Monday, December 29, 2014

Shocked! Shocked, I say!

On my online Shelfari bookclub, Bibliophiles, we were asked to list our faves and least fave books for 2014. When I did a quick search on my ratings for 2014, I was SHOCKED!!

I only listed THREE books with 5 looks in the entire year! Here they are:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Haiku Mama by Kari Anne Roy
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I can't even believe it. What gives?

Am I choosing unwisely?

Am I becoming more discerning?

I had a LOT of 2 look ratings, but no 1 stars.

A lot of 2 look. Really, too many to list. You can search on the "2 looks" tag to see them.

I am going to have to think about this!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Gift: Reading Shawl

My husband gave me a Reading Shawl for Christmas! It is much like the one pictured here, but without the fringe. It is a plush fabric, and has the pockets, as pictured. I haven't worn it yet, but it is in the dryer as I type this (I don't want to get scabies - duh). Will post a pic later of this blogger wearing it!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Author Spotlight: Sarah Addison Allen

One of my "go-to" authors when I need a well-written book that I know will be satisfying is Sarah Addison Allen. She writes magical realism with a heaping spoon of romance and Southern living. However, she is not just a great author, she is also a great person. Read this, from her Facebook page:

A real life GARDEN SPELLS romance for Christmas:

Carl got in touch with my publicist at St. Martin's Press:

"Ms. Allen's book Garden Spells has a cute connection in our relationship because it was actually what my girlfriend let me borrow to read during our first "date." It was her copy of her favorite book, and I enjoyed it as well, so I think there's some special meaning to the work. I thought I could give her a new, maybe even a first edition of the book, as an early Christmas gift. However, I was wondering if Ms. Allen could personalize the copy, but also write something about me having a question for her, or 'Aliyyah, Will you marry Carl?' "

This made me smile, so of course I did it, and wished Carl good luck.

I'm happy to report that Aliyyah said, “Yes.”

How adorable are they??

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Books

Tis the season to read some holiday books! Novels taking place around Christmas are a nice read any time, but especially this time of year. Here are some of my favorites:

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank
Theodora is the matriarch of a family that has grown into a bunch of truculent knuckleheads. While she's finally gotten them all together in South Carolina to celebrate, this Christmas looks nothing like the extravagant, homey holidays of her childhood. What happened to the days when Christmas meant tables groaning with home-cooked goodies, over-the-top decorations, and long chats in front of the fire with Pearl, her grandmother's beloved housekeeper and closest confidante? Luckily for Theodora, a special someone who heard her plea for help arrives, with pockets full of enough Gullah magic and common sense to make Theodora's Christmas the love-filled miracle it's meant to be.

This is being developed into a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, due out in October 2015. Excellent casting!!

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans
The New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box returns with a holiday novel of hope, love, and redemption.

I liked this one every much. It had a feel of reality that the Benton Frank novel missed, and encouraged the reader, I think, to step out during this season of giving to make wrongs right.

On a side note, I also read "The Christmas Box" by Evans, and cannot recommend it.

Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
It's the week before Christmas, and antiques dealer Weezie Foley is in a frenzy to do up her shop for the Savannah historical district window decorating contest-which she intends to win. She throws herself into putting up a Graceland/Blue Christmas motif, with lots of tinsel, an aluminum tree, and all kinds of tacky retro stuff. The project takes up so much time that Weezie is ready to shoot herself with her glue gun by the time she's done, but the results are stunning. She's sure she's one-upped the owners of the trendy shop around the corner. But suddenly, things go missing from Weezie's display, and there seems to be a mysterious midnight visitor to her shop.
Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deck the Halls with BOOKS!

Making trees out of books is the ultimate irony, no? I love Christmas trees made from books, and there is no shortage of designs, sizes, and schemes. Here are some of my faves:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Deja Vu: The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

Have you ever picked up a book, started to read it, and think, "This is vaguely familiar...?" That happened to me today with The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison. Usually, if I can't remember whether or not I have read a book, I will look at Shelfari to find out if I have marked it as such. However, this time, I looked at my blog to see if I had written a review, which I had not. Still, I had deja vu when I read the first chapter.

After checking Shelfari, sure enough! I had read the book October 2013; but, there was no review! That is very odd for me since I usually write at least a few sentences about my impression. In any event, I had read this one. So, I added it to PaperBackSwap and moved on.

The funny thing about The Silent Wife is that is cut from the same cloth as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, but is soooo much better. Honestly, I am bewildered by the intense positive reaction to Flynn's book. I read it, enjoyed it, and forgot about it. As usual, it would not have been my choice for Hollywood, but many (many) moviegoers disagree with me.

This book, in my opinion, is hands-down better than Gone Girl. The characters are much more real, and this is a situation that could really happen; probably DOES happen, with regularity. More like a "Fatal Attraction" (realistic) compared to "Basic Instinct" (far-fetched).

Jodie and Todd have been together a long time, and have a very comfortable (common law) marriage. They are both professionals and live well, although Todd regrets having no children. As the summary states perfectly: He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose.

Told in alternating voices, you get a rich understanding of what motivates these two, and how their actions affect one another, as well as those around them. However, even with all of this insight and build-up, the end will leave you breathless. The perfect "I did NOT see that coming" twist.

