Monday, May 31, 2010

Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris

Well, Sookie Stackhouse fans, I finally read number 5, Dead as a Doornail.  Love, love, triple love this series! 

In this installment someone appears to be out to get the shifters around Bon Temps, and since Sookie is related to or secretly in love with about half of them this is of some concern.  Add to that Eric's persistence in trying to remember what happened between them during the Witch War, Bill's reappearance, and some political shenanigans in Alcide's pack and you have quite a mess for Sookie to clean up, as usual.

If you have no idea what the paragraph above is about, shame on you!  If you enjoy campy, soapish story lines involving the paranormal, you probably already read these books, but if you haven't, go get them NOW!  Harris's books are escapism at its best.  No real thought required, just a desire to immerse yourself in a completely unbelievable world that is inexplicably believable in these novels.

OK, I do have to admit that I did think a little bit when I read this one...and I have one complaint, Ms. Harris.  Seriously, how many men have to be fighting for Sookie's attention?  Thank goodness no one ever started that Team Edward/Team Jacob nonsense with these books.  You'd need several Facebook fan pages to take care of Team Bill, Team Sam, Team Eric, Team Alcide, Team Calvin, and now Team Quinn (though I would totally be a fan of Team Sam!).  Also, if you are going to give her any more suitors, can one of them not be a testosterone-fueled, macho, paternalistic guy?  I'd like the next one to say, "Wow, Sookie, look how strong and smart and loyal you are...I know that you can take care of yourself, so instead of swooping in to save you even when you don't want me to, I'll be here when you get home to fix you some tea."  Now that would be a guy I could get behind.  Regardless of that small complaint, I will be starting Definitely Dead pretty much as soon as I finish this review.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

This Monday post finds me sitting at the computer much later than usual, still nursing my coffee.  Ahhh, sweet three day weekends!  Pretty soon every day will feel like a three day weekend-only 6 more days of school left.  Well, two more days of "school" and then a picnic and three half days.  Surely we will all survive!

This week I finished Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, as well as When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge.  That brings me up to a whopping 30 books on the year (for a full list click here), putting me very far behind in my quest to complete the 100+ Book Challenge.  Come on, summer!  I've got some serious making up to do.



Right now I am reading Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris.  Number five in the Sookie Stackhouse series, I'm only about 50 pages into it but I am enjoying it just as much as the others.  That may have something to do with the fact that I just finished watching the HBO series On Demand-I figured I better keep myself immersed in Bon Temps if I don't want the show to outpace me!  I got #5 and #6 together through Bookswap, so I may just read Definitely Dead next.




Hope everyone has a great week!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

When She Flew, Jennie Shortridge

I will admit to being a little nervous when my friend Mary gave be the book When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge.  Shortridge is a childhood friend of hers, and as a result I started worrying about what I would write here if I didn't like the book.  (It never occurred to me not to write a review...guess I'm a book blogger for real now!)  Thankfully I enjoyed the book, and am therefore let off the hook of having to write a negative review of a friend (which is what it would have felt like!).

When She Flew is the story of Jess and Lindy.  Jess is a police-officer, a single mom of a single mom-her daughter had a baby at 16 and left home to live with her father.  Lindy is the 13 year-old daughter of an Iraq war vet.  She and her dad have been living "off the grid" in the Oregon wilderness.  When a birdwatcher catches sight of Lindy and reports a child in danger to the police, Jess and Lindy's worlds meet with jarring consequences.

In terms of story, this book reminded me a little bit of Jodi Picoult Light, and I mean that as a compliment.  It's the kind of story that Jodi Picoult likes to tell-one about family and love and society and redemption.  However, Shortridge's book is heavier on the personal and lighter on the political than a Picoult book is.  The story is simple without being simplistic, an easy read that still provides depth and substance.  It highlights one of the most current of current-events, the Iraq war and its repercussions, in a way that isn't preachy or jingoistic, just honest.

My only criticism is that Jess's character seemed so guilt-ridden over her choices as a mother.  Her daughter, enraged by her mother for kicking her father out when she was 10 or so, becomes combative, finally removing herself mostly from Jess's life when she gets pregnant.  Throughout the book Jess expresses remorse again and again for putting her career before her daughter, but nothing about the way that their life is described makes me think she was an absent mother.  I think that too often working women are portrayed in media, and made to feel guilty for, having a career and interests outside of child-rearing.  We are all supposed to be horribly conflicted and feel guilty the whole time we are away, living only for the moment we can be with our precious child again.  While I'm sure that is the experience of some women, there are also plenty of women who see their career as an important part of their identity, and who don't feel as though they have to sacrifice everything about themselves to say they are a good mom.  Balance is possible.  I understand why Shortridge wrote Jess that way-she needed a plausible motivation for her actions in the story.  I just wish some other mechanism could have been found to make that happen.

