Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Year in Review

It has been a wonderful year and I have read some wonderful books.  I love looking through all the books I've read in a year and remembering each of them.  Some of them I liked, some I loved and some were not really my favorite, but in general it was a great book year.  I always have a hard time picking a favorite, but this years clear winner has been The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North.  It was fantastic and I can't wait to reread it.  For months it has been the first book that comes to mind when someone asks for a book recommendation.  If you haven't read it yet, it is time.

What has been your favorite book this year?

  1. The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski
  2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison
  3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  4. What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin
  5. Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  6. The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
  7. Have No Shame by Melissa Foster
  8. The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings
  9. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
  10. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares
  11. The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout
  12. The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean
  13. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  14. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
  15. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  16. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
  17. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
  18. The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
  19. Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
  20. People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
  21. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  22. The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
  23. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
  24. Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan
  25. The House Girl by Tara Conklin
  26. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
  27. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  28. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  29. Free for All by Don Borchert
  30. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  31. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
  32. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
  33. The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen
  34. Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears by Ken Wheaton
  35. Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
  36. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  37. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
  38. Requiem by Lauren Oliver
  39. My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins
  40. Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver
  41. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz
  42. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks
  43. Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
  44. If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
  45. Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

The Buchanans' pull was as natural and strong as the moon on the tides, and when I was with them I was happy in the warmth of their reflected light....Even knowing as I do now, that grace, power, and, yes, love can hide the darkest elements of the human heart, I would do it all again.  Beginning with the night I met her, then him, then the rest.  I would do it all again just to know that for a moment I was one of the Great Buchanans.

So begins Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot.  After reading about this book on several other book blogs, I really wanted to read it myself.  Charlotte is a junior at a private boarding school in New England.  A chance meeting one night with, and then a semi-rescue of, the new student Julia Buchanan changes the trajectory of Charlotte's life.  Julia is the daughter of a wealthy former Congressman whose family suffered a tragedy several years earlier.  Julia and Charlotte (whom Julia immediately dubs Charlie) become fast friends and all of the Buchanans come to love Charlie.  They see her as a lifeline for Julia who has had a difficult past few years.  Everything seems nearly perfect for a while, but that near perfection cannot last...even in paradise.

I really liked this book.  The characters are lovely and allow the reader a peek into the life of high society, beach houses in the Hamptons, and Ivy League colleges.  This is, of course, rather fantastical, but it still makes for fun read.  The characters are not without flaws, but that makes them all the more likable.  While things are going well, Charlie and Julia are happy and quickly become the best of friends and the reader enjoys their friendship.  

Beatitudo nos efficit omnes stultos.  Happiness makes us all fools.

When Julia begins to struggle again, her family depends on Charlie to help bring her back from the brink.  This is a lot of responsibility to put onto an eighteen-year-old girl and as a reader I found this part difficult to believe.

This book didn't exactly end the way I would have liked, but once I turned the last page, I could appreciate the author's choices.  The title of the book alone clues one in that it won't be a happily-ever-after ending, but I liked that Charlie is such a strong female character.  This was a very good book and I think you'll like it.  Pick it up and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2014

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

"This is one of those books you devour."  So says Jennifer Brown, author of Hate List about the book I just sped my way through reading.  If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch is a book that captures its readers and doesn't let go.  Carey, 14, and Janessa, 6, live in a broken-down camper in the middle of the woods with their mother.  Well, sometimes their mother is there, when she isn't gone for weeks at a time "replenishing supplies."  Carey and her mother escaped from a Carey's father when she was 5-years-old because he beat them.  Carey has heard the stories so many times and she knows better than to question them.  Carey's mother is bi-polar as well as a drunk and a meth addict.  Janessa came along a few years later and Carey has taken on the responsibility of caring for her.  Janessa doesn't speak, not because she can't, but because she chooses not to speak.  Life is hard for the girls, but it is what they know until a man and woman come into their campsite looking for them.  It is then that Carey must finally question all she has known about her own story and decide who she really is.

Halfway through this book I was all set to add it to Required Reading list, but it took a turn that, while it didn't effect my opinion of the book, might give others pause, especially when considered in the light of YA Fiction.  I love that this book illustrates so well what it would be like for a young girl to enter the modern world after so many years in the wild.  Carey doesn't know anything of pop culture or fashion or even modern conveniences like dishwashers or cell phones.  She was taken away from her life at such a young age that she doesn't remember "living indoors, not tap water or light switches or bubble baths.  Not even Christmas."  What might be a problem for readers is all that Carey endured as a child in the woods.  Reading about sexual abuse is normally something I can't stomach, but Murdoch presents it in such a way that, while horrified and outraged, I didn't feel assaulted by the description as other writers have made me feel.  

When Carey and Janessa leave the woods,  they have to learn to assimilate into their new world.  As Carey begins high school for the first time, she struggles to know who she really is.  Is she the girl from the woods or this new girl with "bedazzled jeans" and a real, store-bought coat?  Where does she belong and how long can she stay when everyone learns her terrible secrets?

"That girl in the woods is amazing.  Don't you ever stop being that girl in the woods, you hear me?  Braids and new clothes can't take away the best parts of you.  You hold on tight to your heritage.  That girl in the woods raised a baby, took care of her sister, kept her fed, warm, safe.  That girl in the woods is special.  Especially out here."

I may not be able to call this Required Reading, but I will label it Highly Recommended.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Mortal Heart is the final book in the His Fair Assassins trilogy by Robin LaFevers.  The first two books, Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, were wonderful and so much fun to read.  I always feel that reviewing the final book in a trilogy is tricky because I worry about spoilers, but Mortal Heart is a little different.  Rather than a typical trilogy, His Fair Assassins follow different main characters in each book.  The series also runs nearly concurrently.  While Isme is busy in Grave Mercy and Sybella has her own mission in Dark Triumph, we meet Annith in Mortal Heart.  Isme and Sybella have been sent out on missions and Annith is feeling left behind and a little jealous back at the convent of St. Mortain.  She has spent her entire life preparing to serve Mortain and is anxious to put her skills to work.  As the abbess sends out yet another girl before her, one that is far younger and less trained than herself, Annith's frustration grows.  When she learns that the abbess intends Annith to be the convent's new Seeress, she is determined to escape before she can be locked behind the convent's walls forever.

I love this series.  It is a combination of fantasy and historical fiction and while marketed as YA fiction, I feel obligated to mention again that I wouldn't really recommend it for young young adults.  This is a dark book, but really wonderful.  It is well-researched, well-written, and well-worth reading.  I really wish I could say more about it, but I would feel terrible if I were to ruin it for you.  The only recommendation I would give is to read them in close succession.  I had to wait for the third book to be released and I had forgotten some of the characters and events from the two previous books.  LaFevers doesn't do that semi-annoying thing in a series where the author repeats herself to remind readers of previous events, but that also left me a little confused in parts.  I will definitely be giving this series a re-read.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

We all know the saying, "You can't judge a book by it's cover", but how many of us have done just that?  I certainly have.  For example, if the cover of a book shows two people in a steamy embrace, partially disrobed, I can be certain it is not a book I will enjoy reading.  Most often my book-cover-judging rears its head in the form of reading a book because of the look of the cover.  I could go on and on about books I've chosen because the cover appealed to me and in most cases my judgement proved correct, but I won't get into all of that now.