Highly recommended.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

In the evocative tradition of Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History , comes this accomplished debut of youthful innocence drowned by dark sins. Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls in the Adirondacks after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to the placid, isolated shores of the lakeside school as a Latin teacher, recently separated and hoping to make a fresh start with her young daughter. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories that will become a living nightmare. Since freshmen year, Jane and her two roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable–studying the classics, performing school girl rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew to meet Lucy’s charismatic brother Matt. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. For in that sheltered, ice-encrusted wonderland, three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Only Jane was left to carry the burden of a mystery that has stayed hidden for more than two decades in the dark depths of Heart Lake. Now pages from Jane’s missing journal, written during that tragic time, have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface. At once compelling, sensuous, and intelligent, The Lake of Dead Languages is an eloquent thriller, an intricate balance of suspense and fine storytelling that proves Carol Goodman is a rare new talent with a brilliant future. From the Hardcover edition.

My take: 3 looks ***SPOILERS***
Interesting book, to be sure. It had the potential of a riveting and plot-twisting storyline, but missed the mark in the end.

20 years ago, there were three deaths. Today, the roommate of the dead girls has returned to the boarding school as the Latin teacher. An intriguing premise; and using Latin words, classic literature and imagery as a thread throughout the story was a nice touch not used commonly in today's mysteries. However, the book was very character-heavy with past students, founding family members, current students, faculty and others. It was very difficult for me to keep them all in line.

In addition to this, the plot was a bit predictable. I knew that there was something nefarious in the relationship between Matt and Lucy, that Albie was trouble, and that Dr. Lockhart was up to no good. The read herrings were used effectively, though. To avoid revealing all here, I will not spoil those rabbit-trails.

In the end, I was not at all satisfied that I had read a full-bodied mystery. I felt as if I has watched an old episode of a television series where, try as they might to draw the characters fully, there is limit to what can be done in the space provided. However, it was an easy read, offered a solid ending, and was entertaining enough for me to recommend as a vacation read.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same.

My take: 2.5 looks
A harrowing tale of January 12, 1888 in the newly settled US plains. The History Channel website puts it like this:

On this day in 1888, the so-called "Schoolchildren's Blizzard" kills 235 people, many of whom were children on their way home from school, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell nearly 100 degrees in just 24 hours.
It was a Thursday afternoon and there had been unseasonably warm weather the previous day from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Suddenly, within a matter of hours, Arctic air from Canada rapidly pushed south. Temperatures plunged to 40 below zero in much of North Dakota. Along with the cool air, the storm brought high winds and heavy snows. The combination created blinding conditions.

THAT I can understand! However, Laskin takes this story and, instead of making it real to the average reader, bogs down the text with an abundance of technical terms, protracted weather explanations and hard-to-follow story lines. I will take one at a time.

While I appreciate Laskin's desire to educate me on weather phenomena, his use of meteorological terminology did little to boost my understanding of why this blizzard occurred. Instead, reading the reasons, lows, highs, barometric pressures, and such was like swimming in quicksand. I quickly abandoned careful reading and resorted to skimming - something I am sure no author desires from his audience.

The weather causes and effects explained in a careful scientific manner went on and on, bogging me down regularly. That, added to the character-heavy ramblings, and I was thoroughly confused chapter after chapter. There was almost a feeling of "oh, by the way, since I mentioned him, let me tell you his life story."  I would have rather been introduced to a few key families and followed them throughout the story.

Because of the subject matter, and to honor the over 200 people that perished, I really wanted to like this book. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this one.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

Summary:"The Hundred-Foot Journey" is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai who embarks, along with his boisterous family, on a picaresque journey first to London and then across Europe, before they ultimately open a restaurant opposite a famous chef, Madame Mallory, in the remote French village of Lumiere. A culinary war ensues, pitting Hassan's Mumbai - toughened father against the imperious Michelin-starred cordon bleu, until she realizes that Hassan is a cook with natural talents far superior to her own. Full of eccentric characters, hilarious cultural mishaps, vivid settings and delicious meals described in rich, sensuous detail, Hassan's charming account lays bare the inner workings of the elite world of French haute cuisine, and provides a life-affirming and poignant coming-of-age tale.

My take: 3.5 looks
I know, I know. Again with the 1/2 look. I can't help it. The book was lovely in writing and so descriptive that I could smell and taste the words, but it didn't stay with me like a true 4-look-book does.

The story of Hassan and his family is beautifully painted by Morais from their time in Bombay to their eventual settling in France. The haute cuisine is a character in and of itself, making this a truly amazing journey.

On Bombay:
From the shantytown rose the pungent smells of charcoal fires and rotting garbage, and the hazy air itself was thick with the roar of roosters and bleating goats and the slap-thud of washing beaten on cement slabs. Here, children and adults shat in the streets.

On Harrod's Food Hall in Paris:
The Food Hall smelled of roasting guinea fowl and sour pickles. Under a ceiling suitable for a mosque, we found a football pitch devoted entirely to food and engaged in a din of worldly commerce. Around us: Victorian nymphs in clamshells, ceramic boars, a purple-tiled peacock, An oyster bar stood beside handing slabs of plastic meat, while the grounds were covered in a seemingly endless line of marble-and-glass counters. One entire counter, I recall, was filled with nothing but bacon -- "Smoked Streaky," "Oyster-Back," and "Suffolk Sweet Cure."

This beauty continues throughout the book, as Hassan meets the antagonist-turned-benefactor of the story: Madame Gertrude Mallory. A truly unlikable character, Madame Mallory's range of emotion, thoughts, experiences, and (finally) completely winsome charm is as full-bodied as a fine red wine. She surrounds herself with a variety of characters with whom the reader becomes attached, including Hassan's first lady-love, Margaret.

