Hope everyone had a good holiday season! Went down to NYC for Christmas, and the kids enjoyed it. My daughter loves to unwrap everything, even if it wasn’t hers, lol. My son was more interested in her new toys than he was in his, but that’s alright, he’s only a few months old anyway. Ringing in the New Year was very quiet. Turned off the phone and stayed up late with the hubby. Now that he has returned to work though, it feels so quiet and empty. With the bustle of the holidays though, didn’t leave much time to read, with everything else going on. Bummer.
With the new year, the resolution I made is to get a library card, and start checking stuff out on weekends. I want to read different things this year, and I’ve started to look up books to get. Thinking of starting with Japan first. Culture, fiction, trying to find some biographies. No manga though, already got a bunch of those between my husband and myself! After that.. Maybe I’ll try to find some stuff from Africa, Australia, Ireland. I stumbled across a spreadsheet detailing the top 1001 books to read before you die. I’m not sure if I’ll get to all of them, but it’s a great place to find some books to pick up. I’ve realized I never read Jane Austen before, so that’s a definite must. Of course, I still have a few ARC’s in my pile that desperately need reading, which brings me to..
Forgotten Tales of Rhode Island, by Jim Ignasher. I originally spotted this book, among a few others, in the Early Reviewer’s list. I honestly didn’t think I’d have a shot of getting it, since I don’t have any other Rhode Island or history related books in my current cataloged library, so I shot them an email. They very graciously sent me a copy, which I brought down with me to read in New York.
It’s a short book, but it’s filled with little known stories and tales. Some were laugh at loud worthy, others made me “holy cow” or “oh my god.” It was fun learning though. One of the best stories I read was about the Ida Lewis Rock lighthouse, originally known as Lime Rock. Ida Lewis gained fame as the first female lighthouse keeper in the United States. She’s been credited with as many as 35 lives rescued, including 2 soldiers from the nearby Fort Adams.13 years after her death, state legislature voted, and approved the name change in her honor. It is the only time such an honor was bestowed.
There are other stories, such as a Cranston police officer that was only on the force for the honor – he owned several businesses. He donated a Model T Ford to the city to use. Plenty of stories about hot air balloons and wild animals, both escaped and confined. There was a story of a trolley car that had a problem while going downhill. Believing it would crash, one gentleman jumped off while the others held on. No accident occurred, and the only injury belonged to the jumping man.
It’s a light, quick, enjoyable read. I think it’d be a nice supplement to a social studies or history course, inject some local flavor and humor.
I’m pretty sure I had at least 1 or 2 other books I had to review, just have to go through my stuff and find them.
Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips
I remember seeing this a while back in the book store, reading the back cover, and wishing I was able to get it. Well, wishes come true sometimes, and I was lucky enough to win this one in a blog contest.
It’s modern day London, and some of the more well known Greek gods are crammed into a ratty townhouse. There’s Aphrodite, goddess of love and telephone sex operator. Apollo is the god of the sun, and a TV psychic on a one time pilot that doesn’t take off. Artemis is the goddess of hunting, chastity and the moon, and a professional dog walker. These three are the main focused upon.
Other gods included are Ares, who’s always busy busy busy planning wars and skirmishes. Hermes can instantly locate another god, and guides the souls of the dead to their final destination. Eros is a born-again Catholic. Hephaestus will sometimes fix the furniture, and always redecorating Aphrodite’s bedroom. Dionysus runs a successful nightclub that sells only his wines.
They’re bored, and for the most part, sick of each other. After a fight between Athena and Apollo one day, Apollo is forced to swear an oath on the river Styx, preventing him from harming mortals for a while. Throw in a pissed off Aphrodite, determined to make his life miserable, and you have some crazy consequences.
In comes a pair of mortals, Alice and Neil. It’s clear they love each other, but both are too shy to say anything about their feelings to the other. They sneak in to see Apollo’s doomed show, and fate comes along to tie them all together.
They bicker and fight, pull pranks on each other, antagonize others so they can sit back and watch the show. In the end, they all depend on each other, god and mortal alike, to save the world.
It’s a great book. It shows just because you’re immortal doesn’t mean you’re right, or in Apollo’s case, all-knowing. It reveals the consequences of what happens when belief in a religion dies, and the power given when that belief is restored. It shows immortality isn’t necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be. Included with the book is a reader’s group guide, which I like.
One of the questions she poses : “One of the recurring themes in this book is how bored the gods sometimes get with their centuries upon centuries of existence. Do you think immortality is a blessing or a curse? What would you do if you were given the option to live forever? If you had to be immortal, what would you do with your time on Earth?”
My answer: Immortality is a dual edged sword. As much as I would like to be immortal, I don’t want to be without my kids and husband. It’s not natural to outlive your children, and the loss would be too much to deal with, I think. That would be the curse side of it, the blessing though would be all the things you can experience. New technologies, art, culture and society evolving and changing with the times. I would love to see cars like the Jetsons, more sophisticated AI, people exploring the far reaches of the universe, unraveling its mysteries. I would spend my time exploring it all if I could. Only problem would be the money, like shown in GBH. I’d need to find some sort of nitch, stick with it for a few years, reaping the rewards, then move on to something else before people start to question too closely.