But, as my friend Mary will tell you, I tend to over-analyze anything remotely feminist in nature.  Mary, if you're reading this, I'm sure you are shaking your head and chuckling that I manage to find something political in such a simple, personal story.  Well, you know me...I love nothing more than a good debate!  Regardless of how I feel about Jess's motivation in the story, this book is an enjoyable, poignant read.

Little Bee, Chris Cleave

Little Bee is the story of a Nigerian refugee, an English woman, and a superhero.  The refugee is Little Bee herself, a 16 year old Nigerian girl who fled her country to escape retribution for being witness to the destruction of her village. It seems her village had the bad luck to be located on top of a large reserve of oil, and the government and the oil companies wanted to get at it without having to worry about little things like relocating people or paying them fair value for their land.  On the day "the men came", Little Bee and her sister watched as their family and friends were killed and their houses burned to the ground.  They escaped through the woods, only to be caught hours later on the beach.  Improbably, Sarah, the Englishwoman, and her husband were walking down that beach, on a vacation.  When the men caught up with the girls, Sarah and her husband tried to protect them, with tragic consequences.  Two years later, Little Bee contacts Sarah.  She's in England, having stowed away on a boat and spent the time since they last met in a detention center.  Little Bee's call starts another sequence of tragic events in motion for Sarah, her husband, and her son, Batman.

I don't usually read reviews of a book while I am reading it, but I did look into this one a bit.  Mostly because the back cover has such an unusually cutesy "summary" for a rather tragic story.  It reminded me of the Series of Unfortunate Events narrator, who was constantly telling you to stop reading, only in reverse.  Anyway, the reviews were pretty evenly mixed between good and bad, and I guess that's how I felt about the novel in general-good and bad all mixed up together.

So, what's bad?  I understand suspension of disbelief when reading fiction, but the idea of two middle-class English people choosing to take a vacation to Nigeria seemed too implausible to me.  Maybe I don't know enough about the tourist industry in Europe, but Nigeria, with it's oil wars, seems like a strange place to go. Without that visit to the beach, none of the rest of the novel would have been possible the way it was written.  However, I'm not sure why we needed to see the story of an African refugee through the eyes of a middle-class English woman at all.  Cleave seemed to be trying to equate the experience of Sarah with the experiences of Little Bee, and frankly that is just ridiculous.  It felt very much like white-liberal-guilt-redemption fantasy to me.  Sadly, in our world, it does often happen that the only way we pay attention to the plight of those in the developing world is by how it affects our own experiences.

What's good?  Little Bee as narrator makes the rest of the slightly unbelievable story worth it.  Her  voice as written by Cleave is lyrical and innocent, yet worldly and wise.  My favorite thing in the book is the first line:  "Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of and African girl."  Little Bee's point of view makes everything that Sarah and her family go to look small.  While his portrayal of her could also smack of "noble savage" stereotype, she is shown with a depth of human emotion and a capacity for good and for bad that makes her completely relate-able.    What is also good is the fact that regardless of how he goes about it, Cleave does a good job highlighting some of the problems of refugees.  Most rational people would consider Little Bee a political refugee, but because England did not recognize the oil wars in her country "officially", she was left in a gray area legally.  I was shocked to discover after reading a bit that she was only 14 when she came to England, but she was thrown into detention with adults and given no schooling.  Our oil addiction in the developed world helped create the situation in the first place, but we avert our eyes to the consequences, and then call the displaced human beings refugees or illegal aliens, and deport them back where they came from.

Final verdict-an entertaining, imperfect, enlightening, enjoyable read.  I mean really, aren't we all a little good and a little bad thrown in together?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Book Blogger Hop

Welcome hoppers!  I hope that everyone has had a great reading week!  Haven't had much time for exploring new blogs this week, but here are a couple that I continue to love!

 
Crazy-for-Books  hosts this weekly meme.
 
ABOUT THE HOP:
In the spirit of the Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.

If you start following someone through the Hop, leave a comment on their blog to let them know!  Stop back during the week to see other blogs that are added!  And, most importantly, the idea is to HAVE FUN!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Confessions of the Other Mother

What makes a person a mother?  How do women who do not identify with traditional femininity fit into the role of mother?  What is it like watching your partner have a physical closeness with your child that you will neve have?  These are all questions posed (and sometimes answered) by the collection of essays Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Tell All.

I was drawn to this book (despite my previously stated aversion to most non-fiction) because my partner, Amanda, could have contributed to the book.  While our 16 year old daughter came about the old-fashioned way from my first marriage, Amanda and I have been raising her together since she was about eight.  I wanted to get some insight into the kinds of experiences that other women had had with blended families.

