Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Wednesday Sisters

The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton

rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I heard a lot of great buzz about this book, so I was excited when I managed to mooch an ARC copy of it a little while back.

The Wednesday Sisters is set in Palo Alto, California beginning in 1969. It is the story of five women who meet at the park on Wednesdays with their kids and discuss books and work on writing samples. The friends help each other through tumultuous periods in their personal lives as well as addressing pertinent issues of the time such as the war in Vietnam, the Equal Rights Amendment, and racial and ethnic stigmas. I LOVE books set in this time period. It always makes me appreciate the brave men and women who worked so hard to change social perceptions.

I found this book a little hard to get into. It took me awhile to keep all five women straight in my head and I'm not sure that I ever felt like I fully understood each one of them. In addition to the social issues, each one of the women had their own "problem" to deal with which was a little over the top for me.

However, the book definitely moved well for me in the second half and I would read more by the same author in the future. I would especially recommend it as a book club read because I think there is a lot to discuss.

They also reviewed it: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? and Lesa's Book Critiques
Let me know if you did too so I can add you!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second YA book I've read this year dealing with the Holocaust and I have to say that I have loved them both.

Bruno is a 9-year old boy living a wonderful life in Berlin in 1942. His father has "the Fury" over for dinner which results in him receiving a Commandant position in the military. The family then moves to "Out-With" which upsets Bruno terribly. From Bruno's window he can see all the people behind the fence wearing striped pajamas. Naive Bruno can't understand why they are there, but he knows he just doesn't feel good inside.

This book is really a kind of fable that gets you thinking about the world we live in, and the part you play as an individual in it. It isn't to be taken as historically accurate or necessarily even plausible.

But it is powerful.

They reviewed it: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? and Stephanie at The Written Word
Let me know if you did too so I can add you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inside the Readers' Studio Meme

I was tagged by Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? for this fun meme. Thanks Trish!

What is your favorite word? Ooooh, there are so many good ones, and I can't think of any right now. "Takeout" is usually a winner with me though.

What is your least favorite word? Pretty much any swear word, but "moist" kind of bugs me too.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? Warm sunshine, a clean house, happy kids.

What turns you off (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? Being cold, a dirty house, my kids arguing.

What sound or noise do you love? The laughter of my children.

What sound or noise do you hate? Chalk on a chalkboard. Nails on a chalkboard. Anything to do with chalkboards really. Vacuums and thunderstorms. Anything loud really.

What is your favorite curse word? I don't really swear, but crap used to be my favorite. I think I say "garbage" a lot now which is kind of lame.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Well, first I'd like to attempt the profession I've just gotten a degree for--as a librarian. But, being an art historian has also appealed to me.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything that requires carrying a gun.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Now to tag three people: Corinne, Cherylyn, and Bermudaonion.

The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 3, 2008

This historically accurate story allows the reader to be immersed into the Carrier family's Puritan life in Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. It is a hauntingly written tale and definitely made me angry, uncomfortable, and just plain sad. But, if you have an interest in this time period, this book is not to be missed.

Kathleen Kent is a descendant of Martha Carrier, who was hung for witchcraft in 1692. The story is told from the perspective of Martha's daughter, Sarah, as she looks back on her life and tries to come to terms with her familial relationships and the events that shaped her life.

I certainly appreciated Kent's desire to write the book, and it is beautifully written. I did find it slow moving at times and a little disturbing to read. But I found out after I finished reading this book that Elizabeth Sessions who marries Richard Carrier at the end of the book is my 8th Great-Grand Aunt. I'm sure many in this country have ancestors impacted by this dark period in history, and it is a story that should not be forgotten.

She also reviewed it: Corinne. Let me know if you did too!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Book Awards Reading Challenge

I decided to join this great challenge that runs from August 1 - June 1. I have to read 10 award-winning books in 10 months. Here are my choices:
  1. The Road Home - Tremain
  2. Half a Yellow Sun - Adichie
  3. Bel Canto - Patchett
  4. The Old Man & The Sea - Hemingway
  5. The Book of Ruth - Hamilton
  6. Cold Mountain - Frazier
  7. Out Stealing Horses - Petterson
  8. To Say Nothing of the Dog - Willis
  9. The Sparrow - Russell
  10. The Glass Castle - Walls

Friday, August 15, 2008

Southern Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Thank you Maggie for hosting the Southern Reading Challenge! I really enjoyed this challenge. I got lots of ideas from other readers for future reads and I also came across this list from my library which have even more possibilities as Southern reads. All of the books I read were set in the past, but I would like to read some more modern-day stuff.

My three books were:

1. The Widow of the South
2. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
3. Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage

I liked Daisy Fay the best and Gap Creek the least. Widow of the South was historical fiction set in Tennessee during the Civil War. Daisy Fay was set in Mississippi in the 1950s. Gap Creek was set in North and South Carolina from 1899 to 1900.

Reading these has not only been fun, but it has also been educational for me. I still consider myself pretty new to the South, but it is where we are planning on raising our kids. So I want to be considerate of the heritage and history of this part of the country because this is where we want the roots of our legacy to be.

Gap Creek

Gap Creek : The Story Of A Marriage (Oprah's Book Club) Gap Creek : The Story Of A Marriage by Robert Morgan

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up a nice copy of this book from my library book sale for 10 cents awhile back. I decided to read it this week as my final book for the Southern Reading Challenge because it won the Southern Book Critic Circle Award.

However, it is also an Oprah book. Next time I pick up an Oprah book, somebody please just slap me. This book is more depressing than a sunless day in January. How depressing? Read on...