She poses other questions as well, and they definitely make you think. It’s a fun book, and if you run into it at the bookstore, it’s worth picking up.
So it’s been a while.. sorry about that! Been trying to catch up on some of my books, and read some non-ARC’s that I had picked up.
The first book I’ll mention today is the latest one I finished, called Santa Responds: He’s Had Enough.. and He’s Writing Back!. I found this one on Shelf Awareness, and the ad looked interesting, so I figured I’d bite and request it. It came very quickly, which is a plus in my book. The premise is simple – after hundreds of years of writing to Santa with our wants and needs and have-to-haves, he finally decides enough is enough, and it’s time to respond to some of these letters.
The letters look like they were actually written by kids (and some adults.) There’s misspellings, grammatical mistakes, big sloppy handwriting of a little one still learning, to the neat script of a girl trying to be a big girl.
Santa’s responses are blunt and right to the point. He’ll tell the child exactly why he or she got what they did. The way he tells them though, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. He can be rude, abrasive, derogatory. Some folks might get a chuckle out of it, some might be put off and offended. It’s meant to be humorous, but it might be a good idea, if you buy it, to flip through it and read some of the responses first.
The Fireman’s Wife, by Jack Riggs, is next. I was a bit mixed about this. I was stoked when I nabbed a copy through Library Thing, and I liked it well enough, but it felt as if something was missing and I can’t put my finger on what exactly. The ending was bittersweet..
Like the title says, it’s about a fireman’s wife. He’s recently been promoted to Captain of his station, and is very dedicated to his job. She is a very unhappy wife cheating on him with another firefighter, who has recently been promoted to Captain another station as well. Caught in the middle is their teenage daughter, a softball whiz, and pretty mad at her parent, especially mom, for putting her in the middle.
After a sudden opportunity for a chance to take Kelly to a 2 week softball camp arises, they decide to jump on it. Peck stays behind for work reasons. After dropping Kelly off after an argument, she heads to her mothers house in the mountains for an extended vacation. She feels more at peace there then at home, by the marshes, and uses the time to try and figure out what to do.
Shortly after arriving though, a problem arises. The land surrounding her mothers is being bought up by developers, and they’re eying her mothers next. An old “trusted” family friend assures them nothing will happen, but let’s slip he knows more about the project then he really should. His advice is to accept the bid for the land, and be prepared to leave soon. It’s an unacceptable decision, and the frantic hunt for the deed begins, stating the land legally belongs to the family, and not this shady churchman.
Back home, the firemen are getting restless when they hear of brushfires starting on dry land. It’s been a dry season and the potential for a disaster is great. Then the call comes that they’re needed to battle a dangerous fire..
Through it all is Kelly. She’s an angry teenager, understandably. She sneaks away from her camp and goes home to her father. Because of her actions, he winds up bringing her back to the camp, and visits his wife briefly to discuss some things. He’s hurt, but there is promise they can work through their problems.
In the end, some things work out, and others are lost forever. Like I said, bittersweet.
Another one that I read is DNA, by W. Craig Reed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t too thrilled with it. I wanted to stop reading, but I can’t really do that. I would just nag myself to finish it and donate it.
Basically, a super virus, dubbed Satan’s Sister, is developed. Within hours of being infected, the subject dies, and there’s no cure for it. So naturally, the bad guys catch wind of it, and decide to get their paws on it and wipe out as many people as possible with it.
A Navy SEAL team is sent in to try and stop this impending disaster. After a semi-failed mission to protect one of the scientists, things settle down, and life goes on. Years later, one of the SEAL’s learns his true identity, and is asked to pick up this mission again. This time, to stop the distribution of Satan’s Sister.
It read like an action movie, in a way. Russian scientists, Arab terrorists, things get blown up, snipers, drugs.. Lot of military terms and scientific explanations of what’s going on. Left my head swimming.
By originally advertising that it would be similar to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, it set a high bar for itself, and it fell short. It was fast paced, but the plot did not appeal to me at all.
The rest that I’ve read were non-Arc’s.. Katherine Neville’s The Eight, Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher (very creepy, reminded me of War of the Worlds,) and something else which escapes my mind. There’s also been outings for Halloween with my kids, and a trip home to take my daughter to see the Rockette’s and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Been 15 years at least since I last went, but it was so worth it. The show is so awesome in so many ways.. Absolutely loved the dancing Santa’s!
I read these two, one right after the other, in two days. They both hard to put down! What’s funny though, is one is light and has laugh out loud moments, the other was darker and made me want to cry instead. With that said…
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
Dewey is one lucky cat. He was stuffed into a library book drop box on the coldest night of the year. He’s lucky because for the next two decades almost, he finds a wonderful home in the Spencer Library. Unlike most cats that remain aloof, deeming you unworthy of their royal attention, Dewey is exactly the opposite. He greets patrons at the door, likes to be held over a person’s left shoulder, and will take naps in laps.