Had I been paying more attention to the actual table of contents during my book buying frenzy at the conference where I bought this book, I would have noticed that there is only one essay in the book about step-mothering. But I'm glad that I didn't pay more attention, because I would have missed out on some fascinating stories.  From poignant to frustrating, political to deeply personal, the authors of these essays have shared an experience that not only helps me understand lesbian mothering, but actually gave me insight into straight fathering.  It never occurred to me that women who identify strongly as butch would have trouble not just being called mother, but with identifying with our society's definition of maternal.  Or that there would be jealousy from the non-birth spouse over the closeness of breastfeeding (this was the one that got me thinking about straight fathers).  Or that people were really so insensitive as to ask which mother is the "real" mother.

The one that spoke the most strongly to me was written by one of the women who brought about the lawsuit that led to the Massachusetts gay marriage decision, Hilary Goodrich.  Her partner had to have a C-section while delivering their daughter.  The baby was born in some distress, so she was rushed to the NICU, and Goodrich went with her.  After sitting next to her daughter's bed until the crisis passed, she went back to check on her partner-and was told that she could not "visit" because she was not "family".  She then tried to go back to the NICU, where she was stopped at the door because she was not the "mother".  Imagine not being able to go to the person you love or your child when they are sick or in pain, and the frustration and anger you'd feel.   

There has been a lot of debate in our country over the years about what makes a family.  I think that most of us have gotten our heads around the idea of single parents, blended families, and families with grandparents as the main child-rearers.  Based on the stories in Confessions, we still have some work to do on honoring and valuing the love and care that exists in families led by same-sex parents.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by One Person's Journey Through Books, this weekly meme gives us bloggers a chance to review our reading week and plan for the next one!

Last week I finished Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Speak Out, which is exactly what it sounds like it is-a collection of essays from lesbian moms who did not actually give birth to their children.  Review to come soon!  I also finished The Diamond of Darkhold, which I already reviewed here.
Rounding out the list for last week was Town in a Blueberry Jam, by B.B. Haywood.

This week I'm reading Little Bee by Chris Cleve.  So far I am loving the narrator of Little Bee, an African refugee from Nigeria who comes to England to find the family she met during one horrifying day "when the men came" to her village.  I love the first line:  "Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl."  I got back to class two nights a week instead of one this week, so until school gets out I'm back to one book at a time.  Hope everyone has a great reading week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Scrumptious Dessert?

So, remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote a review of People of Sparks and how I felt like City of Ember was just an appetizer for People of Sparks and I was wondering if the last book,  The Diamond of Darkhold, would be a scrumptious dessert. Well, I finished The Diamond of Darkhold, and it tasted more like a Hostess Twinkie than tiramisu. 


The Diamond of Darkhold is the final chapter in the story of Lina and Doon, two residents of the former city of Ember, current residents of the village of Sparks, the surviving remnant of a civilization that annihilated itself through greed and violence.  The story picks up during the first winter that the former residents of Ember are living in Sparks.  After living their whole lives underground, the Emberites were unprepared for the cold, rainy weather of above-ground winter.  Lina and Doon decide to return to their former home to try and find something to help their new neighbors get through the long winter months.  They find hints in an old book that the people who built their city may have left something behind, and they set out to find it.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did (after all, Twinkies are a tasty snack!).  I just found there to be the same general lack of substance in this book as in the first, City of Ember.  The story was enjoyable, the characters were well-written, the setting was evocative-there just weren't enough universal themes for me to sink my teeth into.  People of Sparks had so much to say about the way that we as a society view outsiders, or the way people use fear to manipulate others, or the way that we solve (or fail to solve) conflicts. Diamond of Darkhold was entertaining, but ultimately it didn't really speak to any larger truths.  I realize that I read lots of things for entertainment only-I certainly don't expect existential enlightenment from a cozy mystery or formula thriller.  However, if a young adult novel is going to really grab me, given the readability level, it has to have something more to say.

Welcome Hoppers!

Come on in-the water's fine!

Here's some great blogs I've found on the Hop lately:

Our Year in Books-a husband and wife team reading their way through the year, GREAT reviews!
The Book Whisperer-Very witty, very smart blogger from "across the pond"



ABOUT THE HOP: (Hosted by Random Ramblings)
In the spirit of the Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list below!!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.

If you start following someone through the Hop, leave a comment on their blog to let them know!  Stop back during the week to see other blogs that are added!  And, most importantly, the idea is to HAVE FUN!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Town in a Blueberry Jam, by B.B. Haywood

A month or so ago I was lucky enough to win Sharon's Garden of Book Review's Spring Cozy Give-Away.  One beautiful spring day I received a box with over 10 titles-HOORAY!  Thanks again Sharon!