The journey continues as Hassan becomes famous in his own right, surpassing even his famous teacher. The delight of bringing forth cuisine morphs into the struggles of being in business. Like his father before him, Hassan grows to learn that passion always has a price.

There are so many layers to this book, it is impossible to list them here. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops—the child in the photo is identical to her adopted son, Will. Her every instinct tells her to deny the similarity between the boys, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she’s a journalist and won’t be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up? She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her own life—and that of the son she loves.

My take: 3.5 looks
I can't quite give this one 4 look because I reserve that for the books that I think of long after the last page; but, I have to tell you, I could not put this one down!

Ellen is a very likable character, and she is right-on with what a mother would do. Her co-worker Sarah plays the witch that we all know, but turns out to be perhaps a little more than meets the eye. The story with her father and boss top it all off nicely. As is common with Scottoline books, there is a marvelous twist at the end, a very satisfying conclusion, and when you read the last page, there is a breath of relief that all is well in the world you've just visited.

On a side note, I bought this book at a Friends of the Library book store, and it turns out to be signed by the author! Bonus!!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

THE NO.1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY published in 1998, introduced the world to the one and only Precious Ramotswe, the engaging and sassy owner of Botswana's only detective agency. TEARS OF THE GIRAFFE took us further into this world, and now, continuing the adventures of Mma Ramotswe, MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, finds her expanding her business to take in the world of car repair and a beauty pageant. Alexander McCall Smith's sense of humour and gentle charm have created a substantial cult following. MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS will win him yet more fans.

My take: 3.5 looks
Another fun romp through Botswana, Africa ... solving mysteries and getting on with the lives of characters we met in the first book of this delightful series.

I was a little confused by the title of this one, since the "beautiful girls" issue was very late in the book. While it is a fun and catchy title, it doesn't do the story justice in the least. However, if that's the only thing that put me off, I'd say McCall Smith has another winner!

Looking forward to the next book in this series, and what happens with these men and women in whom I am becoming very invested!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Man Booker Prize Awarded

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Booker-McConnell Prize and commonly known simply as the Booker Prize) is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK.

This year, the short list was:

Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Howard Jacobson, J
Neel Mukherjee, The Lives of Others
Ali Smith, How to be both
The winner, announced today is Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life is a daily struggle to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from pitiless beatings. Until he receives a letter that will change him forever.

Moving deftly from the POW camp to contemporary Australia, from the experiences of Dorrigo and his comrades to those of the Japanese guards, this savagely beautiful novel tells a story of love, death, and family, exploring the many forms of good and evil, war and truth, guilt and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash

In a small, rural town in North Carolina, people keep to themselves and defend each other from outsiders. River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following is a church led by Carson Chambliss, who has its members hold poisonous snakes or drink poison to challenge their faith. A 13 year-old-boy, who is mute, is taken into the church to cure his muteness and something happens causing the boy's death. Then it is hard for the sheriff to get anyone to talk about what happened inside the church.

My take: 3 looks
Disturbingly real, and ripped from the headlines, this was a very fast-paced book. Living about 45 minutes from a church that handles snakes, I can relate to the fervor in which these congregations whip themselves while testing not only the scripture, but the Holy God Himself.

I come away with a fundamental question: how can people be so blinded by a man? Look at Hitler. Look at Jonestown and Jim Jones. This happens.

The book answers me: "It was like Mama was lost in the desert and had gotten so thirsty that she was willing to see anything that might make her feel better about being lost."

Simply said, these people are hungry for a leader, and once they find a charismatic and narcissistic man willing to lead them, they follow blindly. Even if it means dying.

Although, for those who are not this desperate, the book offers this explanation: "But since then I've learned to just go ahead and take fairness out of the equation. If you do, things stand the chance of making a whole lot more sense."

The book is more than a story of a church flock led astray. There are several dynamics here: marital issues, sibling relationships, friendships, and a dose of redemption. There is much more here than meets the eye. Maybe a little too much. It was on the heavy-side of drama in a number of areas, but the story moved nicely and it was a very interesting book with a satisfying resolution.

One of the best parts of the book was the Epigraph in the beginning:

Something has spoken to me in the night...and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying:
"Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
 -- Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith


Precious Ramotswe is the eminently sensible and cunning proprietor of the only ladies’ detective agency in Botswana. In Tears of the Giraffe she tracks a wayward wife, uncovers an unscrupulous maid, and searches for an American man who disappeared into the plains many years ago. In the midst of resolving uncertainties, pondering her impending marriage to a good, kind man, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, and the promotion of her talented secretary (a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, with a mark of 97 per cent), she also finds her family suddenly and unexpectedly increased by two.

My take: 4 looks
Another delightful tale of Mma Ramotswe and her detective agency. Following the first book, and best if read in its series, we find out more of our main character, while becoming familiar with her fiancé and her secretary.

Lovely descriptions of the African scenery, heartwarming tales from growing up in Africa, and intense national pride continue throughout the book, and bring a smile to my face. Mma Ramotswe is no Pollyanna. She does see the dark side of the country and its inhabitants, but continues to focus on the positive, while she does her part to rid her surroundings of undesirables.