Spencer is a town down on it’s luck for economic reasons, and the library wasn’t that great of a spot to go to. Dewey’s arrival helped to usher in some changes for the town and its residents. Word got out that the library has a kitten in residence, and the folks were compelled to check it out. Dewey won almost all of them over. I remember there was an instance where one particular woman kept threatening to parade her cow in the town if the cat wasn’t removed. He never left, and she never made an appearance with her cow.
Throughout the book, Vicki explains the trials that she, Dewey, and the town faced, and how Dewey, in one way or another, helped. He helped bring in more patrons, which in turn helped convince the higher ups to renovate the library. He provided friendly competition, by deciding which lap to plop himself on. He helped one mentally disabled child come out of her shell a bit, and he’s patient with the little ones. And of course, he provided hours of entertainment. He napped in boxes too small to fit his entire body, he played hide and seek, and climbed overhead light fixtures.
It’s a charming book, and it shows how something so small can make such a huge impact.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
This was such a sad book! Sarah and her family are French Jews during the WWII. It’s told in two ways : through Sarah herself, and through a reporter, Julia, covering an article of the 60th anniversary of the event, the Vel’ d’Hiv’.
It takes place during the Holocaust, in France. Sarah is a French born Jew, and she’s only 10 years old. French police have been arresting Jewish men, so there’s fear among the Jews, causing the men to leave, or hide at night. One night, the police come to Sarah’s home, but this time they come for the entire family. Sarah, unknowing of what’s really going on, ferrets her 4 year old brother into a secret compartment and locks it, promising to let him out soon. She thinks they will return for breakfast and all will be normal. So begins the horrific event that still shames France.
All of the Jewish families gathered that night are brought to the Vel’ d’Hiv’. They are crammed in their like cattle, with no food or water, for days. When Sarah’s father realizes what she did with her brother, he knows what you, the reader know – the child will die. After a few days of starvation, they are herded onto trains and taken to the idyllic countryside, to a holding camp. The men are the first to go, almost immediately. Shortly after, the children are taken, despite the screaming of the women, and their heads are shaved. By this time, Sarah is desperate to get back to her brother.
She manages to escape, and with the help of an elderly couple, she makes her way back home to hoorifying results.
Julia is married to a chauvinistic French man. He’s rude and uncouth, but always apologetic and great in bed. After learning of her article, he tells her to forget it, it’s old news. Like a good reporter, she starts doing research into the event, and seeks out witnesses and survivors. After a strange conversation with her grandmother-in-law, she starts to realize that her in-laws may have a story to tell about that time period. They just don’t want to discuss it. After some digging around, she comes across information about Sarah’s family, and she starts to unfold the events that transpired after Sarah’s discovery.
The story doesn’t get any better. It remains just as sad. It’s a well written book, and to answer one of the reading group questions in the back, I preferred Sarah’s voice. Hearing the events from a 10 year old makes it even more powerful. An adult knows what’s going on, and they will try to protect the children from it. For the children, there is only fear. They get ripped from the familiar, forced to endure the hardships of starvation and pitiful living conditions. They are forcibly separated from their parents, their rock and anchor, forced to become orphans and fend for their selves. It’s a lot more depressing and shameful.
We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
As the title implies, it’s a true story of how one family managed to buy a real zoo. I had expected this book to share the trials of obtaining a zoo, caring for the animals, and how they managed to get it all to work. Also expected it to have some humorous moments, and I was not let down in any aspect.
The family never planned to buy a zoo, but when an opportunity presented itself, they figured “why not?” and made a bid for it. When the deal fell through, oh well, it was cool to have tried. In a twist of fate, the original winner decided not to go through with it, and the family tried again, and this time they were successful.
It was hardly a state of the art zoo to begin with. It was in disrepair, facilities were outdated, and some of the animals needed some real looking after. So began the parks rejuvenation. Not everything was perfect though. They had financial struggles – zoos aren’t cheap to maintain and feed after all. They also had a very personal struggle. The authors wife, Katherine, lost her battle to a terminal cancer, and passed away.
They’ve dealt with escaped animals, and also gave them some necessary treatment, like dental work, after they renovated their veterinary area. Benjamin, the author, has a thing for brambles, it seems. After a close encounter with a porcupine, and being startled by the lions (I think, can’t remember at the moment, sorry!) he falls right into them.
They battle the evil banks and debtors. They do everything possible to get their license to open the zoo. In the end, it was all worth it. The zoo opened successfully, and everybody enjoyed themselves.
If I ever make it across the Atlantic, it’s a place I’d like to go to. It may not be super fancy big, but it’d still be cool, since I’ve read all about it. Dartmoor Zoological Park.
Tethered by Amy Mackinnon
First thing I gotta say is.. ever since Trecie’s character was introduced in the story.. she’s had an ethereal feeling about her. I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t right about her, that she wasn’t quite real.