Now, it should be said that I am fairly new to the cozy mystery sub-genre.  Last year I was browsing on the Books-A-Million website, and I discovered a couple new mystery series with female protagonists.  I assumed they would be like Sharon McCone or Kay Scarpetta.  Instead, they were more like Jessica Fletcher.  Women of a certain age, ordinary moms/shopkeepers/bakers/scrapbookers/librarians/vampires/telepaths (OK, I guess vampires and telepaths are not ordinary, but there are cozy mysteries about them, so whatever) solving mysteries not because it is their job, but because they are kind and thoughtful, or nosy and bossy, or wrongly accused themselves, and want to see justice done.  Little did I know that I was finding a new-to-me sub-genre complete with it's own websites and blogs!

So, with a box full of cozies to choose from, I picked Town in a Blueberry Jam, by B.B. Haywood.  Mostly I chose it because it is the beginning of a series, and most of the other titles are continuations, so I wanted to start something fresh.  The story revolves around the ridiculously-named Candy Holliday, a former marketing exec turned blueberry farmer in southeastern Maine.  After her marriage failed, and her mother died, she moved with her father, Doc, to Blueberry Acres to try a different kind of life.  As the story opens Candy is preparing for the annual Blueberry Festival, which includes the pageant to crown the Blueberry Queen.  After an unexpected turn-of-events leads to the winner being a 30-something woman instead of a high school student, chaos and murder ensue.  Candy and her best friend Maggie are left to try and find the truth behind this mysterious death.

The thing about cozy mysteries is that you just have to take them as they are.  They are light, rather shallow, easy to read, and I don't know about you but I can usually see the answer to the mystery coming from pretty early on in the book.  What makes them enjoyable, at least for me, is the fact that they are light, rather shallow, easy to read, and easy to figure out.  They are the perfect book for when my brain is tired, like it is at the end of a school year.  I don't necessarily want deep, thoughtful literature.  I want escapism.  Town in a Blueberry Jam helped me to escape from the stress and chaos that the end of the year brings in my world.  There are two major things in its favor.  One,  it is set in my favorite part of the country, New England.  Haywood does a good job evoking a small-town summer in that part of the world.  And, it kept me guessing.  I thought I had it figured out, but there was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming.  Overall, Town in a Blueberry Jam was a pleasant, if not earth-shattering, way to spend a couple of days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Week's Top Ten-Best Villains

Welcome to another Top Ten, a weekly meme hosted by Jillian at Random Ramblings.  This week's topic is best villains.  I think that writing a good villain is actually more of a feat than writing a good hero. Authors can create flawed, layered, multi-faceted heroes, but to create a truly, deliciously evil villain takes skill beyond the usual. At least in my humble opinion, a great villain is one that you have a end up having a grudging respect for, despite their evilness. They inspire revulsion. They are the characters that we love to hate.

My list comprises characters from young adult and adult fiction, old characters and new. In no particular order, here are my picks...

1. The Trunchbull, from Matilda by Roald Dahl:  The Trunchbull is probably my favorite young adult villain.  There is no other word for her but bully.  She uses her power to make others feel small, and her complete lack of human feeling towards the children under her "care" makes her truly despicable.


2.  Bill Sikes, from Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens:  Even the musical version of Oliver Twist can't make light of the evil that is Bill Sikes.  He's brutal, heartless-basically he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Kidnapping, domestic abuse, murder...and no remorse

 3.  Hannibal Lecter, from Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris:  He was already on my list of the best characters I've read, and he fits here as well.   No one embodies what it means to be a sociopathic serial killer like Lecter.  Deliciously played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, he is perhaps the most delightfully chilling character I've ever watched or read.





4.  Nurse Ratched, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kessey:  The story of an Oregon insane asylum is horrifying enough, but add a sadistic, power and control-hungry head nurse and you have a recipe for horror.  Characters like Nurse Ratched are all the more frustrating because of their complete control of the hero.  I felt as helpless as the inmates in the face of Nurse Ratched's calm, rational, evil logic.



5.  The White Witch, from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis:  The way she manipulates Edmund into betraying his brother and sisters was so devious!  And what kind of evil does it take to make it always winter but never Christmas?



6.  Cruella De Vil, from The Hundred and One Dalmations, by Dodie Smith:  I'm not sure that most children's publishers would have the nerve to publish a novel with such a horrible, selfish woman.    I mean, really, she's going to slaughter a bunch of innocent puppies to make a coat.  



7.  Anne Coulter, from, well, every Anne Coulter book:  OK, I know that she is not a fictional character, but I think that her cruel sarcasm, her complete lack of compassion, her namecalling, and her general mean-spiritedness make her truly villainous.  It's not just that she and I disagree politically and philosophically about EVERYTHING.  There are people that I disagree with deeply that I respect and admire.  It's how nasty she is-I would disapprove of her behavior even if she was a flaming liberal like myself putting down conservatives the same way she demonizes liberals.