The tactics she uses in her investigations and subsequent revelations are clever, and sometimes surprising. It's not easy to have the culprit confess and offer restitution, but that's exactly what our heroine sets out to do each time.

I love this series, and recommend it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

Late one night, a teenage couple drives up to the big white clapboard home on the Blessing estate and leaves a box. In that instant, the lives of those who live and work there are changed forever. Skip Cuddy, the caretaker, finds a baby girl asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep the child . . . while Lydia Blessing, the matriarch of the estate, for her own reasons, agrees to help him.

Blessings explores how the secrets of the past affect decisions and lives in the present; what makes a person or a life legitimate or illegitimate and who decides; and the unique resources people find in themselves and in a community. This is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and personal change by the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer about whom The Washington Post Book World said, “Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.”

My take: 3 looks

A nice tale of what happens to a number of settled lives when a baby arrives unexpectedly.

Lydia Blessings Carton is the matriarch of the Blessings Estate and, at 80 years old, she has experienced much. I liked the way her exterior was peeled away little by little in the story, much like an onion, until you finally get to the center which is described in one word: fidelity.

Skip is the groundskeeper at Blessings, and has made his share of wrong choices; but when he finds a baby in a box on the doorstep, he must make a decision that will affect more than just himself.

The supporting cast of Nadine, Meredith and Jennifer round out a pleasant and wide-ranging cast of characters. While there is not a nice and tidy ending to this story, it is very real and life-like. I think that's what made me like it so much. It is not a Disney fairytale, but a struggle to do the best you can do, regardless of the obvious, desired, or easy path.

The reason for not giving this more than 3 looks is that I often became confused in the back-in-time parts, merging them with the present and jumbling the story a bit. I don't know if this is reader-error or if it could have been written more tightly, but it impacted my overall impression of it.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world. A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles's crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.

My take: 4 looks
Set in the beginning of WWII, this story centers on the relationship of two boys, Finny and Gene. The POV is exclusively Gene's, which makes for an unreliable narration simply because it is one-sided.

There are many themes in this book: relationships, war, boarding school, competitions, military draft, and it goes on and on. However, this book for me was based on one thing: a senior year in the life of a student (Gene) and his relationships and experiences. Gene was a very complex character. Finny was his roommate and best buddy, but there was also a sense of competition bordering on manic between them. Finny was gregarious and overwhelming to Gene, and Gene struggled to maintain his identity in the shadow that was his roommate.

At the climax of the book, it is almost an afterthought that Gene jostled the branch on which he and Finny were standing. No emphasis is put on the decision that caused Gene to do this, indicating that it was not predetermined or premeditated. It simply happened. I don't think for a minute that Gene intended Finny to fall from the branch; it was just a horrible accident.

My surprise, however, was in the character of Brinker. He seemed maniacal, conniving and determined to bring Finny and Gene to their knees. The author makes it clear that Brinker was like Finny in many ways, and in his senior year took the lead role of the school easily because of Finny's accident. Once Finny is back at school, however, Brinker has to play second fiddle, and I think that is what fuels his fire to the culminating "trial" at the end of the book.

I saw Finny's accident the first time as that, an accident. It was clear that, even though Gene felt competition toward his friend, he loved him. Brinker, on the other hand, planned from the beginning to draw blood in the trial setting. He planned an expose, to shame someone. The fact that Finny had to flee to get rid of what he considered a painful situation places his second accident squarely on the shoulders of Brinker. I was frustrated that he was never called on his actions in the incident.

In the end, it was a brilliant character study. Relationships set against the backdrop of a boarding school with rich history, against the backdrop of brilliantly described seasons, against the backdrop of the impending and increasing American activity in the war that would change history...This is a classic worth reading and will make you think long after the last page.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

...and 2014 Banned Books Week comes to an end...

The last thought on banned books week is this: don't celebrate the books that are challenged. This is not about the books, the authors, those who challenge, or the issues. It's about freedom. It's about the freedom to read whatever you want to read, whenever you want to read it.

Have you heard the saying, "The more you read, the more you know"? It's true. Some banned books are not worth my time. They were published simply to be shocking, and that's not what I'm about.

However, the majority of challenged and banned books deal with difficult or taboo themes, and they need to be read to give perspective, the open eyes and to lift the veil of ignorance that we are under. Others give a raw and unflinching look at our past. That, too, is important to remember. To remember the mistakes of our past gives us a greater possibility that those mistakes won't happen again. We all need to look life square in the face.

Read. That is the most important thing. Read.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jeff Bridges reads "The Giver", a highly challenged book

Jeff Bridges participates in Banned Books Week Virtual ReadOut!

Since its release in 1993, The Giver has been one of the most controversial books in American schools. Between 1990 and 1999, The Giver ranked 11th on the list of the books most frequently requested for removal. In the 2000s it was 23rd, just two spots below To Kill a Mockingbird.

Barbara Jones is the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), which maintains a database of attempts to remove books from schools. There is no way of knowing the exact number of actual attempts, as the OIF can only track those reported in the media or submitted to them by individuals, but since 1990 they have recorded over 11,000 separate instances of what they call “challenges,” “attempt[s] to remove or restrict materials.”

For The Giver just under one-third of all challenges (for which the outcome was reported) resulted in a removal. The state that has seen the most attempts to remove The Giver is Texas, but the book has also been challenged in Massachusetts, Washington, and many other states all over the country.