The story as a whole was sad. The character I mentioned before, Trecie, is the core focus. She’s a little girl that seems to pop in and slip away without anyone noticing. Strange thing is though, she’s only seen at a funeral home, and only by one person. Through it all, in the unseen background, is the tragic story of Precious Doe.
Clara Marsh is the undertaker for a funeral home. The director, Linus, and his wife, Alma, consider Clara to be their adopted daughter, even though she tries to keep her distance. One thing I liked about her, is she always gives the deceased a small bundle of flowers to match their personalities. It’s an even more personal touch when you find out they come from the greenhouse behind her cottage, which happens to be tucked away behind the funeral home, all hidden from view.
It is after she finishes a body one day that first meets Trecie, whom she realizes needs her help later on. While collecting some bodies later on, she learns some startling things. One had a stash of child pornography, where she swears she recognizes Trecie as one of the children. At another, she believes she sees a child that looks a lot like Trecie, a sister perhaps, holding the dog she believes came from the body formerly mentioned.
Through it all, she tries to assist Mike, a detective investigating this newfound child pornography case and its connection to Trecie. We learn some heartbreaking things toward the end, and make a startling discovery that I quite honestly didn’t expect. I’m just glad to have found that a sneaking suspicion about one of the characters turned out to be right, though I didn’t expect him to have done what they did either. It goes to show you that no one is truly untouchable.
It’s a haunting mystery that reflects the very real issue of child abuse. There’s nothing really light or humorous about it, given it’s subject. It’s a sad book that put me in a mellow mood, so make sure it’s not read on a rainy day, or you might get depressed!
The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
I’ll confess, as fascinating as I find Egyptian mythology and history to be.. I don’t know all too much about it! This was a great book though. It was really difficult to put it down, and when I was done, I couldn’t help but wish I had known about, and had, her previous book, Nefertiti.
Nefertari is an Egyptian princess. She’s smart as a whip and best friends with two boys – Asha, and Ramesses, future Pharaoh. Her only problem, besides being unladylike, is she’s the niece of Nefertiti, the famous heretic queen. Because they share the same blood, Egypt believes she will amount to nothing, that she can never have a true position of power, lest Egypt sees another Nefertiti. So when Ramesses announces his engagement to the ditzy Iset, she’s hurt and disappointed. She makes the decision that if she’s going to be his future wife, and Queen of Egypt, she’ll have to leave for a year and train as a priestess.
When she returns and gets her wish with her own marriage to Ramesses, she now travels the delicate road that is the royal court and state affairs. She sets out to be a good and proper wife, as well as a useful wife, with all her knowledge and linguistic skills.
By the end of the book, we see her through a war, a battle against pirates and the birth of her children. We see her become accepted by Egypt and accepted as the favorite wife. It is a great story, and one I am so glad to have been able to read, after a few failed attempts of getting a copy. I will have to track down her previous book, Nefertiti, and keep an eye on her for her future works.
The Aviary Gate, The Last Queen, Schooled.
The Aviary Gate, by Katie Beckman, is a nice story about an English woman, Celia Lamprey, that is captured and brought into a Sultan’s harem in Constantinople. It’s also about her modern day counterpart, and her search to uncover what happens to Celia. I’ll admit, I picked this one up about 2-3 weeks earlier, then put it down for whatever reason, and when I picked it back up, I was momentarily confused as to who was who.
It was pretty interesting, but again, I have to admit I was confused. One day the modern girl (I’m sorry, I just can’t remember her name at the moment,) was at home, working on the Celia mystery, and lamenting her love woes to her friend. The next time the story focused in on her, she’s in present day Constantinople! That threw me in for a loop honestly. Even if it was rushed, you can’t just up and “oh, I’ll just hop on my plane now and hope things fall in place for me.” She has a bit of an obsession over her former love, Marius. Heck, if I was in an entirely new country, I don’t think I’d have as much time as she did, lamenting my woes. At least in the end, she has a happy ending.
Too bad that Celia didn’t get a happy ending as well. I guess you can call hers bittersweet. She never leaves the harem, but she manages to meet with her love one last time (sorry, that was a small spoiler.) She always stressed that if she could see him one last time, her live would be more bearable, she can be happier, so long as he knew she was still alive and not drowned at sea.
Celia was the more interesting of the two stories, and righteously so since she IS the main focus of the book. She gets entangled in a court plot, and she learns she has to navigate its treacherous waters by itself. Nobody is exactly as they proclaim they are, so there’s really no one she can trust 100% I just wish she had the happier ending, but court politics prevented that.
All in all, if I were to rate, I’d say about 3 1/2 out of 5. It’s good, except for the small things that threw me off.
The Last Queen, by C.W. Gortner was more enjoyable. Set in the 1490’s, it’s about one of Queen Isabel and King Fernando’s daughter, Juana. Up until this book, I knew absolutely nothing about this woman, and even then, it’s not completely accurate, as Mr Gortner explains. Even though he did some fairly extensive research, she’s a woman (duh) and it looked like a pretty tumultuous time, so whatever records there was, isn’t anymore. Even so, I’d say he did a good job weaving a story out of the facts, and injecting it with what he thought may have happened.