8.  Max Cady, from The Executioners, by John D. McDonald:  Known better to most people as Cape Fear, from the two movies of that name starring Robert Mitchum and Robert DeNiro respectively, Max Cady is creeeeeeeeepy!



9.  Sauron, from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R.Tolkien:  The prototype for Harry Potter's Lord Voldemort was darkness and death incarnate.  His evil sucked in all light, all love, all hope.  I think that the scariest part of that series is not the fierce battles between the heroes and the army of Sauron, but the utter devastation and barrenness, the soul-sucking slog that was the journey to Mordor.



10.  Annie Wilkes, R.N., from Misery by Stephen King:  One word-CRAAAAAAZY!  OK, two words-blowtorch.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hey, Want an E-Readers for Free?

Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog is being very generous right now-she is giving away 10 e-readers!  If you'd like to get in on the giveaway action, go to her site, become a follower, and sign up!


Monday, May 17, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week was a pretty good week for me.  I finished Push, by Sapphire, and City of Ember and People of Sparks, by Jeanne DuPrau.  I've started to have hope that I will actually get back on track for the 100+ Book Challenge that I so enthusiastically signed up for in January.  What is it about that dark, cold month that makes us want to take up new challenges (which we often put down again by February!)

Right now, I'm working on one of the cozy mysteries I won in the spring giveaway at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews, called Town in the Blueberry Jam, by BB Haywood.  It's a fun, light read for the end of the school year.  I'm also reading the last book in the City of Ember series, The Diamond of Darkhold.  Is it wrong that I hope there are some kids on lunch detention today so I can sit at my desk and read during my lunch duty?

I'm also still making my way through Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Tell All.  I'm really enjoying the essays, but I can only get through a couple before I am ready for something else.  It's not a difficult read at all, but without a narrative holding the whole thing together my very tired, end-of-the-school-year-brain starts to wander after 20 pages or so.  So hopefully I'll finish that up this week as well.

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The People of Sparks, Jeanne DuPrau

Last week, I reviewed the book, City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau.  This YA novel focuses on the residents of the underground city of Ember, a dying city.  The heroes. Lina and Doon, find a way to save their people, if not their city.  I enjoyed it.  The setting was intriguing, the action was well paced, and the characters were relateable and well-written.  What I thought were lacking were more global, sophisticated themes that would appeal equally to adults, a la The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Then I read The People of Sparks, and it all became clear to me.  The People of Sparks picks up where City of Ember leaves off, with the Emberites traveling through the open landscape looking for other people.  They finally stumble upon a village of 300 people called Sparks.  The 400 survivors of the city of Ember are taken in by the residents of Sparks, who are themselves survivors (and the descendants of survivors) of devastating wars and plagues that swept across the globe, resulting in the loss of most of humankind.  The generosity of the villagers is tested as food and supplies become more scarce.  Acts of vandalism and graffiti contribute to an increasingly tense atmosphere, until it seems that violence is sure to erupt.  Finally, there is a showdown that will determine the future of each group, villagers and Emberites alike.

This novel is a story about immigration, and xenophobia, and war, and fear, and greed.  The villagers of Sparks act in a way that I suspect most of us would like to think we would in a similar position-when confronted with people in need they were generous and caring.  But as time goes on, and resources become more scarce (or are perceived to be more scarce, which amounts to the same thing), the people of Sparks and the Emberites are increasingly at odds.  The Emberites know that they are reliant on the villagers for support, which causes resentment.  The villagers are increasingly afraid that after years of struggle, their relative comfort is threatened by the newcomers.  Sound like the current immigration debate to anyone else?  The leaders of each group make up stories about the "others" to incite fear and anger in order to justify starting a war.  Sound at all like the lead up to Iraq, hm?   This novel is one long lesson in the absurdity of xenophobia and war.  Easy enough for middle grade readers to understand, substantive enough to be interesting to adult readers, The People of Sparks is the meat and potatoes to City of Ember's appetizer.  I can't wait to see if the last book in the series, The Diamond of Darkhold, is a scrumptious desert, or if I'll leave the table hungry.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Welcome Book Blog Hoppers!

It's Friday, so it's time for the Book Blog Hop.  Welcome to all of you new visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere!  If you want to get involved, just go to Crazy-for-Books.com and sign up.  Happy Friday, and have a good weekend, everyone!