One such book that had me at "Hello, pretty cover" was Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  This book is written from the perspective of Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney.  Budo is special because he is exceptionally long lived for an imaginary friend and also because he looks so real.  Most of the imaginary friends he knows do not have such well- developed appearances, but Max has imagined him so well that most other imaginary friends mistake him for human.  This is all so because, though it isn't expressly stated in the book, Max appears to be "on the spectrum".  However, just because Budo is imaginary does not mean that he isn't real.

I might need Max's imagination to exist, but I have my own thoughts, my own ideas, and my own life outside of him.  I am tied to Max the same way that an astronaut is tied to his spaceship by hoses and wires.  If the spaceship blows up and the astronaut dies, that doesn't mean that the astronaut was imaginary.  It just means that his life support was cut off.
Same for me and Max.

Budo experiences quite a lot in the few short weeks during which this book is set.  He watches another imaginary friend, one to whom he was very close, disappear.

"I want to spend my last few minutes with her.  Sitting next to my friend.  It's the only thing I'm really sad about."
"That I won't be able to look at her anymore. See her grow up.  I'm going to miss Meghan so much.... I love her so much."

He describes the human people that he has come to know by watching them:  Max's parents, the people who work in and those who visit the 24-hour gas station down the street, the teachers in Max's school.  Matthew Dicks does such a wonderful job of observing and then relating so much about human behavior.  He depicts his characters with such depth that, as a reader, you feel they must be real people.  And he sees things in these must-be-real-people that we don't always see.  He sees the skill Max's therapist holds when rather than asking him why lunch is his favorite part of the school day, she asks him if he knows why lunch is his favorite part of the school day.

If Max can't explain why lunch is his favorite part of school then he can just say no, and he doesn't have to feel dumb for not knowing the answer.  If Dr. Hogan asks a question that makes Max feel dumb, she might never get him to talk.

He sees the love Max's mother has for him and the way she shows it.  She doesn't fight Max on the fact that he cannot wear more than seven pieces of clothing at a time and that this means she will never be able to persuade him to wear gloves, even on the coldest days.  Instead, she sews fur linings into all his coat pockets so he can put his hands in his pockets to keep them warm.

He explains in the most wonderful way the difference between a mediocre teacher and a really good one.

There are two kinds of teachers in the world.  There are teachers who play school and teachers who teach school, and Miss Daggerty and Mrs. Sera and especially Mrs. Gosk are the kind of teachers that teach school.  They talk to kids in their regular voices and say things that they would say in their own living rooms....[K]ids love them because they talk about real things with real voices and they always tell the truth.

And my favorite part, which I won't quote here because I couldn't bear to cut any of it out, is when, through Budo, Dicks explains to his readers the meaning of real bravery.  

This was a extraordinary book and I highly recommend it.  I really think you will love it, too.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

I am not generally a big reader of non-fiction, but occasionally I come across something special like this one: The Sweet Life in Paris by famous pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz.  Lebovitz was named one of the Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle and has been featured in numerous magazines and news papers.  He has written seven cookbooks and his latest, My Paris Kitchen, was named the best cookbook of the year by Amazon.

The Sweet Life in Paris is more memoir than cookbook as Lebovitz shares with us all he has learned since he followed his dream to pick up and move to Paris.  The writing is both informative and funny.  An American living in Paris has much to learn and he is happy to share his lessons with his readers.  Did you know there is a right way to eat a banana?  And no, it really isn't the way you do it.  Lebovitz describes the painstaking way Parisians eat their bananas with a knife and fork, slice by slice.  Then he says, "I admit that I still eat bananas like my primordial predecessors, but only in the privacy of my home.  Outside of the house, though, I avoid fruit.  It's too stressful."  He tells about the dangerous adventure that can be walking down a Parisian sidewalk.  At first he was very confused by the way it seemed the other people were aiming to run him down.  As he adjusted to life in The City of Lights, he learned that yielding was the problem.  Now he barrels down the street as if he belongs there.

It took Lebovitz a little while to learn the ways of the city, but don't ask him if he's fluent in French.

When people ask, "How long did it take you to become fluent in French?" I respond, "Become fluent?  Even the French aren't fluent in French."  To prove it, there's an annual Dicos d'Or, or a dictation contest where French people compete against each other to see who can best comprehend and write down what's spoken to them- in their own language!

This book is filled with hilarious anecdotes and hard lessons learned.  It is also filled with an amazing number of places one must visit in Paris.  If I ever make it back, I will be headed straight to Patisserie Viennoise for the thick hot chocolate "topped with a completely unreasonable amount of billowy whipped cream".  And then there are the recipes.  There are over fifty recipes for delicious-sounding dishes included in this book and each one is accompanied by a story.  I can't wait to try the Chocolate Macarons and the Cheesecake.

Think of this as a memoir or a cookbook or a travel guide, but any way you think of it, you will enjoy it.  I may never move to Paris, but this book certainly sparked my wanderlust.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver

Every book contains secondary and tertiary characters about whom we would like to know more.  There are always scenes we wish we could observe from another perspective.  Lauren Oliver brings us that opportunity in Delirium Stories.  There is so much more about this series that I'd like to know, but Oliver allows us to peek into just three additional stories: those of Hana, Annabel and Raven.

Hana is Lena's best friend and her story shows us her perspective during their last summer before their cure.  All the time that Lena was struggling to know what to do about the cure, she had no idea that Hana was also having the same struggle.  Annabel is Lena's mother.  We get to see her life both before she married Lena's father and also her time in prison.  It is very interesting to get a little more background about her.  Raven is Lena's friend, the woman who saves her in the Wild.  Raven tells us about saving Blue and also about her rescue of Julian.  It is this last story that makes me want to reimagine the ending of the series.  Or maybe I don't have to.  Maybe the somewhat open ending leaves room for the ending I would prefer.

I loved reading these very quick stories.  Perhaps they were just created as a writing exercise for the author or perhaps she wanted to share more of her characters with us.  Either way, I love what they add to the series.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

'Tis the season!  Well, almost and I am so glad that My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins came in at the library for me just as the holidays are getting underway.  I don't usually read short story collections because, to be honest, I haven't seen a lot of them that really jump out at me.  A few months ago I saw that this collection of holiday themed stories written by some of the most well know authors of YA fiction was being released and I put myself on the library reserve list before they even had any copies.  I have really enjoyed reading Stephanie Perkins' books as well as those of several of the other authors included in this collection.  I was not disappointed in this book, either.