Juana is the most spirited of the Queen and King’s children, but even she is not immune to an arranged marriage, to Prince Phillip of Habsburg. Though reluctant about the marriage, she falls in love with him soon after. I felt terrible for her after she realizes how terrible his true nature is. Power hungry and subtlety manipulated by his spiritual adviser, Besancon. She finds unwavering trust and faith in two of her women, and I think having their loyalty was one of the few things that kept her sane.
After a series of tragedies in her family, she quickly finds herself the Queen of Spain. Her husband however, plots and schemes against her, in a bid to become the actual King of Spain, and not Juana’s consort. He secretly arranges marriages for their children, among some of Spain’s enemies. He sows seeds of uncertainty about Juana’s sanity in the minds of Spain’s courts and nobles, creating unrest. Through it all, even her heart was probably breaking, and she’s angry enough to spit nails, she does what she can to get back at him. She attacks a mistress, retrieving her stolen jewels. She uses clever wordplay against the English rulers, humiliating her husband in the process. Through it all, she endures physical abuse and rape, with Phillip’s promise to beget her with child after child until she dies from its physical stresses. She gets locked up and treated horribly. It’s no wonder if she really did go insane after a while, with all she is forced to endure.
She endured a miserable adult life, and by the end, I felt so sad. No woman should ever have to endure that, but in those days, all the backstabbing and lies and deceit were the norm. It’s well written and researched. Good book to pick up.
Schooled, by Anisha Lakhani. I usually had good luck getting books pretty quickly from the Early Reviewers program, but this one took 2 months to get, due to some oddball shipping mishap. I had a feeling, based on the books description, it would be a quick read, and I was right. It then promptly disappeared thanks to my husband going on a cleaning binge, so I have to dig it back up and get it to my bookshelf.
It’s a story of a woman, newly graduated from Columbia University, to be a teacher of all things. After a disagreement with her parents, she moves into the apartment of a sorority sister that’s in the financial field. Soon after, she nails a position as a 7th grade English teacher in one of Manhatten’s private schools. She’s filled with hopes and dreams that her fellow faculty will become friends, her students attentive and bright. It didn’t take long to find out it just wasn’t happening, lol. Presented with files on the kids, the things she learn isn’t good for her as a teacher. One girl gives a boy a blow job at his Bar Mitzvah. The mother of another is practically a stalker. Along with tidbits like this, she also learns which families she has to suck up to practically, based on their donations to the school.
The faculty basically snubbed the new girl. The students complain their new teacher isn’t giving them an easy ride, making the mom’s call and complain, and quickly try to get rid of her. She changes tact, the kids and moms enjoy it, but the other teachers don’t. It’s a no-win situation for her.
Soon enough, she learns of the secret world of tutoring students from other schools, and she gets quickly sucked in. Can practically see the $ signs in her eyes (like a cartoon’s.) A few hours of tutoring per week would allow her to get a nicer apartment, nicer clothes, nicer everything. She just has to sacrifice her morals for a little while. But at least with this newfound income, the students are taking notice and liking her more. She’s now the “cool” teacher.
In the end, her morals win out, and she up and quits all her tutoring jobs, and changes tact with her students again, after hearing what one teacher does while tutoring one of the kids. What she finds out about her students (reading and writing wise) shocks her, for bad and for good.
It reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada a bit, which I really got a kick out of. Meet nice girl. Nice girl scores job making good money, all she has to do is give up her friends, family, morals. Nice girl has an epiphany, sees the light, and all is well again. Even though the theme is the same (I’ve heard it compared to The Nanny Diaries as well,) I do enjoy them, so long as the writing isn’t shoddy.
It was finished in a few hours, so I’d recommend getting it from the library. It’s a nice light read, especially if you’ve just finished a meatier book.
Hehe, I’m just excited today =)
I snagged one of two SORMAG goody bags from My Friend Amy’s blog. From what I understand, I’m getting a bunch of books. Thanks Amy, and great job on BBAW!
The second is from the On My Bookshelf… blog, which I found during BBAW. I scored a copy of America, America, by Ethan Canin, tea, and homemade scones and jam, which sounds VERY yummy! Can’t wait to try it!
The contest itself was pretty fun too – it was like a scavanger hunt.. few questions, and you check out her blog for the answers. I thought it was a great way to get people to actually check out the blog, but I felt so bad when she revealed how many people entered! Lazy bums!😉
Lastly, found out I was getting my first First Look book from Barnes & Noble, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. Hope it’s good!
I always try to give myself a few days before writing a review.. and somehow, instead of doing one review today, I have.. 5 books! I honestly don’t know how I do this to myself sometimes. *makes note to update at LEAST once a book*
Bone By Bone by Carol O’Connell
This one is a mystery set in a small town, where everyone knows your name, and everyone has a secret.
I really enjoyed this one. Yeah, everyone has a secret, but they’re not easy secrets for you, the reader, to guess at. It’s nice because it’s not that predictable, where by the middle of the book you want to slap someone and tell them it’s suspect x that did it!