Set in 1899, the book opens with 17-year old protagonist Julie Harmon describing the gruesome death of her younger brother. That's followed with the death of her father. Then she marries Hank, whom she has known for all of a few days. They move down from the mountains of North Carolina to the Appalachian valley over the border in South Carolina. Julie takes care of a nasty old widower in exchange for free rent while Hank works in town making bricks.

We get a lot of detail into their tough and rugged lives, including an in-depth look into the slaughtering of a hog. Julie burns down the kitchen, the widower dies, they are swindled out of every dime they own, Hank smacks Julie around and loses his job, they loose what little they have left in a flood, Julie gives birth to a premature baby that subsequently dies, and then they get tossed out of the house.

And that's the end.

I'm only giving it two stars instead of one because it was well-written and I liked this passage:
The good Lord made the world so we could earn our joy, Ma said. But it's no guarantee we'll ever be happy.
I know that life can be difficult and even brutal. I just would have appreciated a little more sunshine in this book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Dai Sijie

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This semi-autobiographical historical novel is set in China in the late 1960s. The book details the experiences of two young men who are sent to the mountains to be 're-educated' during the Cultural Revolution because they belong to bourgeois families. There they learn about life and love as they delight villagers with storytelling inspired by their contraband Western novels.

All in all, a delightful little novella with a surprising ending.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle: A Memoir The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a little hesitant about reading this book based on what I had heard because I didn't want to be angry. However, I sat down this afternoon to get started and ended up finishing the whole thing. I thought the book would depress me, but somehow Jeannette Walls has a way of presenting the facts of her upbringing without victimizing herself in a way that I found refreshing.

Walls was brought up by two very eccentric parents who believed that children needed little structure or grounding. The father was an alcoholic with fantastical ideas that never came to fruition. The mother would paint and read all day long while the kids tried to keep Social Services at bay, find something to eat and get through school. The family was often on the run from creditors and the law and lived in abject poverty, taking no government assistance. Neither parent held a job for very long, even though it seems that both were capably brilliant and talented. Somehow Jeannette dug her way out, graduated from Barnard College, and wrote for for 8 years.

The memoir was incredibly well-written and read like a novel (although I had to keep reminding myself that this unbelievable story was in fact reality). I would not recommend it wholesale, however. There is some offensive language and some uncomfortable sexual situations present. But overall, I found Jeannette's story compelling and even heroic.

They also reviewed it: bethany, Corinne and Melissa. Let me know if you did too!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the true story of Greg Mortensen's quest to build and staff schools for children, especially girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a mountain climber, he was taken in by a small village in a time of need. He promised them a school, and despite being broke himself, returned to make good on that promise. In the process, he realized that virtually no funds are reaching remote mountain villages for education. Through a lot of pluck and determination, today Mortensen runs the Central Asia Institute which has built 63 schools since 1996.

The first 100 pages were good. They really set the stage on Mortensen's personal life and make you realize how far he has come to be the man he is today. The second 100 pages slowed me W A Y down. That section portrays a lot of the technicalities of getting the job done--negotiating with the local tribes, raising funds, etc. The last 100 pages were probably the best. They cover his time in the region since 9/11 and effectively argue that secular schools in this terrorist-infested region will promote peace in ways that that bombs or missiles never can.

The book doesn't read as smoothly as I would have liked. Nor did I really feel that I totally understood Mortensen. His style of personal management and priorities just didn't jive with me. However, I have tremendous respect for him and his sacrificing family who are trying to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

They also reviewed it: bethany, Trixie, Just a (Reading) Fool
(let me know if you did also so I can add you)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Thief

The Thief (Book 1) The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner follows the story of Gen, a self-proclaimed thief who can steal anything. The story opens with Gen in prison where he is released on condition that he will help the king's magus find a precious stone.

I think I would have given this Newbery Honor book five stars if it weren't for the fact that so much of the book is walking, talking, sleeping and eating over and over again. However, the last 100 pages was riveting. And, the ending made me want to read it all over again.

The first book in a trilogy, a great book for boys (and girls!), a little fantasy/mythology thrown in for good measure, appropriate from around age 10+, this is a book I would definitely recommend.

They also reviewed it: Corinne and Melissa
(please let me know if you have read it as well so I can add you)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4) Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

rating: 3 of 5 stars


There are almost no spoilers in this review, but read at your own risk anyway.

So, I didn't love it. But, I didn't hate it either. It was shocking and predictable. Shocking because what I thought was going to take up the whole book, only took 140 pages (which were my favorite pages I should add). Predictable because once I realized what the bulk of the book was going to be about, I figured out the ending while I still had about 400 pages to go.

I liked Bella better (finally a little self-confidence and initiative girlfriend) and liked Edward worse (grow a spine man). Stephenie Meyer should not be allowed to name her own characters, she writes sexual tension much better than sex, and the "science" she used to explain everything was laughingly contrived. The ending was totally anti-climatic and sickeningly perfect.

I felt like Stephenie Meyer played too much to her fans in giving them what they wanted and the whole thing was just a little weird. Twilight was the right amount of weird for me I guess, and this just pushed me over the edge.

Having said all that, I really wanted to finish the book (although I wasn't glued to my seat). Meyer is a good storyteller and I did feel the book moved along at a fairly good pace. I love the different personalities inherent in the Cullen family and the new dynamics that showed up this time around.

If she writes more in this series beyond Midnight Sun, I will read it. But nothing holds a candle to Twilight.