ABOUT THE HOP:
In the spirit of the Friday Follow, I thought it would be cool to do a Book Blogger Hop to give us all book bloggers and readers a chance to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on!  So, I created this weekly BOOK PARTY where book bloggers and readers can connect to find new blogs to read, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start PARTYING!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New Blog Award

Thanks to Jackie B over at Housewife Blues and Chihuahua Stories for giving me the


Here is how it works: If you are given this award you must first accept it by leaving a comment on the post you were nominated on. Then copy and paste the post and add it to your own blog. Make a list of the last 5 books you read and pass the award on to 5 other bloggers (no backsies!). Please also identify the blog from which you got the award and don't forget to tell your picks that they have a blog award!

Here's my last five books:


Push, by Sappire 


City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau 



The Divide, by Nicholas Evans 



Night, by Elie Wiesel



The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver




So here, in no particular order, and the blogs I am passing it on to-

Naomi at Naomi's Book Reviews 
Kathy at Bags, Books, and Bon Jovi
Michelle at Red Headed Book Child 
Boof at The Book Whisperer 
T at Reading Schtuff 


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Push, by Sapphire, or How to Fit Every Awful Social Problem Into One Book

I should start by saying that I gave Push, by Sapphire, five stars on GoodReads.  That said, I'm not sure I can say that I "liked" this book.  It was horrific, wonderful, tragic, redemptive, heinous, empowering, painful and joyous all wrapped up into one.

Push is the story of Precious, a 16 year old girl living in Harlem with her sexually and physically abusive mother.  She is also visited, and raped, regularly by her father.  As the story opens she is on the verge of having the second of two babies she will have by her father, Carl.  Through her stream-of-consciousness  writings in what we discover is her school journal, we find out about the things that have happened to her to make her life the miserable existence it is.  We also get a window into her dreams and hopes for the future, and the redemptive power of love that comes from her teacher, Ms. Blue Rain.

This novel was made into a major motion picture, which anyone not living under a rock for the last year is sure to know already.  I haven't seen the movie, and frankly after reading the book I'm not sure I will.  Again, I gave this book five stars, but I'm not sure that I want to see the events of Precious' life played out in technicolor.  It was enough to read about them.  As I was reading I kept trying to imagine how they would put the horrific abuse that was visited upon Precious into an even remotely acceptable form for public viewing.  But without the graphic nature of Precious' descriptions the story would not have been nearly as compelling or engrossing.

Precious is the most innocent, naive, streetwise character I have ever read.  As a white, middle-class person, I cannot begin to know how much I take for granted that Precious had never even heard of, much less experienced for herself.  She lives in Harlem, but she has never been to the rest of Manhattan.  She never read a sentence, much less a book.  She has never had a friend, never had a teacher who cared about her, never had a parent who cared about her.  How the system didn't take her away from her mother when the first baby was born is astonishing...she readily admitted that her own father was the father of her baby.

Frankly, the sheer number of things that happened to Precious in her short life is the one problem I have with the plot of the book.  I know that there are terrible things that happen to people all the time, unimaginable things, but all of them to one person?  The book tackles incest, physical abuse, educational neglect, poverty, sexual assault, gay issues, HIV, homelessness...considering it is only a couple hundred pages long that it a lot to fit in, and after all while I did start to feel fatigued.  But I suppose that was the point-how much more meaningful it is when Precious begins to overcome her obstacles knowing how many there are.

City of Ember, Jeanne Duprau

Like The Divide, which I reviewed last week, City of Ember was an accidental book selection.  While avoiding as much work as possible after a very grueling week of meetings, I ran to my friend's classroom and chose the first book off of her shelf that I remembered her loving-City of Ember was it.  Needless to say I spent a much more enjoyable afternoon with Lina and Doon than I would have organizing the destruction the substitute did to my room!

Lina and Doon are the two protagonists of this YA novel by Jeanne DuPrau.  It is the story of the City of Ember-the only city in the world, as far as the residents know.  The sky is always black, and there are no stars or moon.  If the lights fail, there is total darkness.  And that's something that has been happening more often lately, the lights failing.  Lina and Doon, two young residents, just out of school at 12 years old with their first jobs, discover that things in Ember are even worse than everyone thinks, and they try to discover a way out of the coming darkness.

I think this book, the first in a series of four, is very well-written and engaging.  The protagonists are likable and relateable.  When Lina finds a rare set of colored pencils in a city where supplies are running low, you feel the same excitement.  The author does such a good job putting you into the scarcity of the City of Ember that when one of the characters discovers a can of peaches (considered a treat akin to dining at Le Cirque to the residents of Ember), my mouth actually tasted the sweet, syrupy, slightly metallic taste myself.  The action is well-paced, though most of the real action happens pretty quickly towards the end of the book.  It didn't feel slow to start though, because DuPrau did such a good job setting the scene and letting suspense build.

While I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and plan on reading the next one, I found that there was a lack of global themes.  In a dystopian novel such as this I expect a little bit more social commentary, even from a YA book.  But seeing the way the story arc is going, I suspect that some of that will be addressed in upcoming novels, and I am looking forward especially to reading the prequel, to find out what on earth caused this bizarre set of circumstances!  If you like YA fiction for the middle school set, you should check this series out.