In the last two decades, the most frequent reasons for a book being challenged in the United States have been categorized by the OIF as complaints that the book contains “Offensive Language” or is “Sexually Explicit.” But The Giver is not usually objected to for either of these reasons. The most frequently cited reasons to challenge The Giver have been “Violence” and claims that the book is “Unsuited to [the] Age Group”—or in other words that it’s too dark for children.
The chart below plots the top five most common reasons The Giver was challenged in red. The bars in blue represent how often that excuse was given for all book challenges the OIF has recorded.
But even if a few protective parents get their way in some districts, and the book is removed from a handful of libraries, it’s unlikely to stop the vast majority of young readers from finding it. The Giver has seen a surge in book sales ahead of the movie’s release, and on Amazon’s list of best-selling Teen & Young Adult Books, it currently ranks No. 2.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

"…There is never a question of either Sáenz’s own extraordinary capacity for caring and compassion or the authenticity of the experiences he records in this heartfelt account of healing and hope."— Booklist   Zach is eighteen. He is bright and articulate. He's also an alcoholic and in rehab instead of high school, but he doesn't remember how he got there. He's not sure he wants to remember. Something bad must have happened. Something really, really bad.

My take: 4 looks
Wow. Harrowing story of a young man coming to terms with an extremely traumatic childhood.

Zach wakes from a stupor in a facility that is what I would call a rehab-type in-patient facility. Adam is his therapist, and he rooms with two others.

Zach is 18 years old and has a monster. Or maybe more than one monster. He needs to remember, but it hurts too badly. Through his therapy, group sessions, and roommates, he comes closer and closer to the edge of why he is there. Will he do the work? Will he come to face his monster? Will he then be able to tame it?

Excellent writing drew me into this story. Fully developed characters and situations left me breathless, laughing, and in tears. An exceptional novel of the depths to which our memories can plunge us, and one young man's journey to come back into the summer of his life.

Highly recommended.

Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan

From Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, the story of Mr. Penumbra’s first trip to San Francisco—and of how he got entangled with the city’s most unusual always-open enterprise…   It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay.

Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon. But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book—the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon , a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra’s university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially . . .

My take: 3 looks
Another fun book about books from Robin Sloan. My F2F book club is reading "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore", which I read a year ago. Since I had already read the book, I thought I would pick this one up, a prequel.

This tells the story of Ajax Penumbra and how he comes to San Francisco and to the store that would eventually become his own. A fun read, and recommended...but read the other first.

The Best Banned Books on Film

Thanks to Word & Film for the article:

Ah, Banned Books Week. It's that week in Autumn that is welcomed into the open arms of readers everywhere, readers who cherish this celebration of freedom of speech -- and freedom of the written word. Herewith, ten more great movie adaptations of banned books.

"Animal Farm" (1954)
The publication of George Orwell's 1945 novel, Animal Farm, came at a time when Stalin was at the height of his reign in the Soviet Union. Orwell, clearly not a fan of Stalin's leadership philosophy, had a difficult time finding a publisher for his book, whose content was divisive and transparent in its satirical criticism of Stalin. Finally (and luckily) it found a home with Secker and Warburg Publishers. Since publication, Animal Farm has been banned in the USSR, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, and North Korea. Though adapted multiple times, the one to watch (after you read the book) is the 1954 animated version by Joy Batchelor. Though it deviated from the source material, it's an interesting and entertaining addition to the world of book-to-film adaptations.

"The Da Vinci Code" (2006)The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling 2003 novel by Dan Brown, introduced us to Robert Langdon and the idea that there is so much more than meets the eye in the world of Christianity. The novel struck the Catholic Church as offensive and the powers-that-be in Lebanon went so far as to ban it in the country. Its publication inspired controversy among critics, historians, and theologians. Ron Howard directed the 2006 movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou. Critics were as divided about the film but, ultimately, no matter where you stand on its content, at its core it's a nail-biter of an adventure.

"Gone with the Wind" (1939)
It didn't take long for Margaret Mitchell's 1936 Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning novel, Gone with the Wind, to get snatched up by Hollywood. The epic tale was brought to the big screen by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming. Its production was massive and often troubled, but following its release in 1939, the story, script, and star power (Clark Gable! Vivien Leigh!) earned it ten Academy Award wins. The book has been challenged on and off over the years because of its realistic depictions of slavery and race issues.

"Easy A" (Inspired by The Scarlet Letter) (2010)In 2010, screenwriter Bert V. Royal teamed up with director Will Gluck to bring a (very loose) adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, to the big screen. Together, they created a film that would join "Clueless" and "10 Things I Hate About You" in the Best Classic to Teen Dramedy Club (and would, simultaneously, launch the career of Emma Stone). The themes in Hawthorne's novel -- illegitimacy, adultery -- were quite risque for his time and led to its being challenged many times over the years.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)
Harper Lee's now-classic 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, takes place in the early 1930s in Alabama. Atticus Finch, respected attorney and father to Scout and Jem, takes on the defense of a black man named Tom Robinson. Tom has been accused of raping a white woman -- and by defending him, Atticus is opening himself up to the scorn and threats of the locals in the predominantly racist Southern town. In spite of many efforts across the world to ban Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, most recently in 2013, it has sold more than thirty million copies. The 1962 movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, Brock Peters, and Robert Duvall, won three Academy Awards and was nominated for an additional five.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975)
In 1962, Ken Kesey published the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, set in a psychiatric hospital in Oregon. Told from the perspective of Chief Bromdem, a Native American man assumed to be deaf and mute, his observations of and insights into the worlds of his fellow patients are thoughtful. They most often focus on Randle Patrick McMurphy, a man who feigned insanity in order to serve a jail sentence in the psych ward rather than prison. The book has been challenged and banned multiple times across the country, and has been called "pornographic" and "garbage." Milos Forman brought the book to screen in 1975 with an adaptation starring Jack Nicholson, Will Sampson, and Louise Fletcher. It won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actress, and Best Lead Actor.