It’s got a half ass sheriff, a sharp government agent, seances, a housekeeper that seems to know everything, and heck, even the birds have secrets. It’s very enjoyable, and I like how they finally extracted the confession they needed at the end (although it was unconventional.) I was a bit sad when some characters didn’t get their happy endings, but I guess sometimes in life, you’re so far gone that a happy ending isn’t possible.
Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele
A single black mother talks of her raising her little girl. Only problem was, she didn’t exactly expect to be a single mother raising a little girl. She meets a man in prison, falls in love, and gets married to him. He’s been a model prisoner, and that combined with a marriage, and eventually the arrival of a baby, convinces them both he can get out on parole, and they can be a happy family. Unfortunately, things don’t work out that way, and she finds herself alone.
It’s a short memoir. Asha is typical in her mom worries (2 bottles and 3 diapers for a prison visit? Those guards better hope the baby’s stomach isn’t having an off day!) After losing her husband, she tries out the dating scene, and falls victim to another problem – domestic violence. She eventually ditches the guy, and moves on. She worries how society will see her – if, since she’s a single black mom, they think she’s one of those “statistics.” Jump in bed, have a good time, get knocked up, and *cloud of dust* there goes the father.
Asha tries hard. She tries to pay her rent and bills and grocery shopping with her meager paychecks. She tries to find quality daycare, and a good school for her daughter. She fights her depression, and remembers how much love and joy her daughter brings to her.
It’s a short book, but it’s not too bad. She really does try to make a good life for them, and I give her credit and wish her luck in the future.
I Had To Row Across The Ocean by Tori Murden McClure
Another memoir, but it was pretty cool. As the title indicates, she (Tori, the author,) rowed across the ocean. She doesn’t do it for any cause or charity, or the fame. She does it to prove that she can. She chronicles everything. She sees dolphins, whales, schools of fish, sharks, and a mysterious tentacle floating along. She tells of the rough weather, how she gets banged up, capsizes a few times, and her struggles to row against opposing winds.
She tells of growing up, and what brought her to challenging herself like this. I don’t really want to say TOO much, without spoiling it, but I’ll say that she learned a lot about herself, found a husband, and she makes the journey. Way to go Tori! Hopefully this will inspire others to take up great challenges, even if they don’t succeed.
Very well worth the read. As soon as I got it, I dug in right away. Kris signs on with the Peace Corp for two years, and she gets sent to a small village in west Africa. Her host, and mentor, was the village midwife Monique. During her two years, Kris tries to help the village as much as she could. She helps Monique care for the pregnant women and their children, helps out in the fields, and, her main project, helps them fix and renovate the birthing house.
She learns the language, the culture, samples the new foods, and makes new friends. Wild dogs and scorpions freak her out. She meets another volunteer, and he eventually moves to her village to be with her, and help out. In my eyes, Kris has the experience of a lifetime, something I wish I could have done, and be able to share with my own kids.
Her book helps raise awareness to one of Africa’s problems, besides AIDS. Without training, pre-natal care, and education to keep the babies alive and healthy, the mortality rate is high among birthing mothers and infants.
One thing I’d definitely like to point out, is with every sale of the book, a portion of the proceeds “..will help expand the capabilities of this clinic, as well as provide school tuition assistance and health care for Monique’s children.” They’re also partnered up with WomensTrust Inc, “a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women in West Africa at the grassroots level.”
Part of her website is dedicated to collecting donations, and can be found here : Monique and the Mango Rains – How to Help.
It’s a great and worthwhile cause. Pick up the book, and help out!
Yet another memoir! This one I found pretty amusing. John is the youngest of 4, and his parents are VERY devout catholics. They try to raise him in the faith – no smoking, no drinking, no pre-marital relations, etc, yet he pretty much defies all of this, and so much more. He has some hilarious misadventures, like undressing his pretty nun teacher, then being called on to stand and read, only to realize he has a bit of a “problem” that he tries to hide. Or once, during lunch, one of his buddies puts a punk record on, cranks it up, and blasts it, swearing and all, much to the fury of the sister.
He grows up, and still gets into trouble – like dating a very well endowed girl, publishing an independent school newspaper with some very liberal views, and moving in with his future wife. Through it all though, I think he regrets not being more honest and upfront with his parents, especially when they drift apart after he confesses some things them. He tries to reach a balance to keep his parents, and his wife happy, without pissing one off too much.
It was funny, and it was touching, and it cut the core a bit too. Who hasn’t at some in their lives, been dishonest with their parents, and later regretted it? I originally thought it would be a bit “meh” but it’s well written, and it kept me going to see what happens next. I found out he had written another book, “Marley and Me,” and I think I’ll be trying to pick it up as well.
I might have to edit a little bit later, musing it all over.
Currently reading :
My Father’s Paradise, by Ariel Sabar (still! sorry! it’s good though!)
The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman. I regret not finishing this sooner. It started off a bit slow, but it’s definitely gotten more interesting.