Rainbow Rowell writes about midnights on New Year's Eve spanning several years and falling in love with someone unexpected.  Kelly Link writes a tale with a fantasy element involving someone she meets only when it snows.  Matt de la Pena shakes things up by writing from the male perspective about a Christmas break trapped by a blizzard in an apartment with a cat.  Oh, and the cute girl upstairs.  Jenny Han gives us a story not unlike the movie, Elf, only what if the orphan Santa brought to the North Pole were a girl?  Stephanie Perkins tells about a young woman determined to somehow get a Christmas tree into her moving-boxes-stuffed apartment and the Christmas tree salesman who helps her.  Holly Black spins a yarn truly original about a New Year's Eve party visited by the boy of one girl's dreams.  Gayle Forman gives us a funny story about a young Jewish girl spending her first Hanukkah at college in a town very unused to people  who celebrate Hanukkah or people from New Jersey or people who use sarcasm.  Myra McEntire also bucks tradition by making her main character a teenage boy and this one is quite a trouble maker.  Kiersten White sets her story in a diner in the very small town of Christmas, CA, where the new cook seems to have a magic all his own.  Ally Carter starts off her tale with a young woman switching airplane tickets with a stranger in Chicago's O'Hare airport and ending up in exactly the place she needs to be.  There were two other stories that I tried to read, but couldn't get into.

Overall, I had a great time reading these quick stories.  I'm even more excited for the next month and a half with all of the fun and magic of the holidays.  Some people find this time of year difficult to get into a book because so much of their attention is required with all of the chores and activities leading up to Christmas.  This collection is the perfect solution.  The stories are short, fun and they will still give you a shot of good cheer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

And in the final installment of the  Delirium trilogy, Requiem by Lauren Oliver is a captivating end to a strong series.  Again, since this post refers to the third book in the series, there may be spoilers for the first two books below.

Where the first book in the series was all about Lena's present, the second book bounced back and forth between her early months in the Wilds and her time working with the resistance.  This final book changes again by shifting between Lena's perspective and her best friend from before, Hana's.  Lena is still out in the Wilds, working with the resistance and Hana is still back in the city.  Hana has had her procedure and is about to be married to the new mayor.  She has concerns about whether or not the cure was entirely successful.  She has begun remembering Lena and their time as friends.

I can admit, now, that I must have loved Lena.  Not in an Unnatural way, but my feelings for her must have been a kind of sickness.  How can someone have the power to shatter you to dust- and also to make you feel so whole?

Lena and her group of friends are searching for a way to fight back and regain control over their lives.

We wanted the freedom to love, and instead we have been turned into fighters.

A revolution is planned and those with nothing to lose are a dangerous society.  This is a very exciting, action-packed conclusion.  I really liked this series, but I will say I really wish the author had included an epilogue.  The ending felt a bit rushed and the copy I read had excerpts from two of the author's other books which fooled me into thinking there were a few chapters remaining.  That always makes me a little crazy.  I would recommend this series.  It really kept my attention and it was difficult to set aside.  I will definitely be reading more from Lauren Oliver.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver is the second book in the Delirium series.  As such, this post is likely to have spoilers for the first book so reader beware.

As we begin Pandemonium, Lena has escaped into the Wilds:

I run, and when I can no longer run, I limp, and when I can't do that, I crawl, inch by inch, digging my fingernails into the soil, like a worm sliding across the overgrown surface of this strange new wilderness.

Lena is alone and dying on the forest floor when she is found by Raven.  Raven takes Lena back to her homestead, a basement she has discovered buried under the ruins of a bombed-out building.  There, Lena is allowed to recover from her injuries and be fed, but it isn't long before she is expected to help.  Lena is surprised to find that the people who live in the Wilds aren't what she has always been taught they would be.  They are kind and they do the best they can; they work together to survive.  Eventually, Lena, Raven and Tack, another new friend, join the resistance to fight against the government that has forced them to live outside civilization.

In the spirit of Hunger Games, Lena is much like Katniss in that she becomes strong when her only other choice is to die.  This isn't one of those obnoxious books where the main character is a weak, simpering young girl dependent upon those around her.  Lena learns quickly and becomes quite a leader.  I mentioned in my post about Delirium that I enjoyed that this book is set in a world not unlike our own.  In this second installment this is expressed even further in that the challenges Lena and her friends face in the Wilds are much like those any of us would face if we were to suddenly be left with nothing but the clothes on our backs.  Survival in the Wilds means hunting, scavenging for shelter and supplies and staying alive from one day to the next.  Occasionally they are confronted by other people from the Wilds that are intent upon causing destruction and they are always watching for government regulators who have come in to the Wilds looking to exterminate the "Invalids".  That is what I like- there are no monsters, no supernatural forces at work.  They are fighting for their lives mostly against nature.  It is refreshing in a literary pool full of the former.

As a rule, the second book in a trilogy tends to be more of a bridge connecting the beginning of the story in the first book to the end in the last, but in this case, I felt like Pandemonium really held its own.  And now my favorite quote from this book:

But forbidden books are so much more.  Some of them are webs; you can feel your way along their threads, but just barely, into strange and dark corners.  Some of them are balloons bobbing up through the sky: totally self-contained, and unreachable, but beautiful to watch.
And some of them- the best ones- are doors.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I have been wanting to read Lauren Oliver since I saw the cover for Before I Fall, but it just hadn't happened yet.  Luckily for me, I saw Delirium and the rest of its trilogy on my sister's bookshelf and she agreed to let me borrow them.  Delirium is based in an alternate reality set in our present time.  In this world, love is considered a disease and the cause for all that ails the world.  Scientists have discovered a cure which is administered to each person shortly after he or she turns eighteen.  Many people would like the cure to be available at a much younger age, but the side effects are too severe in children.

Lena is counting down the days until she can receive the cure.  All her life she has been told that amor deliria nervosa "affects your mind so that you cannot think clearly, or make rational decisions about your own well-being" and that the cure will keep her "safe, and free from pain".  Love is a deadly disease and the scientists have discovered that what was once called stress, heart disease, anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, bipolar disorder and more were really only symptoms of the deliria.  When Lean falls in love with a boy, at first she resists the idea of changing her plans to be cured.  As the days continue, however, she realizes that she cannot give him up.  Eventually she decides that she would rather die than be cured and they plan their escape.

One thing that I find compelling in this series is that this isn't some post-apocalyptic world far in the future as so many books of this type seem to be.  This is a world in which scientific discovery and politics have conspired to create a new regime.  At the time that this story begins, this new order has been in place for so long that no one remembers what life was like before the cure.  The government's propaganda and strict laws with unendurable punishments keep people from asking questions or knowing anything beyond what they are taught to believe.  Anyone who shows any tendency toward disagreement is considered infected and arrested and locked away for life or executed.  Beyond the walls of the city are the Wilds that the government has claimed to have "sanitized", but that are rumored to be filled with terrible creatures called "Invalids"- people living without the cure.