"Where the Wild Things Are" (2009)
Spike Jonze's 2009 adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic Where the Wild Things Are had the perfect source material, the perfect Max (played by Max Roberts Records), and the perfect screenwriter (Dave Eggers). (And in this writer's opinion, the perfect music.) However, in spite of its beautiful visuals and the aforementioned perfect pieces, the film didn't fare particularly well in theaters or with the critics. The book has been challenged over the years because of its dark subject matter -- though still remains a perennial favorite of so many parents.

"Of Mice and Men" (1939)
This writer's last viewing of a Steinbeck adaptation took place in the theater earlier this year, with James Franco as George and Chris O'Dowd as Lennie. This is only the latest adaptation, though. The show on stage has since closed, and our recommendation is that you skip the Gary Sinise-helmed version from 1992 (starring Sinise as George and John Malkovich as Lennie) and reach further back to Lewis Milestone's Oscar-nominated 1939 adaptation. The book has been challenged over the years because of its accurate depiction of slavery in the United States.

"Sophie's Choice" (1982)
William Styron's 1979 novel, Sophie's Choice, is the story of three people sharing space in a Brooklyn boarding house in 1947. One of these three, Sophie, has survived the concentration camps that too often peppered the landscape of World War II and carries with her the guilt from a decision she made at that time. The novel has been challenged often, as recently as 2001, because of the explicit sexual content. This last attempt at banning, however, found students rightfully fighting back. In 1982 director Alan J. Pakula adapted Styron's novel for film, starring Meryl Streep, who earned her second of three lifetime Oscars (thus far) for her performance.

"The Lord of the Rings" (2001)
J.R.R. Tolkien's 1954 fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, which began an epic trilogy, has been adapted in numerous iterations since its publication. When Peter Jackson decided to direct a brand-new trilogy beginning in 2001, however, all previous iterations fell to the background as Jackson's creative brilliance brought new life to the story while respecting Tolkien's source material. The trilogy over the years has been challenged on grounds of being "irreligious." Regardless, the first in the series is, to date, one of the best-selling novels of all time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why Celebrate Banned Books Week?

Why "celebrate" Banned Books Week? After all, some of these books I don't even want to read. I am totally and completely uninterested in "50 Shades of Grey" by E. L. James. Why am I uninterested? Because it's full of sex? Because it deals with what I consider sexually deviant behavior, including bondage, and S&M? No. I am not interested in reading it because I have read too many reviews that states it's not good writing. I don't have time to read bad writing, regardless of the subject.

What if you want to read it? More power to you!
No, we are not celebrating the books themselves, but the FREEDOM TO CHOOSE the books you want to read. When you start removing choices because even one person finds something offensive, you start to limit the ability for a person to choose for themselves ... think for themselves ... decide for themselves.
I am all for censorship: self-censorship ... parental censorship. That's what I've done with "50 shades" for myself, and what I did with "In Cold Blood" for my son. However, I am NOT for telling anyone else what they can and can't read. That is crossing a line that we don't need to cross in this country of freedom. 
So, today, celebrate Banned Books Week by reading WHAT you want to read, WHEN you want to read, WHERE you want to read. Celebrate the freedom to read, learn, explore and experience through the written word.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Timeline Video

The American Library Association has come up with a very cool timeline of book liberation:

30 years of challenged books

I was surprised at the books that people found offensive, and the reasons they gave.

When Strat was in 8th grade, one of the books on his reading list was "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote. I contacted the teacher because I didn't think Strat was ready for that book. Its depiction of the murder of an entire family was shocking, but I also felt the portrayal of the murderers in a humanistic and sympathetic manner was too advanced for him. So, Strat didn't read it.

However, he can certainly read it now, and analyze the emotions, feelings, and friendships in the book with a more mature mindset than 6 years ago. He can ponder how a person can kill innocent people, then evoke sympathy as he awaits his death. it is a very complex book.

I exercised my right as a parent to remove this book from Strat's reading list. I did not ever consider asking the teacher to remove it from the class reading list. It never crossed my mind to request that it be removed from the Middle School Library. The very idea that someone would feel they were in the right to remove it in such a sweeping manner boggles my mind.

And yet ... it still happens.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Judith Krug - Banned Book Advocate

Judith Krug (from Wikipedia) was an American librarian, supporter of freedom of speech, and prominent critic of censorship. Krug became Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association in 1967. In 1969, she joined the Freedom to Read Foundation as its Executive Director. Krug co-founded Banned Books Week in 1982.

She coordinated the effort against the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which was the first attempt by the United States Congress to introduce a form of censorship of speech on the Internet. Krug strongly opposed the notion that libraries should censor the material that they provide to patrons. She supported laws and policies protecting the confidentiality of library use records. When the United States Department of Justice used the authority of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 to conduct searches of what once were confidential library databases, Krug raised a public outcry against this activity by the government.

