Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saffy's Angel

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

Book 30 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 6 of 12 for the 2009 YA Challenge

Awards: BCCB Blue Ribbon Book; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award/Honors; NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts; SLJ Best Book; Publishers Weekly Best Book; Booklist Editors' Choice; Horn Book Fanfare; Costa/Whitbread Children's Award; Young Reader's Choice Award/Nominee; Parent's Guide Book Award/ Honor Book; ALA Notable/Best Books

rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read Melissa's review, I knew this would be a series I would love. I was so pleased to receive this book from BookMooch today and I sat down and devoured the whole thing.

The Casson family is made up of an eccentric group of characters: Bill, the dad, lives in London where he is an almost-successful artist. Eve, the mom, is also an artist, but she spends most of her time out in the shed painting while ignoring the kids. The kids are named Cadmium, Saffron, Indigo, and Rose--all paint colors. And they live in a house named The Banana House where guinea pigs run wild in the yard and nothing is ever thrown away.

When Saffron is 8 years old, she finds out that she's actually adopted and that Eve is her biological mother's sister. As a teenager, Saffy is lonely and is trying to find her place in her crazy family when her beloved grandfather dies. She embarks on both an emotional and physical journey with the rallying support of family and friends.

This book is sweet, funny, and delightful in every way. I still have a smile just thinking about it and I can't wait to read Indigo's Star. Recommended from middle school on up.

Also reviewed by:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Book 29 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 1 of 5 for the Once Upon a Time Challenge

Awards: Christopher Award; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award/Honors; SLJ Best Book; Publishers Weekly Best Book; Booklist Editors' Choice; Quill Book Awards; Parenting Magazine Award; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold/Platinum Award; ALA Notable/Best Books

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, but this one is my favorite Kate DiCamillo so far.  

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit that lives in the home of Abilene Tulane.  When Edward is lost at sea, he begins a long journey through grief, despair, poverty, and abuse.  But through it all, Edward learns about love--what it means to be loved, and what it means to feel and give love.  

This is a beautiful and moving book with gorgeous illustrations and sparse prose that packs a punch. I think this book would make a great Easter read with a feeling akin to The Velveteen Rabbit.  I'm looking forward to reading this aloud with my older kids in the coming weeks.  I would recommend it for kids starting around age 7 because of the darker themes.  But, it is a wonderfully crafted tale of redemption and hope for all of us.

Also reviewed by:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Banker to the Poor

Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

Book 28 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 14 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge
Book 2 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Bangladesh)

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Muhammad Yunus was an economics professor in Bangladesh in the 1970s.  He started to realize that economists can talk all day long about why people are poor and theorize what is to be done, but no one ever gets down to the heart of the matter.  Yunus and his students decided to find out what the poor needed to help themselves.  It all started with a $27 loan from Yunus' pocket and today Yunus is the Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of the Grameen Bank and its affiliated institutions.

Yunus definitely gets 5 stars for starting the micro-credit lending program.  The program works not only in developing countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, but also in the developed countries like the United States.  Yunus believes in the free market (his bank is profit-making) but he also believes that companies can be founded on principles of social consciousness and not just greed.  He believes the less government interferes in our lives the better.  I found these quotes interesting in light of the recent political/economic situation in our country:

Another way to achieve this [for the poor to have access to affordable housing, health care, and education] is to let business earn profit that is then taxed by the government, and the tax can be used to provide services to the poor.  But in practice it never works that way.  In real life, taxes only pay for a government bureaucracy that collects the tax and provides little or nothing to the poor.  And since most government bureaucracies are not profit motivated, they have little incentive to increase their efficiency.  In fact, they have a disincentive: governments often cannot cut social services without a public outcry, so the behemoth continues, blind and inefficient, year after year.

I also believe that providing unemployment benefits is not the best way to address poverty. The able-bodied poor don't want or need charity.  The dole only increases their misery, robs them of incentive and, more important, of self-respect.

The public sector has failed. [This was in 1999.] Or at least it is on the way out despite our best efforts.  Bureaucratization cushioned by subsidies, economic and political protection, and lack of transparency is killing it off.  It has become a playground of corruption. What started out with good intentions became a road to disaster.

The book as a whole, however, only gets on OK rating from me.  The story was told in random bits and pieces, jumping backwards and forwards in time.  It was a quick read, but Yunus says a lot of the same stuff over and over again.  Some details seemed unnecessary and there were other parts of the book that I really wanted to know more.  It was like Yunus couldn't decide if this book was going to be an autobiography, a history of Grameen, or just one big advertisement. But, I do recommend checking out the Grameen website for a look at the amazing results of Yunus' work (especially among women) and his Wikipedia entry.  

Also reviewed by:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier

Book 27 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

John is an Englishman, who is a professor of French history. He is a solitary person, and wishes he had deeper interpersonal relationships. While on vacation in France, he meets Jean who looks and sounds identical to himself. After a few drinks, Jean convinces John to go to a seedy hotel, where he drugs him and takes everything he owns. When John wakes up, he decides to take on Jean's life as the head of a prominent family in a provincial village.

I really enjoyed this book because it is so different to what I normally read. I did have to suspend my disbelief that John could actually fool Jean's mother, wife, child, and lovers. But the book is a voyeuristic exploration of those little fantasies in the back of my head about what it would be like to become a completely different person. What would it be like to live someone else's life?