Living without love is so incomprehensible to me and I think that is what makes this book so interesting.  A world destroyed by nuclear war or climate change or some other kind of catastrophe is somewhat expected in dystopian literature by this point.  The removal of love from society, however, offers a completely new angle.  As a mother, I can't help but wonder how one would be able to parent without love.  Loving our children is what motivates parents to care for them as infants and beyond.  It is why exhausted new mothers continue to wake every hour or two to feed and care for their children.  At one point in the book, Lena recalls being a small child and falling down and getting hurt.  When her mother comforts her as she cries another mother chastises her and tells her she should be ashamed of herself.  Comfort is a symptom of the disease.

I feel that Oliver has done a masterful job of creating a full environment, bringing in details that drive home life under totalitarian rule.  I also loved that each chapter is headed with a quote either from The Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook or The Book of Shhh or from some other form of government literature.  They lend even further texture to the world she has designed.

I'll leave you with this passage about Lena's older sister:

Even then she refused the procedure and the comfort it would give her, and on the day the cure was to be administered it took four scientists and several needles full of tranquilizer before she would submit, before she would stop scratching with her long, sharp nails, which had gone uncut for weeks, and screaming and cursing and calling for Thomas.  I watched them come for her, to bring her to the labs; I sat in a corner, terrified, while she spit and hissed and kicked, and I thought of my mom and dad.
That afternoon, thought I was still more than a decade away from safety, I began to count the months until my procedure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

The holiday season is not far away and so the flood of Christmas letters and Christmas cards will soon be upon us.  Have you ever read those Christmas letters and wondered how much of it resembled reality?  Well, in Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney we learn what happens when someone actually tells the truth.  Angela Gillespie has been sending out her annual Christmas letter on December 1st since she first married over thirty years ago.  It has been a rough year and she is having a difficult time putting a positive spin on life.  Some impulse takes over and she begins typing what is really happening in her family:  Her husband has grown distant since their sheep station (like a ranch) began to fail, her daughters are struggling to come into adulthood and her ten-year-old is still holding on to his imaginary friend.  She doesn't mean to let all the details of their lives spill out, but she does.  She only meant to get it out of her head and then delete it all and start over until a family emergency keeps her from taking care of it and it accidentally gets sent out to over one hundred people on her mailing list.

I was cringing even as I was laughing about such an error, perhaps because it sounds like something I would do.  When I began this book, I thought it would be a funny book with a bit of family drama.  I was surprised when it took turns that took the reader much deeper into this family's lives and concerns.  The sheep station in rural Australia has been suffering for years due to drought.  The oldest daughters, twins, have moved far from home, one to Sydney and the other all the way to New York City.  The youngest daughter is struggling to find her place in the world and has bounced from one job to the next.  The young son has run away three times from the boarding school to which he has been sent.  And Angela is feeling lost in herself, in her mid-fifties and unsure about what is next for her.  When the family is all suddenly drawn back home, they are forced to face issues and work together.

I really enjoyed this book and I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud.  The characters were all fully formed and wonderful.  I especially loved Angela's best friend Joan.  I would love to have a friend just like her.  And oh, how I'd love to hear all the stories Genevieve has to tell.  The descriptions of the setting had me looking at travel websites.  I would love to go.  Angela hosts guests on the station and that made me even consider leaving the beach!  This was a fun book to read without being too light.  I totally recommend you read this in place of all those phony letters with holiday borders you'll soon be getting in the mail.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears by Ken Wheaton

At fifty-years-old, Katherine is doing pretty well for herself in New York.  She has a successful job working for an advertising magazine, she has a sizable nest egg in the bank, and she spends her vacation time in far flung parts of the world seeing more than she ever imagined she could.  While not perfect, this is the life she has lived for the last thirty years since she sought refuge on a Greyhound bus headed as far from her country Cajun childhood as she could get.  When a family tragedy calls her back home, she has to face her past in a way she has studiously and pharmaceutically avoided for decades.

I had a good feeling about Sweet As Cane, Salty As Tears by Ken Wheaton when I read the Author's Note at the beginning of the book:  

A note about the word "yall."  While most consider y'all a contraction of you all, I consider it one word and treat it thusly.  Please indulge one person's crazy mission to change the language.

Having been born and raised in Texas, it mystifies me that the rest of the country doesn't take advantage of this wonderful word.  It is so concise.  It makes so much more sense that attempting to make the word "you" stand in for both the singular and the plural.  "You" is the singular, "Y'all" is the plural, and, if you really want to push it, "All y'all" is the multiple plural.  I have never, however, used "y'all" in the singular.  Some people do, but not me.  But back to Ken Wheaton and his use of this and other words and phrases that might need a little explanation.  On his blog, he provides a list that he refers to as "Talkin' Funny: Louisiana Style.  You can read those here and here.

As Katherine is pulled back into seeing her family- pulled because she dreads going- she must face her past mistakes and the tragedy that propelled her from home.  Raised with three sisters and two brothers, it is a large family to whom she is returning.  There are her siblings, their spouses and ex-spouses, as well as their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  In a time and place where teen pregnancy was common, there are fewer years between the generations.  One complaint I had about the first half of this book was the difficulty I had keeping the sisters straight.  They are named Karla- Jean, Kendra-Sue, Katie-Lee (Katherine), and Karen-Anne.  This added to the overall feeling of the book, but it did take me a little while to remember who each one was.  Part of this confusion, especially when it comes to meeting all of the extended family, may have been intentional as Katherine herself has trouble remembering to whom each niece and nephew belong.

I enjoyed reading this book and it kept me turning the pages, but it was not a happy book to read.  There is a lot of sadness and dissatisfaction with life, but there is also the bond of family and it ends with hope.  And reading it left me with a craving for Popeye's chicken.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen

The Man in the Window by Jon Cohen features a cast of characters all living in one small town with a monster.  Of course, Louis isn't really a monster, but some of his neighbors have begun to think of him that way.  As a teenager, Louis was terribly burned in a fire that caused his face to become unrecognizable.  His mother and father, Atlas and Grace have spent the last sixteen years caring for him, but Louis has become a recluse.  He is never without his hat and purple scarf even at home and he almost never leaves the house.  Iris, a nurse that will soon be meeting Louis, thinks of herself as a kind of monster.  What most people would likely interpret as unattractive she deems repulsive, but she refuses to let it stop her.  She is a successful nurse and she enjoys her work.  She is fairly new to town, having moved into her father's home to care for him after the passing of her mother and so knows nothing of the man in the window.