In 2003, she was the leader of the initiative to challenge the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act. Her efforts led to a partial victory for anti-censorship campaigners; the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the law was constitutional, but that filtering software on computers in public libraries could be turned off if so requested by an adult guardian. Krug warned that the filters used to censor Internet pornography from children were not perfect and risked blocking educational information about social matters, sexuality, and healthcare.

Before her death in 2009, you can see that she worked tirelessly with one goal: to let people decide for themselves. That is the most powerful form of democracy.

Thank you, Judith Krug!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Introducing ... Banned Books Week 2014

Welcome to another Banned Books Week! Here are the most challenged books of last year:

Out of 307 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    : Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
Kudos to Captain Underpants for being at the top of the list yet again!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Get ready for Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week 2014 starts tomorrow.

Let's get ready for it:

What is the difference between a challenge or banning?
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.

Why are books challenged?
Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information.

Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:
  1. the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
  2. the material contained "offensive language"
  3. the materials was "unsuited to any age group"
Who challenges books?
Throughout history, more and different kinds of people and groups of all persuasions than you might first suppose, who, for all sorts of reasons, have attempted—and continue to attempt—to suppress anything that conflicts with or anyone who disagrees with their own beliefs. According to the Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type, and Year, parents challenge materials more often than any other group.

Where does the American Library Association stand on challenging and banning books?
ALA's basic policy concerning access to information states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

(Originally published in the UK as "Mr. Rosenblum's List") Jack Rosenblum is five foot three and a half inches of sheer tenacity. Through study and application he intends to become a Very English Gentleman. Jack is compiling a list, a comprehensive guide to the manners, customs and habits of this country. He knows that marmalade must be bought from Fortnum & Mason, he’s memorized the entire British monarchy back to 913 A.D and the highlight of his day is the BBC weather forecast. And he never speaks German, apart from the occasional curse. From the moment he disembarked at Harwich in 1937 he understood that assimilation was the key. But the war's been over for eight years and despite his best efforts, his bid to blend in remains fraught with unexpected hurdles. Including his wife. Sadie finds his obsession baffling. She doesn't want to forget who they are or where they come from. She'd rather bake cakes to remember the people they left behind than worry about how to play bridge. But Jack is convinced they can find a place to call home. In a final attempt to complete his list, he leads a reluctant Sadie into the English countryside. Here, in a land of woolly pigs, bluebells and jitterbug cider, the embark on an impossible task...

My take: 2 looks

I need to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to finish this book. It has languished on my "Reading Now" shelf while I have read a number of other books; and, I am not going to pick it back up. I just didn't miss it, and I never wondered how it ended. It's time for me to write an abbreviated review of what I did read, and move on.

Don't get me wrong, it was a cute book...what I read of it. I liked his wife, Sadie, the most. I just never really became invested in the story. Jack was a bit of a caricature to me. He pursued a single endeavor to the exclusion of all else, until another endeavor caught his fancy. He was single-minded, selfish, and naïve enough to let those things which should have been most dear to him slip away. I just became to frustrated with his character to really care what happened.

I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this one.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Hugo Award–winning, post apocalyptic short story by Harlan Ellison.

My take: 3 looks

13 pages of WEIRD.


Here are the characters:
  • AM, the supercomputer which brought about the near-extinction of humanity.
  • Gorrister, once an idealist and pacifist, before AM made him apathetic and listless.
  • Benny, once a brilliant, handsome scientist, and has been mutilated and transformed so that he resembles a grotesque simian, as well as having lost his sanity completely and regressed to a childlike temperament.
  • Nimdok (not his real name), an older man who persuades the rest of the group to go on a hopeless journey in search of canned food. In the audiobook read by Ellison, he is given a German accent.
  • Ellen, the only woman. She claims to once have been chaste ("twice removed"), but AM altered her mind so that she became desperate for sexual intercourse. Described by Ted as having ebony skin, she is the only member of the group whose ethnicity or racial identity is explicitly mentioned.
  • Ted, the narrator and youngest of the group. He claims to be totally unaltered, mentally or physically, by AM, and thinks the other four hate and envy him.

  • Basically, there is a world war. The US, China and Russia build supercomputers to run the war for efficiently for them. One of the computers becomes sentient, absorbs the other two and annihilates all people on earth, save these five. Because the computer is so angry, it tortures the humans day and night, after being able to extend their lives into an almost immortal state. The story takes place 109 years after their capture.

    There are references here to God and Jesus and that got me thinking that this may be an allegory for Christianity. Each character represents a deadly sin:
    Lust - Ellen has become a whore
    Gluttony - Benny reverts to cannibalism
    Greed - Nimdok - leads them on an extended search for canned goods
    Sloth - Gorrister - lazy and uncaring
    Wrath - AM embodies anger
    Envy - Benny's large penis is a point of contention
    Pride - Ted is quite sure that he is the only one completely unaffected

    With that foundation, AM is God. He creates, destroys, and knows all things. He can get into their minds and manipulate their feelings. In the end, Ted could represent Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice to give the others freedom.

    I have no idea if this is what Ellison intended, or if I am full of hooey. After all, sometimes a soft jelly thing with rubbery appendages is just that: a soft jelly think with rubbery appendages.

    Recommended for the weirdness factor alone.

    The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

    Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

    Kidd's sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

    As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.      