Monday, May 10, 2010

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  I hope that everyone had a wonderful, fulfilling reading week.  I had so much goodness this week-I finished The Divide, by Nicholas Evans.  I also got blog posts written for The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, and Night, by Elie Wiesel.

I got a wonderful package from Sharon at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews.  I won her Cozy Mystery Giveaway, and got a box full of books from her this weekend.  Every one is by a new-to-me author, and I am very excited for summer to get here so I can dive into that box head first!

Right now I am doing something I almost never do-reading more than one book at once.  I'm reading Push, by Sapphire.  I can tell you right now that the review is going to be hard to write.  It's a gripping story, but not easy to read at all.  I'm also reading City of Embers, a YA selection that my friend has been telling me to read for a while now.  And I'm still working on the anthology of motherhood essays entitled Confessions of the Other Mother, about non-biological lesbian moms.  Pretty interesting how diverse their experiences are.

 

Have a great reading week, everyone!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Divide, Nicholas Evans

I had never planned to read a Nicholas Evans book.  I saw the movie of The Horse Whisperer, and while I love all things Redford (I've had a crush on him since The Sting), I thought the story was only so-so.  It all felt a little too Lifetime Movie for me.  But then, one day at school, I was alone in the teachers' lounge, bored, and there it was, The Divide.  Someone had left it on the table, our universal sign for these cookies/chips/magazines/books are fair game.  I will admit I was so desperate for something to read I didn't even peruse the dust jacket.  For the first chapter I thought it was going to be the story of a man and his son lost in the wilderness after a skiing accident (it's not).  300ish pages later I know what it is about, but I'm still not sure I would plan to read a Nicholas Evans book.

The Divide is the story of a family torn apart by...well, I'm not really sure.  The husband being oversexed, or the wife's indifference to sex in general?  Mid-life crisis?  Thwarted dreams, both his and hers?  Whatever it was that brings this couple to the point of divorce, it really does a number on their daughter, Abbie.  She falls in with eco-terrrorists, does bad things, ends up on the run, and then ends up dead.  I'm not really spoiling anything for you with the above sentence.  All of this the author tells you in the first 50 pages or so.  He then spends the next eternity...I mean, 200 pages or so-explaining how the above mentioned things happened.  After the excitement and drama of the first several chapters, it felt a little like driving behind someone going 10 miles below the speed limit on a two lane road with no passing lane.

Despite this, I persevered, because the story was just engaging enough to keep me hooked.  The last 70 pages or so were actually quite good, and if Evans had told the beginning of this family's story at the same pace the novel would have been quite improved (and about 100 pages shorter).  The book does offer some interesting commentary on eco-terrorism, and why so many wealthy, privileged young adults reject their upbringing and turn to extremism (think Patty Hearst).  The fact that I didn't really like most of the characters probably didn't help.  I found the father a little clueless and indulgent, the mother cold and distant, and the daughter spoiled and selfish.  The son, who had previously been the "problem" child, was the only one I had much sympathy for in the end.  And the character of Ty was just too good to be true-methinks that Mr. Evans, who interestingly enough is actually English, has a little thing for American cowboys!  More bromance than Brokeback, but still...Overall, this was an OK read.  Not great, and not enough that I will go out of my way to pick up another of Evans' books.  Now, if one happens to be left on the table when I'm bored, well, then all bets are off.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Night, Elie Wiesel

I'm not sure there are enough words in the English language to describe the horror, sadness, and desolation that is contained in the 109 pages of Night, Elie Wiesel's memoir of his time in the concentration camps.

In 1944, Germany is clearly losing World War II, and Hitler has escalated his plan to exterminate the Jews.  German troops begin to go into areas previously left pretty well alone, and round up Jews from the small towns in the countryside.  Wiesel's family, along with all of their neighbors, are rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.  Being loaded into boxcars, traveling for days with little food and water, watching the weak die, and being separated from this mother and sister, while terrible enough, was nothing compared to the horrors that confronted him and his father at the camp.

The most striking thing about this book was the spare language that Wiesel uses, and the complete heartwrenching sadness I felt while reading it.  Wiesel packs a lot of emotional wallop into a small number of pages.  I think that the fact that he writes about his experiences in the way that he does only adds to the mood of devestation and tragedy.  Frankly, the horrors of the camp don't need elaborate language or vivid metaphor.  A stark retelling is all that is needed to see the terrible price that those in the camps paid for the world's inability to stop the evil that was Hitler before he became powerful enough to wreak such destruction.  Perhaps the most chilling thing about Wiesel's story is how quickly the men he was imprisoned with became used to the deplorable conditions in which they found themselves.  Every day that they were not sent to the furnaces was a relief-they only had to go to their physically demanding and dangerous jobs where they were forced to work on little or no food, sick or injured, in the heat or freezing cold, to be abused and demeaned by the guards.  In the end I was left feeling that had the Russians not liberated the camps when they did, Wiesel and the rest of the prisoners would have eventually been worn away by brutality to nothing-no emotion, no intellect, no humanity left.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Congratulations!