I was really excited about this book for the first several chapters.  I hadn't gotten very far into it before I started thinking about who on my Christmas list needed to receive their own copy.  The book begins with Atlas's death.  It happens rather early so I hope that isn't too much of a spoiler for you.   One of the first things I loved so much about this book was that Gracie refused to provide "appropriate" clothing to the funeral director for her husband.  Instead she insisted her husband be dressed in his favorite clothes- "a flannel work shirt, a pair of corduroys thin at the knees, gray cotton socks, and an old pair of Hush Puppies."  When pressed about it Gracie had this to say:  "My husband, I guarantee you, Mr. Rose, does not wish to travel through eternity in a necktie and a pair of shiny shoes pressing on his bunions."  I adore that this character would think of such a thing.  She loved her husband so much that she didn't want him to be uncomfortable, even in death.   Reflecting on their marriage, Gracie recalled the many times Atlas would tell her, "Gracie, I hope to God I go before you do."  He simply could not stand to live without her by his side.  Gracie's response was "Atlas, neither of us is going to go.  They make special allowances for people like us."  I love that.

The storytelling in the first half of the book had me fascinated, but it languished in the middle.  It became slow and lost much of it's spark.  It always makes me sad when a book doesn't turn out to be as good as I had hoped it would be.  Just near the end, it picked up pace and I was able to enjoy it again, but it never did get back to what it was in the beginning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

I am not one of those people who LOVES YA fiction.  I like some of it, but often I find it a little too underwritten for my taste.  I would use the word shallow, but that word give the impression that I don't like it because it is all about how someone looks or who is her boyfriend this week and that's really not what I mean.  What I typically don't like is that the writing often doesn't delve deep enough into the plot and the characters don't feel real.  Typically.  Occasionally, I will read something that I really enjoy.  Not everything has to be great literature, but I like it to have a little tooth to it.

Today I finished We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt and I really enjoyed it.  Layla and Nell are sisters just seventeen months apart in age.  The book opens with Nell's first day as a freshman at the high school where her older sister is already a star.  They are very close and there is none of the catty, jealous younger sister mess that you might expect.  Layla is happy to have Nell around her.  It seems like the perfect relationship until things start to change.  Layla is skipping school and getting Nell to lie for her and it is all about a new person in her life.  Nell struggles to know what to do.

I really liked that this book was written in second person, not something that we often find.  It was written from Nell's perspective to her sister Layla.  This was a very quick read and it was difficult to put down.  Last night I had to force myself to turn out the light so I wouldn't be exhausted today.  I could have finished it, but I wanted to really enjoy the ending.  The writing was adorable with many phrase turns that made me laugh.  There are even a few sections where Nell and her best friend Felix speak in pseudo-Shakespearean.  It's quite funny.  I loved the interaction between those two.  I was disappointed to realize that it barely passes the Bechdel Test.  Nell and Layla talk briefly about soccer, school and their parents, but most of their interactions are about members of the opposite sex.  This wasn't exactly a great work of fiction, but it was fun to read while also addressing an important issue.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

So, a while back I reviewed Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.  I just finished Isla and the Happily Ever After, her latest release.  This is not exactly a series, but the characters from the previous books do make cameo appearances and it is fun to remember them. In Isla, we are back at the same French school where Anna and St. Claire met.  Isla is the daughter of wealthy parents, one American and one French, who live in New York.  She is a senior and has had a crush on Josh for three years.  The book opens on Isla sitting in a cafe in New York during summer break.  It is midnight and she is a little high on painkillers having just had her wisdom teeth removed.  She is startled to see Josh sitting in this same cafe just a few tables away.  Because she is a little loopy, she is much less shy with him than usual and actually has a conversation.  It might have been a good night if the medications hadn't caused her to fall asleep at their table.  She is, of course, mortified, but it is a really funny start to a sweet book.

Once Isla returns to school, she and Josh are finally able to get to know one another and it is sweet and cute and funny and all the things a reader wants from a YA romance.  I loved these characters as well as Isla's best friend Kurt.  He has high functioning autism and I love their friendship.  Kurt suffers from the distinction of being named after Kurt Cobain.  He doesn't just have Cobain's first name; his full name is Kurt Donald Cobain Bacon.  I think it's awesome, but Kurt doesn't and that makes it even funnier.  

Is this a deep, enlightening reading?  No, but it was fun and after reading The Handmaid's Tale I felt a little light, fun reading was well deserved.  And it is the kind of book sure to put a spark to one's wanderlust.  I was more than a little envious of Isla's four years of school there.  What an amazing experience!  I'm all ready now to order Rosetta Stone in French and plan a good long trip to Paris.  Who's with me?!   

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book three for the new book club is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I've heard the name of this book so many times, but I didn't really know anything about it.  Think dystopian novels are new and only for the YA genre?  Definitely not.  This book is about a woman who has been forced into a position as a handmaid whose purpose it is to provide a fertile womb for a childless husband and wife.  Civilization as we know it has fallen and been replaced by a militant theocracy where women are no longer allowed to work, hold property or even read and write.

This book was both horrifying and also really good.  I still can't fully decide how I feel about it.  When I reached page one-hundred I was tempted to put it away and not finish, but once I reached about the half-way point I really needed to know what would happen.  I am so glad I finished it.  This is a book that would be wonderful for discussion and I would recommend it to anyone who isn't too faint of heart.  A woman I met said she read it in high school and I know for me that would have been far to young.  Have you read this one?  What did you think?  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Free for All: Odd balls, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

What do you want to be when you grow up?  I have asked myself that for far too many years.  Shouldn't I have an answer by now?  Well, I kind of do.  My dream is to be a librarian.  I know that for some people their great dream is to sing on Broadway or discover the cure to cancer or win the lottery (okay, I would totally take any one of those, too), but for me it would be to be paid to go to the library.  And I'm not naive- I know librarians don't sit at the desk and read all the new books before anyone else gets to check them out.  That is beyond even my dreams.  Well, unless I won the lottery because that is totally what I would do if I did.  The point is I love the library and I'd love to work there.

This book, Free for All:  Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert is a collection of anecdotes collected from his years working in a public library in California.  Some of these anecdotes were heartwarming, some were sad and others just plain freaked me out.  People are weird.  We all know that and a public library is like any other public place that sometimes attracts the weirdos.  Borchert's storytelling style is blunt, a little sarcastic and peppered with the occasional F-bomb.  He pulls no punches and no one is safe.  I feel like I must share some of my favorite bits with you:

[Librarians] love seeing new patrons.  Why?  Because there is a belief that once you begin to open books, you will become a better person.  It is a Pandora's box, but in a good way.

I don't understand people who will pay $10 to sit in a movie theater for two hours but hesitate to pay a 25-cent fine for a book that is overdue one day....I think a free library is an outrageous perk.  I think being able to take out fifty books at a time is an astounding luxury, especially if you've priced hardbound books anytime since the Clinton administration.  Go into a public library, fill out the application, and here you go, we'll loan you $1000 worth of free materials.  Collateral?  Nah- just take them.  You're good for it.