Some elements of the story were a little predictable, but I even enjoyed watching (and cringing!) at how those came to fruition. The ending was a tad disappointing, but I was thoroughly gripped by the story until I turned the final page.

Books like this should still be in print! Daphne du Maurier writes beautifully haunting works.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Among the Mad

Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs Novels) Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Book 1 of 10 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (England)
Book 26 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 13 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the sixth book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Jacqueline Winspear writes lovely post-WWI mysteries set in London. In this installment, Maisie teams up with Scotland Yard to find a mentally unstable man who wants to punish the government for ignoring the needs of veterans in the post-war society. The man is highly dangerous and kills helpless animals to demonstrate his chemical warfare capabilities. The other men working on the case doubt Maisie's unorthodox methods, but Maisie knows that time is short before something catastrophic happens, and she will not rest.

Winspear's characters are so likeable, even with their flaws. Maisie herself is still coming to terms with her place in society as a working single woman from a working class background. This book deals with inner turmoil of the mind--specifically that of Maisie, her best friend Priscilla, and the wife of her employee, Doreen Beale, and of course, the killer's mind. This mystery actually creeped me out a little more than her others have, but I was riveted.

Also reviewed by:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Galway Bay - BLOG TOUR!

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly

Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Date published: February 9, 2009

Book 25 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book description:
Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish Americans.

My Thoughts:

This is one of those great sweeping generational sagas. It was long, but I loved it. I didn't know much about the Potato Famine before, and for some reason I never really connected how the immigrants at that time would land themselves into a budding Civil War. I found this book both enjoyable and interesting, and I really felt that I broadened by life perspective by reading it. If you have any interest at all in the Irish-American history of the 1800s, this book is a must-read. I felt emotionally involved in the characters (yes, there were tears) and I feel like I came away with a better appreciation of life during that time. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Miriam for organizing the tour. This book is a definite winner!

From what I've read so far, this one is garnering great reviews in the blogging world. Check these out:


Monday, March 9, 2009

The Help

The Help The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book 24 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge
Book 12 of 25 for the Support Your Local Library Challenge

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Help is an intensely emotional book about three women in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. The book is told in three voices: Minny and Aibileen who are maids for young married couples, and Skeeter (Eugenia) Phelan, a single woman desperate to shake the status quo and leave Mississippi to become a journalist.  

Set in the midst of the events of the early civil rights movement, The Help examines what life might have been like to be a black maid--how they were treated, how emotionally involved they became in their work, and their dreams and desires to make a better life for their children and community.  On the flip side, the novel also looks at a white woman struggling with how blacks are treated (including the maid who raised her who seems to have mysteriously disappeared) and who supports emerging feminist ideals that set her at odds with her childhood friends. 

I think this first-time author attacked a lot of serious issues with this book, and I think she did a great job.  The story touches on racism, feminism, friendship, abuse, depression, sickness, and family relationships in a way that is both uplifting and heart-breakingly real.  The ending ties the emotional journey of the book together so beautifully, I sat and sobbed while I read it.  

Also reviewed by:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Kingmaking

The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick

Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Published on: March 1, 2009
First published in 1994
592 pages
ISBN: 1402218885

Book 23 of 100 for the 100+ Reading Challenge

This is a different type of King Arthur book. There is no Lancelot, Merlin, or magic. But, Helen Hollick has obviously done an extraordinary amount of research to create a tale that presents King Arthur as he might actually have been.  It was fascinating to imagine what life might have really been like for the people in Britain during that period of history. 

The book begins in 450 AD when Arthur and Gwenhwyfar are on the cusp of adulthood.  Arthur does not yet know he is destined to be king, but he and Gwenhwyfar form a bond that cannot be broken.  Through the almost 600 pages of this book, the reader is immersed in the history of the land, the people, the politics, and the scandals and intrigue during Arthur's rise to power.  I enjoyed being transported to a different place and time as I read.

I found that even with all the rich details and history included, the story clipped along at a good pace. However, I should warn that this book is much more violent than what I am used to reading. In addition, those looking for the typical Camelot story might be a little disappointed. (Arthur is certainly more of a womanizing drunk than I would have liked.)  But I found Helen Hollick's more realistic approach to this beloved legend refreshing and eye-opening.

Many thanks to Paul Samuelson from Sourcebooks for the opportunity to review this book and participate in the tour.  Check out some other reviews and author interviews from this book blog tour:

Coming up tomorrow:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Orbis Terrarum 2009

Yay!  Orbis Terrarum started yesterday!

Main Challenge Rules:
*The Orbis Terrarum Challenge begins March 1 2009(you are welcome to join later) Through the end of 2009.
*For the challenge each reader is to choose 10 books (for the 10 months).
*Each book must from a different country, I have decided to go by the country of origin of the author, or the country he/she lives in is fine as well.
*You don't have to have a list, that means you can change your mind at any time. As long as there are 10 from 10 different countries, written by 10 different authors: Anything goes.

Book possibilities:
  1. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Povertyby Muhammad Yunus (Bangladesh)
  2. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (South Africa)
  3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
  4. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya)
  5. The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (India)
  6. Random Passage by Bernice Morgan (Canada)
  7. Silence by Shusake Endo (Japan)
  8. Night by Elie Wiesel (Germany)
  9. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norway)
  10. Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson (Sweden)