Next to be read (in no specific order:)
The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner (another one I regret not getting to earlier! probably the next to be picked up in a day or two)
Shadow of Colossus by T.L. Higley
The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson (very soon, I swear!)
Just when I knock a few off my pile, more appear! Just donated a few books, but I feel like I hardly made a dent in freeing up space, unfortunately.
Peace is a relatively small book, about 256 pages. It is the very real (translated) diary of a Vietnamese doctor during the Vietnam War. After reading her experiences.. even though I wasn’t alive during that time, I feel pretty ashamed about the War. Thuy was professionally trained, she was smart, compassionate, and most of all, courageous. To be caring for the wounded and avoiding detection by enemy troops, courage is a necessity. Throughout her diary, she tells of her trials, of some of the patients that she helped to save. She talks of being a member of the Party, which I’m guessing is similar to a society of professionals that try to better the conditions of Vietnam, and work towards a better future for the country. She gives herself advice daily on how to be a better person, a better friend, sister, on how to get into the Party. She has her doubts, and she has her hopes.
I originally was on the fence about whether I was liking it or not, though the entire time I had a lot of respect for her. In the end though, I felt beyond sad when, after being left alone with a few patients, still waiting for help, she was found, and killed. I guess back then, the soldiers either had no choice, or just didn’t care, about respect for a woman, even if she was the enemy, and simply made her a p.o.w. instead.
The one thing that I did not agree with, was part of the introduction, where they tell you of her death. Honestly, I didn’t need to know that until the after word. I spent the entire time counting down to her death. If they saved that information until the end, then I think it would’ve hit me a little more. I could have been more hopeful to her survival, hoping she has a bright career, reunites with M and her family.. Phooey!
12 January 1970
“… I don’t want to think far ahead. I only want to talk about things before our eyes. That is, each minute of our lives must be a proud minute. There are innumerable hardships in front of us.” So very true!”
27 February 1970
‘life is indeed a painting, with thousands of colors and textures. I am like a painter fresh out of school, stepping into a complex reality. Before me lies a long range of high, dark blue mountains with strands of white clouds spreading lightly on their slopes. The mountains are raked and scarred by bombs, the raw red earth like open wounds. Since I stepped onto this steep road full of perils, lined with trees withered by poison, parched beneath a burning sun, I have encountered cool streams with flowers and fragrant blossoms… And the faces I met on the road have been kindly. There are shiny eyes looking at me with affection. There are inquiring eyes, trying to understand me. And there are also crafty eyes here, trying to cheat me with jealous looks and fake smiles.
Oh, Thuy! Choose wisely, be wise and calm. You are not young. I wish you knew how to act. Don’t squander your trust. Don’t be stingy. You must know how to place your personal interests below those of the Party cooperative. …”
I like how she desribes the what she sees, and the things that those with the crafty eyes don’t think she notices. Then she goes on to give herself a bit of advice to overcome those will ill thoughts towards her, and how to better serve the Party.. Ah, poor Thuy, such a life wasted.
Obviously, this is a work of historical fiction, but Mr. Boling stuck with the facts as closely as he could. The story jumps around a bit from character to character in the beginning, but it’s not something to be put off by! Before you realize, the connections start to be made between them, and it starts making more sense.
All of the characters have so much life to them! I found myself looking forward to diving more into their lives and routines, their interactions with others, friend, family, or foe. I also found myself worrying about the fate of Guernica, since this during the time of the Spanish Civil War.
As we started seeing into the eyes of Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen (ugh, that bastard!) I felt nothing but dread. You just know something was going to happen to this town filled with these wonderful characters. Unfortunately, as history tells us.. Guernica gets bombed, killing a grievous many citizens, and wounding more. I wanted to cry as some of my favorite characters, like Mariangeles, Miren, Justo, etc. were caught in the middle of it all.
It’s a powerful story that’s going to stay with me for sure. After I finished it, I went and looked up Guernica on Wikipedia, and I’m even more disgusted with the whole situation. I’m proud of Picasso though, for memorializing the tragedy in a huge painting. With that painting, and his fame, he brought the situation to center stage, garnering more attention to the event.
If anyone was just “thinking” about getting this one, don’t. Just go and get it! You won’t regret it. And definately check out Picasso’s painting and read up about it, at least on wiki.
Currently reading : Something Like Beautiful, and My Father’s Paradise. Two at once.. so bad..
Thinking of making this a once a month deal.. I add my reviews to LibraryThing pretty regularly, which I bring over here, where I expand on them, if I had any further thoughts.. With that said… Book reviews!
American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld.
I was a fan of Prep, read it a few times at least, so when I heard of Wife, I couldn’t wait! After a failed Shelf Awareness (I think) attempt, I was fortunate enough to score a copy from the EarlyReviewers program over at Library Thing. Huzzah!
I had really enjoyed this book. After a while, Alice, the main character, was feeling less like a character, and more like an actual person. She’s flawed, and deals with some very real struggles, but she always tries to stay good. Throughout the book, we see a lot happening to her, and each changes her, and forms who she is.