Speaking of one of his colleagues, he says:  The reason she went into the profession in the first place was books.  She still remembers the effect a certain book can have on people at the right time in their lives.  A book, at its most mundane, can be a loaded gun.  At its most powerful, it can split the trunk of a tree, mend a broken heart, heal the sick, and topple a corrupt government.

There were so many good parts of this book.  If you love libraries, even if you just visit them occasionally (and I really hope you do), I think you would enjoy this peek behind the curtain.  Best of all, there is no shh-ing.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I have been wanting to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes for a very long time.  I was thrilled when it was the monthly pick for a new online book club I have joined.  It features Louisa (Lou) Clark, a young woman living in a small suburb of London who has just lost her job.  She makes her way to the local employment office and the options are not great.  She does a short stint in the poultry factory but finds she doesn't have the stomach for it.  After turning down several other suggestions, she finally agrees to interview for a caregiver position.  The job requirements are rather simple- she is meant as a companion for a man who is a quadriplegic.  This man, Will, was previously a highly successful businessman who enjoyed travel and living his life exactly as he chose until an accident left him totally dependent on the people around him and without the desire to go on living.  Lou's job and then her purpose is to help him find a reason.

I really loved this book.  I loved the way Lou's character developed and I loved watching the way she and Will interacted.  I learned a lot about how it must feel to be a person of limited ability, especially while in public.  Of course, I have it labeled as a Tear Jerker for a reason, but you really shouldn't let that dissuade you if those aren't your kind of books.  This was a super fast read, though I really wouldn't recommend it as a vacation or beach read unless you don't mind blubbering in front of strangers.  I really hope you will give this one a try.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I've had The Maze Runner by James Dashner on my bookshelf for a few months and so with the upcoming movie release, I thought I should finally get to it.  I had heard so many good things about this book and the few previews of the movie I have seen make it look so good, but sadly I was disappointed.  I just didn't like it.  The characters weren't very compelling to me, the situation annoyed me and I just kept waiting for it to get better.  Maybe it is because the story reminded me so much of Lord of the Flies and I really didn't like that book either.

Thomas wakes to find himself in a large elevator-like metal box.  He can remember his name and basic things like how to talk and function, but he can't remember anything specific about himself or the world.  When the box finally opens, he is in a large compound surrounded by other teenage boys.  No one knows how they got there or why, but there is a maze just outside the walls and they are determined to solve it and find a way out.

The first half of the book seemed to drag and I didn't care for the writing.  Honestly, I only kept reading to get through it.  It is the first in a four book series, one of which is a prequel, but I won't be reading any further.  I did look on Wikipedia to read the synopses of the remaining books and from what I saw, I'm not sad to move on to something else.  I've already had one person tell me I was absolutely wrong about these books, but it just wasn't for me.  Maybe you'll like it better.

And now on to something else...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Recently at a dinner with friends, we were talking about books (naturally) and someone brought up The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  She went on and on about how good it was so that evening I added it to my library reserve list.  I was surprised at how quickly it came in and got started on it right away.  I know I have mentioned before my usual dislike of anything I would consider "chick lit", but this one I enjoyed.  Perhaps other people would argue with the "chick lit" label, but the fact that it isn't too "chicky" could be why I liked it.

This is one of those fun books that begins with three different story lines that all eventually converge into one story.  It begins with one woman finding an old letter addressed to her from her husband to be opened in the event of his death.  She is pretty shocked by this and so calls her husband who happens to be out of town and asks him about it.  He tries to brush it off as sentimentality written down in the wake of the birth of their first child, but she senses it is something more.  She agrees not to open it, but the curiosity about what it could really be gnaws at her.  In another story line, a husband informs his wife is in love with someone else and in the third story line, an elderly woman is grieving the death of her daughter nearly three decades previous.

This was a perfect quick read that kept me turning the pages.  It would be wonderful for a book club discussion because there is plenty to debate and it is sure to allow plenty of secret sharing opportunities.  It was funny and sad and shocking in all the best ways.  I especially loved that the epilogue tidied up any loose ends and even allowed the reader to see what could have been.  It ends with this wonderful paragraph:

None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken.  It's probably just as well.  Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever.  Just ask Pandora.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

I picked up Tara Conklin's The House Girl at our library's wonderful book sale after having previously seen it labeled a "Book Club Pick" at Target.  I really enjoyed The Kitchen House and this looked like it might be similar.  Told from the point of view of two women living one hundred and fifty years apart, this book is about the lives and losses of slaves in the antebellum South and the reverberations of those actions still felt today.  In 2004, Lina Sparrow is a lawyer in New York City building a lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of former slaves.  She comes across the story of a young slave who may or may not be the actual artist behind some of the time's most beloved portraits.  In 1852, Josephine is that young woman and she is desperate for escape from her terrible conditions.  In the short term, painting provides a kind of salve for her pains, but it isn't long before running is her only option.

While I did enjoy this book, I was disappointed that it wasn't more readable.  It was very slow and some of the story lines felt unfocused.  I love a good historical novel and this one contained plenty of research.  I also felt that just when I became invested in many of the characters, their stories abruptly ended.  This was at times frustrating.  I know that an author is not always going to make the decisions I would like her to make, but Ms. Conklin seemed to consistently take characters in a direction I did not like.  That is completely subjective on my part and I fully admit it, but I feel I must include it in my review.

I am interested in reading more books of this time period exploring slavery and the Underground Railroad.  Do you have any suggestions for me?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan is the third book in the Sky Chasers trilogy along with Glow and Spark.  In this final installment, Waverly, Seth and Kieran are now working separately to try to salvage the disastrous mission of the two ships making their way to New Earth.  Their previous home, the Empyrean has been destroyed and they are now all crowded on to the New Horizon and hoping to repair the emotional damage done by the actions of both crews.  Unfortunately, no one can be trusted.

This book reminded me why I don't like to get involved with a series until it has all been released.  I read the first book, Glow, two-and-a-half years ago and the second book over a year ago.  For me, that is just too large a gap between readings for me.  I had forgotten many of the details, though the major plot points came back to me fairly quickly.  I considered a quick re-read of the previous books, but I just didn't want to spend the time.  In the end, it turned out not to be too much of an issue although I'm sure the story would have felt richer.  