Congrats to Kate, from I Just Wanna Sit Here and Read.  She was my 50th follower, and she is getting a copy of The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Thanks to all of my followers-who knew when I started this blog as a project for my masters it would be so rewarding to write, and apparently to read :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

50th Follower Give Away

So, I am one follower away from the magic number of 50 (which means on the blog hop I will no longer be "new"!).  As a special treat, my 50th follower will receive the hard cover edition of the book I just finished, The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Come on, number 50!

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

Growing up in America in the 70s and 80s, the enemy was the Soviet Union.  I hadn't even heard of Islam, but I knew that the Russians were oppressive and freedom-hating and evil. Why were they so malevolent and irredeemable?  Because they were Communists, of course...oh, and we didn't (don't) like Cuba, China, most of Eastern Europe, Vietnam, or North Korea for the same reason.

Now, clearly the Communist experiment has failed in almost every place it has been tried, usually because "power to the workers" inevitably became "power to the dictators", and civil rights were all but ignored in favor of stability and the "greater good"-the greater good, of course, being whatever was best for the ruler.  But what Americans seem to be so good at forgetting is who our friends used to be (Russia against Hitler, Iraq against Iran, the Taliban against the Russians).  After all, World War II would not have been won if it weren't for those commies.  We even let them divide up Europe afterward as a reward!  The truth is, it wasn't until the Soviet Union started threatening our status as sole major world power (can't be a "super power" until you have an "arch enemy") that we began to see "communism" as a threat.

What does this history lesson have to do with the price of Russian tea in Red Square?  Well, I'll tell you, comrades-it is into the turbulent time from the end of the Depression to the early 1950s that Barbara Kingsolver has set her latest book, The Lacuna.  The Lacuna is the story of Harrison Shepard, a bi-racial 12 year old with a Mexican mother and Anglo father.  The story begins after Harrison's mother has dragged him to a small island off the coast of Mexico to live with her lover, an oil man who is supposed to marry her and make her rich.  This pattern repeats through most of Harrison's young life.  While there he discovers a lacuna, or hole in a cliff that leads to a protected cove where ancient peoples once lived.  This theme of a hidden truth is recurrent over and over throughout the book.

Over time, we Harrison leaves his mother's care and spend a year or two with his father in Washington, D.C.  And when I say "with" I mean at a boarding school.  There he meets his first love-another boy named Billy.  Add another layer of hidden truth to our narrator.  He leaves school, returns to Mexico, and starts working as a plaster mixer for the great artist Diego Rivera.  Enter the communists-Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo were both important figures in the workers' revolution in Mexico.  As Harrison gets older, he becomes a secretary to first Rivera, and then to  Lev Trotsky.  That's right, the evil Trotsky, who masterminded the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia with Lenin and Stalin.  The rest of the book details what happened to him as a result of his association with these "notorious" communists.

I loved this book.  Harrison is rather subdued as narrator, often minimizing his own role in favor of sharing the larger-than-life personalities he is surrounded by.  In the world of the novel, the only reason his story gets told at all is because his own faithful secretary, Violet Brown, eventually puts together his many journals.  Because you see, above all else Harrison is a writer.  He writes like most people breathe-constantly and effortlessly.  His obsession with recording everything leads to some personal trouble along the way, and to some rather public trouble in the end.

The thing that struck me the most about this novel was the sympathetic portrayal of the "evil" communist Trotsky, who history is showing not to be the monster he was said to be by American propaganda, and the way that Kingsolver showcased the beginnings of the Red Scare.  She really shows the evolution of America as Soviet ally to America as Soviet-hater, and God help you if you had ever been associated with anyone even tangentially related to communism.  Joseph McCarthy was gonna get you!  She also did a great job of showing how the press can be manipulated to get people scared enough to believe almost anything.  Barbara Kingsolver always gives her novels a definite sense of place, and the settings in this story are no different.  She has once again given us a beautifully crafted, thought-provoking story

Monday, May 03, 2010

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

YAY!  I actually finished some books.  What a relief to actually have something to say this Monday.

Books finished this week:

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Night, by Elie Wiesel

What I'm reading right now:

The Divide, by Nicholas Evans
Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-biological Lesbian Moms Tell All!, edited by Harlyn Aizley

Reviews on the first two coming soon!  Hope everyone has a great reading week!