It’s a very good book overall. Some of her monologue could have been skimmed off, as it felt she was over thinking things, but it didn’t bother me so much. Also, while we see a lot of major events in her life, we also miss other events that I would have liked to see happening. It’s almost a shock when you finish one section, then go to the next, and find out all these things happened.
While I honestly don’t know much about Laura Bush, I couldn’t help but think of her as I read some parts. When she meets and marries into the Blackwell family.. When her husband is elected president.. Just like the real deal, she has to keep up the facade that she is 100% on her husband’s side, that she shares his opinions and thoughts, even though privately, she has disagreements. One of her main disagreements was she wanted to bring home the men and women sent overseas, which gets publicized by the press almost immediately.
Growing up, she’s had to deal with very real issues, and the consequences that they bring. The death of a friend, the loss of a friend.. Abortion, homosexuality, alcohol abuse.. Loss of beloved family members, meeting and dealing with your new in-laws.. Like I said above, she meets each issue as it comes, and she walks away changed, learning from it. She has very real struggles that we can all identify with, in one way or another.
Overall, I’m glad I got it, very well worth it.
The Grift – Debra Ginsberg
Grift (noun) – a group of methods for obtaining money falsely through the use of swindles, frauds, dishonest gambling, etc.
Ever since she was a child, this is what Marina Marks did. Her method : being a “psychic.” She learned the most common methods, tarot and palm reading, and used them to make money. First, for her mother, to support her habits, then to support herself later on. Realistically, she doesn’t have any psychic gift, just knowledge of the tarot, what the lines on the palm mean, and how to extract information from her clients. Body language, casual conversation, a piece of jewelry, all help her to seem like the real deal.
After saving enough money in Florida, she moves out to California, where people are more accepting of psychics, to start fresh, and to pursue her real goal – a nice nest egg to live off of. After doing a gig at a swanky party, she builds up a client base, each with his or her own story behind them. One is gay, and wants his partner to be more accepting of homosexuality, and to pay more attention to him. One is a married womanizer, but one of his latest conquests is getting too attached. Yet another is married to a man that wants nothing more than a child, even though she’s not too fond of the idea.
As the story goes on, the past catches up to Marina, and coupled with some of her clients getting too attached, she starts having more problems than the expected. On one fateful day, the grift is no more, as her real gift suddenly blooms, and with it, all the pieces start falling into place as she learns to use her gift.
It’s a good story, and it keeps you guessing. I honestly didn’t expect some of the turns that came about in the story, although I kind of guessed, based on the prologue, that her natural psychic talent would come into play eventually. I thought it’s a good book, and I hope other readers won’t be disappointed with it.
When We Were Romans – Matthew Kneale
I wasn’t too thrilled with this one, unfortunately, and that’s because of the writing style.
The story is told, and narrated by, a 9 year old boy, and that was my turn off. While I appreciate the attempt for realism, the purposeful misspellings and run away trains of thought wasn’t really my cup of tea. The story was the only thing that grabbed me long enough to finish it, though you could guess what was going to happen pretty fast.
As someone said on Library Thing, even though it was a short book already, less would have been better.
I honestly wouldn’t recommend this one, sorry Mr. Kneale!
After I finished, I couldn’t help but think : boy does she like to eat! This short, quirky novel is not about eating disorders, which I wanted to point out first. It’s about Fenfang, a 21 year old “whose youth just started,” sick of living on her sweet potato farm, and sets off to Shanghai to make something of herself. After packing her wordly possessions (not much) and a long train ride, she finally gets there, and encounters her first problem : where to stay? As it turns out, after much wandering, she finally finds her residence entirely by accident (literally!)
She gets jobs as an extra on films, has a failed relationship with a third rate director, who turns into a bit of a stalker, makes friends, and changes residences many times. All while eating.
The novel is short and sweet. It’s fun and quirky. It’s literally 20 chapters (the fragments) of Fenfang’s life, and more then once I had a chuckle, especially whenever she says “Heavenly Bastard in the Sky.” If you’re looking for a light, quick, witty read (took only a few hours, with a few interruptions from the kids,) then this is a good book.
I, robot – Howard S. Smith
I originally put this one off for a while after receiving. Even though it looked interesting, after flipping through it and seeing some of technical sketches, I thought the book would be a bit too technical as well. It actually wasn’t, and had an interesting storyline, actually.
Haruto, the main character is a strict rule abiding Japanese inspector, who’s investigating a case. He winds up getting in the middle of a secret deal between Japan and Israel. Robots with sophisticated AI to serve as super soldiers, essentially, in exchange for nuclear weapons to use against Korea. He’s on the run from the law, far from home, and determined to get as much information as possible to expose this plot. I think the last thing he definately expected though was to find love, in an unlikely place. In the end, it almost felt like the Matrix, but reversed.
I liked it though, hoping my friend does too, since I’m passing it on.
Coming up for reviews soon.. Last Night I Dreamed of Peace (almost done with it,) The Last Queen, The Aviary Gate, The Terminal Spy, hopefully Schooled if it comes soon, Blue Genes, Guernica.. So much to read! Eek!