Overall, I really liked this series.  These weren't the best books I've ever read, but they were exciting and provided an opening to an interesting debate about where power should lie, whether in the hands of government or in religion.  It also allows the reader to imagine what would be necessary to begin an entirely new society and if in so doing the problems of the past would be resolved or if they would simply follow.  A little science fiction, a little social commentary, these books make for good reading.  I hope you'll give them a try.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

First, I feel I must begin with some sad news:  my book club is dead.  After nearly everyone moved out of town, it became too difficult to conduct the group via Facetime or Skype and the two or three members left in town weren't able to keep up the motivation.  We thought briefly of adding new blood to the group, but we agreed that is a difficult thing to do.  I can't really tell you how sad I am.  The good news is that I have found a new book club on Facebook and hopefully it will introduce me to books I might not have read otherwise.  It won't be the same, but it will be something.  Book clubs are a delicate thing, I think.

And now to this post:  Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz is the first book I am reading for this new online book club.  It definitely qualifies as a book I wouldn't have picked up if not for book club.  I used to love Dean Koontz.  In middle school, I devoured his books.  "Middle school?" you're asking.  "Isn't that a little young for some of his material?"  Why, yes.  Yes it is.  I don't remember how I got into it, but I loved it.  Until I didn't.  At some point I just decided that his books had become too formulaic for me.  I always knew that some traumatic event would occur at this certain point in the story.  Then about three quarters of the way though, the reader would think she had it figured out, then with two pages left, a startling reveal.  So it was with Odd Thomas.

Odd Thomas is the first and last name of the main character. He sees dead people.  He can't speak with them because they don't talk, but he has regular interaction with the spirits of people who have passed.  As the book opens, Odd solves a murder when one ghost leads him to her killer.  As the day progresses, however, Odd becomes aware that something truly terrible is about to happen.  He grasps on to every aspect of his gift to understand what will happen and how he can prevent it.

I really like the concept of a character having access to the knowledge of the recently departed.  I enjoyed the scenes when Elvis visits.  I just don't care for the horror genre as a whole.  A ghost leading him to her killer is one thing; I just don't really want to read about every minute detail of her terrible death.  And why do Koontz's books always seem to have a violent sex scene?  I realky don't want to read about that.  Thankfully it was very minor and in flashback in this book.  I kept reading because it was such a page turner.  I wanted to know what would happen, but all the way through the book I couldn't quite decide if I was enjoying reading it.  Having tried it again after so long, this is likely my last in this genre.  I just don't care for it.

How about you?  Are there certain genres or authors you avoid?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

I think it says a lot about a book when the reader notices that she is about halfway through the novel and is already sad that it is almost finished.  That is how I felt about The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness.  As soon as I noticed I was at 50% (I read this on my Kindle), I started thinking how I couldn't stand for this series to come to an end and that I knew I would need to reread it soon.  I have really enjoyed the All Souls trilogy and its wonderful characters.  By this final installment, there is a large cast of characters and at times it takes a little effort to remember how each person fits into the story, but once I was fully into the book that was no longer a problem.  

As this is the last book in a series, I am reluctant to share too much.  There must be an insane amount of pressure on an author to finish a series in a way that will both satisfy her readers and also fulfill her own vision of the story.  Ms. Harkness did a wonderful job with the finale.  There were plot lines that I wish were more fully resolved, but perhaps those are best left to the reader.  I cannot recommend this series enough.  This is a series that I will most certainly re-read.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Last night I climbed into bed early, excited to finish The First Fifteen lives of Harry August by Claire North.  It is rare that I can pick a favorite book and it is difficult for me to compare books but I must say that this is the best book I've read this year.  And that is saying something because The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow was truly stellar.  The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, as you may guess, follows the life of Harry August.  He is born in 1919 in England, he lives an unremarkable life and he dies in his eighties.  The surprise comes when he is reborn in 1919 in the very same situation he experienced previously.  This is, of course, confusing for the young Harry as he remembers everything from his previous life.  Once he has his bearings and begins to understand, Harry spends much of his time exploring what his existence, his life means for him.  The world may continue on its natural course, but Harry, and others like him once he discovers them, may live each life as they choose.

This book is wonderful.  It is flawless.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading Harry's story.  The concept is brilliant and the writing is just excellent.  Each of the characters, even those not central to the main plot, are skillfully constructed.  Who hasn't thought about how they would live their life differently "if they knew then what they know now"?  All the choices we make from day to day, Harry has the opportunity to go back and make different ones.  That marriage didn't work out like you had hoped?  Go back and marry someone else or no one at all.  That career choice left you dissatisfied with your work life?  Go back and do something else.  Imagine being a six-year-old with the wisdom of someone hundreds of years older.  And the memory- life can be very comfortable when you know far in advance the right investments to make, the right wagers to place.  For me, the appeal would be having the opportunity to learn everything there is to learn.  How many languages can one master if one has the chance to live each life in a different part of the world?  Be a doctor in one life, a lawyer in another, a scientist and a humanitarian.  There is no or, there is only and.

My only disappointment came when I got to the end.  The ending was perfect, but I wanted to read so much more.  I really did love this book.  I know it will be on my "to re-read" list because I sped through it so quickly.  I'd like to go back and take my time through it.  I hope you'll read it.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Friday, July 11, 2014

People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann

I was introduced to Jen Mann and her blog People I Want to Punch in the Throat a year or so ago when I came across this post somewhere on the internets.  I can't remember how I found it, but I loved it!  I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to read her newest book People I Want to Punch in the Throat.  It isn't due to be released until September 9th, but you really should go ahead and preorder this book.  If you have followed her blog at all, you know it will be a good one.

This book reads like a collection of blog posts, each chapter could stand alone.  I was surprised at how quickly I was able to read this it; I just couldn't seem to put it down.  I laughed so hard in some places that I know I looked ridiculous to the people around me.  Jen Mann addresses many of the things that drive us all crazy about the people around us, but her main focus here is all the crazies she meets in association with being a wife and mother.  The overprotective preschool mom who won't get to know Jen or her daughter because she doesn't know them?  Covered.  The micromanaging room moms who decide the class Halloween party needs to be sugar-free?  In there.  The hyper-competitive, passive-aggressive moms?  Oh, yeah, they are totally in the book.  I really like this woman.  We share so many of the same opinions- she hates the dance mom on TLC that is mean to everyone, she thinks cheerleading is dumb because it's just girls cheering for boys playing sports, and she loves her minivan, even if it's not the cool car to drive.  

Fair warning: this book is not light on the profanity.  The f-word plays a big part in Mann's vocabulary so if that is something that bothers you, beware.  On the other hand, I know that will just make some of you like her more.  A little like Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, this was a fun peek into someone else's life that also serves to help me realize I'm not the only one.  Read her book and then follow her blog.  Everyone needs a little more laughter and sarcasm in their life. Right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

A common complaint made by people who don't like Young Adult fiction is that they find it inappropriate for young adults.  They feel that in some books teenagers are depicted in situations that are too mature or that are not realistic.  The other side of that argument, of course, is that teenagers are having these experiences and that reading about them will help them understand it better.  Honestly, I've read books that I felt handled these situations well and others that seemed to only be grasping for sensationalism.  Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel is one of those books that I felt handled it well.  I would love to say more here, but I would hate to spoil it for you.

