-friends-can't-stand-to-be-apart type of sisters.  The cover of the book explains it this way:
 "See, we love each other.  We just don't happen to like each other very much."
And early in the book is this quote:
"Sisters are supposed to be tight and connected, sharing family history and lore, laughing over misadventures.  But we are not that way.  We never have been, really..."
While I don't glory in any person's difficult relationships, it is more interesting and likely more realistic that these sisters do not share the same opinions or dispositions.  While one sister is hard working, responsible and a worrier, another floats from one job to the next and is constantly changing course and another has, shall we say, a difficult time with the concept of right and wrong.  And yet they still love one another. 
The writing in this novel was lovely.  The wording often made me stop and reread a passage out loud just to feel it on my tongue.  "Bean pulled a heavy towel from the stack of laundry, unwinding it from the lascivious position it had gotten into with a pillowcase."  Really?  That is a sentence worth repeating.  And also, while I freely admit that my own grammar shortcomings, I absolutely adored this bit, speaking of which men the sisters would or would not date:
"Because despite his money and his looks and all the good-on-paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and well, let's just say that is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put."
AHH!  That is a phrase to be savored "up with which we will not put".  I cannot tell you how many times I read and reread that little morsel.  I hate to end a sentence with a preposition though sometimes it is difficult to avoid, but Ms. Brown did it beautifully.  I am newly resolved to avoid prepositions at the end of my sentences.
Finally, what I liked most about this book was what drew me to it in the first place- the sisters' love of reading.  "For Rose, a life where, after our weekly trip to the library, she cleared the top of her dresser and set out her week's reading, stood them on their ends, pages fanned out, sending little puffs of text into the air.  For Bean, a life where the glamour and individuality she sought was only the gentle flick of a page away.  For Cordy...a life where she could retreat and be alone and yet transported."  This is exactly the way I have always felt about reading. 
Later, Bean "remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly how many books she read in a year.  'A few hundred,' she said.  'How do you have the time?' he asked, gobsmacked."  Then she lists all they ways that she fills her time with reading while other people are doing other things.  People often ask me that same question, though I can only aspire to reading a few hundred books a year.  I have gotten to them point where I just say, with as straight a face as possible, "I neglect my children and my house is a mess."  Sometimes I think they believe me.  Reading is a choice and to me a pleasure.  We make time in our lives for those things which we find important.  I have always been a reader and I anticipate that I always will be a reader. 
So, Smart Girl.  Have you read The Weird Sisters ?  Which sister would you be?  I'm almost certain I am a Rose...well, mostly anyway.