Inspired by Peter Pan, Second Star follows Wendy Darling as she faces high school graduation and the final summer before college in the wake of her twin brothers' presumed death.  John and Michael were surfers who ran away from home to chase waves, but after months of not knowing what has happened to them, it is believed they died in the waves.  Wendy refuses to believe they are really gone and decides to search for them on her own.  While doing her best to track them down, she meets Pete, Belle and Jas (Hook), other surfers who may have known her brothers.

This is one of those books that leaves the ending open to the reader to decide the outcome.  I prefer more defined endings, particularly the happily ever after kind, but that is because I'm a sap and I'm okay with that.  Second Star leaves so much up to the reader so I suppose the way each reader interprets it will affect how she feels about it.  One thing I wasn't especially crazy about was that this book seemed to contain a lot of what I consider flaws in YA fiction.  Do we really need another love triangle or another story where the main character falls in love almost immediately?

There really are a lot of bad decisions made in this book, but for the most part I enjoyed it.  Some of it annoyed me, some of it confused me, but still I liked it.  I expected light reading and that was what I got.  The fact that I'm not sure how much I liked it is a positive, at least in this case.  I enjoy being able to continue thinking about the storyline after I've put the book away.  If this sounds like something you might like, give it a read and we'll discuss.  I'd love to talk this out with someone.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson is the tale of a young girl, Piper, who lives alone in a shanty town outside the Meteor Fields.  She works as a scrapper, collecting the junk that comes crashing to the ground along with the poisonous dust each meteor storm brings.  She is talented with machines and can repair any small device to sell at market.  Her father left to go work in the dangerous factories in the Dragonfly Territories, but he was killed before he could return for her.

Piper is surprised one day when she finds another young girl, Anna, among the wreckage of a caravan caught in a storm.  Anna is unconscious, but Piper brings her home to try to help her.  When Anna wakes, she can't remember who she is, but the two girls discover a dragonfly tattoo on Anna's arm that indicates she is protected by the king of the Dragonfly Territories.  Piper hopes that getting Anna home will result in a reward large enough for Piper to leave the Meteor Fields and become a proper machinist in a better place.  As they make their way, they must contend with a persistent wolf, a group of slavers and a very suspicious train operator.

The journey Piper and Anna make is treacherous and filled with excitement, but one thing I love about the book is that it is never implied that they aren't equal to the task because of their gender.  They also make and admit their mistakes along the way.  I really enjoyed this book.  I think it would be a wonderful introduction to fantasy lit for younger and middle grade readers.  I hope you'll read it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee is just ... marvelous.  I know that sounds contrived, but really it isn't.  I adored this book.  Ophelia is an eleven-year-old girl who is spending her winter vacation in a cold, drafty museum while her father prepares an exhibit showcasing the world history of swords.  This is a difficult time for Ophelia, her sister Alice and their father.  The girls are mourning the loss of their mother and their father is unable to talk about her.  Ophelia's grief is made tangible by the many mentions of how long it has been since her mother's death.  Each time she looks at a clock or her watch, she thinks something similar to "it was exactly three months, nine days, and half an hour since her mother had died."  I found her exactness in remembering the time without her mother heartbreaking.

While wondering through this museum that is reportedly large enough for many children to have become lost and never found, Ophelia discovers a locked door that she cannot resist.  I knew I was going to love her character when she was described this way:  "Ophelia didn't consider herself  brave, but she was very curious."  Curiosity is a wonderful quality and leads to so many great adventures.  Once Ophelia peeks inside that keyhole, she is set for the adventure of her life. Inside she sees a young boy just her age, but she soon learns that he has been held captive inside that room for over seventy years, never aging.  In fact, his inability to age is exactly what makes him the Marvelous Boy.  Imprisoned by the Snow Queen, this boy needs Ophelia's help to escape and defeat the Snow Queen before she is able to destroy the world.

This is a very exciting book and just the kind of thing that I think my children would enjoy added to our summer reading list.  It is beautifully written and so much fun to read.  While I do often feel irked that fiction, be it books or movies (I'm looking at you, Disney) seem so often to kill off the mother, in this case it didn't bother me so much.  Perhaps that was because the mother was present throughout the book via flashback as Ophelia recalled her mother's illness.  It felt as though it were giving her, and so other young readers, an opportunity to come to terms with something so difficult.  I absolutely loved this book.  Pick this book up and save it for a chilly winter read or enjoy it now to counteract the heat of summer.  I hope you will love it, too.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards

Every summer, I pick a few books to read to my children who are currently seven and ten.  We've read some wonderful things together and I believe it helps foster a love of reading.  I am always happy when we can all get involved in a book together.  The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards was the first of our summer reading this year.  Sadly, it has taken us over a month to get through it.  Perhaps there is something I am missing because this book has an average rating of 4.25 on Goodreads, but we didn't like it at all.

I knew from the very first chapter that I wasn't going to be a fan when the children in the book meet a strange man at the zoo, then end up at his house on Halloween when they are trick-or-treating alone and go into his house.  Then I was even more unhappy when he promises to take them on a fantastic adventure, but they cannot tell their parents anything about it!  I understand that this is fiction and was written even before I was born and so it was a different time, but I have a hard time as a mother being sure that my own children can make the distinction.  I had to stop reading several times to remind them that it is a book and they are never to do what the children in this story were doing.  For me, that really takes something away from the experience.  

Also frustrating for us was that the storytelling style just seemed far too slow.  There was a lot of detail given, but it felt as if the narration went on and on with very little accomplished.  To be honest, we all felt that it was just terrible.  I am truly sorry to Mrs. Edwards.  We love Julie Andrews, but her book didn't work for us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The book club selection for July is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  Sadly, I must admit that this is my first Neil Gaiman read.  I have been hearing a lot about Fortunately, the Milk and The Graveyard Book but I haven't gotten to them yet.  After reading this one, I will have to be sure to bump them up my to-read list.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a man who returns to his hometown for a funeral.  As he takes a drive between services to clear his head, he finds himself at the home of a long lost friend, Lettie.  As he sits on a bench overlooking her backyard pond, he recalls the strange events surrounding their short friendship before she moved away.  Lettie called the pond an ocean and at first he can't remember why, but as he lingers he is bombarded by memories of the most unusual things.  

Initially intended as a short story, Gaiman's tale grew until it necessitated a novel of its own.  This is a short book that only took me three days of short reads to finish. I was pulled in to the story and was anxious to discover the truth behind the mysteries.  I do feel slightly dissatisfied with the answers at the end.  I was hoping for more detail, more clarity.  Perhaps the reader is meant to invent her own solutions.  This was a fun book to read and I enjoy a good fairy tale, but I wouldn't call this one you just have to add to your collection.  Check it out at the library, read it and return it.