    My take: 3 looks

    The book is well-written and has a few very good lines. Here are a few:
    • If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.
    • When I was being forgiving, I said that my mother was simply exhausted. I suspected, though, she was simply mean.
    • Mary didn't seem to care for books, but I ...I dreamed of them in my sleep. I loved them in a way that I couldn't fully express even to Thomas.
    • My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment.
    • She'd been boiled down to a good, strong broth. (probably my favorite)

    So, you can see that the writing is nice and tight, and the fact that the story is based on actual historical figures lends it an air of authority. The punishments for the slaves are gruesomely accurate, as is the apathy of master toward slave.

    There are two things that keep me from giving this more than three looks. The first is quite unfair on my part, and that is that I have read more than one slave-era, black-vs-white book lately. I think, much like happened with Nazi Germany books in my recent reading past, I simply need to take a break from this genre so that is it fresher for me at a later time.

    While reading "Wings", I couldn't help but compare it to the recent book club selection, "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom. Like this book, it was told from the perspective of an owner and a slave. However, "Kitchen" had a depth that this one didn't have. One of the narrators was herself an indentured servant, who later became the owner/mistress of the house. There was more of an evil presence in several of the characters, and the end was more fulfilling.

    The other item weighing in on my rating is the fact that Monk Kidd also wrote "The Secret Life of Bees," one of my all time favorite books. The writing in that book is exquisite, insightful, heart-wrenching and palpable. "Wings" pales in comparison from an author from whom I expected so much more.

    On a final note, I was delightfully surprised when I learned that many of the characters in the book were real, and the story was inspired by their lives. I did further research on each one, and how their individual lives intertwined.

    This book is, overall, recommended.

    Friday, September 5, 2014

    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

    Gabrielle Zevin’s enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books--and booksellers--that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds.  On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island--from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

    My take: 4 looks
    **sigh** There is something wonderful about a book about books. To have your paged loves referenced, validated, debated and in the spotlight. To have books you have considered reading finally make a place on your shelf because a character loved it. To jot down new titles, amazed that you'd never heard of them.

    Yes, there is magic in books; but a book about books is almost ethereal.

    "The Storied Life" is no different. A.J. finds it easier to be around books rather than people. He is harsh, brash, and rather unforgiving. He knows what he likes and he has very little time or patience for anything outside that realm. He is able to choose books for his store based on his patrons, and knows the best book for each of them. He stays at a safe distance, running off non-buying groups who have huddled in the corner, to making sure everyone is aware of closing time.

    Until Amelia comes to call from a publishing company. She catches his gaze, and he sees that there may be something there that he hadn't anticipated. While that happens, he receives a bundle left in his store after hours. Shaken to the spine, A.J. makes some hard adjustments and becomes an altogether likable character. He is honest, forthcoming and an unapologetic book nerd.

    While the book was much too fast for me, the characters a bit one-dimensional and flat, I forgive all  based on the entrance to each new chapter being a summary of a book by A.J. to his daughter. The writing is quick and easy to follow, if a little sophomoric. Zevin writes like this is a YA book, and it could be. All of that aside, this was a wonderfully fast run through the life of a bookseller and his bookstore.

    As they say in the movies, "You had me at Tamerlane." Highly recommended.

    Monday, September 1, 2014

    Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

    Jake Whitmore is enjoying a rare bonding moment with his sixteen-year-old son, Ryan, when disaster strikes.  They get in a terrible car accident that threatens to derail not only Ryan's chances at college, but his entire future.  Jake makes a split-second decision that saves his son from formal punishment, but plunges them both into a world of guilt, lies, and secrecy.  Just when Jake thinks he has everything under control, a malevolent outsider comes forward with the power to expose Jake’s secret and taunts him to the breaking point.

    My take: 3 looks
    This was, indeed, a riveting read, with a few stressful moments. While I had to suspend believability a bit, and the helicopter mom approach of Pam was a bit grating, this was a very easy book to read and had a satisfying ending.

    The question: Would I have made the same mistake? Yes, I probably would have. I wouldn't have thought a thing about letting my child drive on a deserted road at night. Especially since he was only months from his driver's license. The potential that anything could go wrong is very low, but if it does happen, who is to blame?

    The book spirals from one mistake to another, one lie after another. It is a very real situation, at least until the end when the killer is revealed. That is when a bit of literary and reading license should come in to play.

    Overall, I enjoyed and would recommend.

    Friday, August 22, 2014

    The Battle of the Dash

    Did you know there are several kinds of what I ubiquitously call a "dash"? Let's look:

    Hyphen and Dashes
    There are three lengths of what are all more or less dashes: hyphen (-), en dash (–), and em dash (—).  They also perform different functions.
    Only the hyphen receives a dedicated key on most computer keyboards.

    According to the Chicago Manual of Style:

    The hyphen connects two things that are intimately related, usually words that function together as a single concept or work together as a joint modifier (e.g., tie-in, toll-free call, two-thirds).

    The en dash connects things that are related to each other by distance, as in the May–September issue of a magazine; it’s not a May-September issue, because June, July, and August are also ostensibly included in this range. And in fact en dashes specify any kind of range, which is why they properly appear in indexes when a range of pages is cited (e.g., 147–48).

    En dashes are also used to connect a prefix to a proper open compound: for example, pre–World War II. In that example, “pre” is connected to the open compound “World War II” and therefore has to do a little extra work (to bridge the space between the two words it modifies—space that cannot be besmirched by hyphens because “World War II” is a proper noun). Now, that is a rather fussy use of the en dash that many people ignore, preferring the hyphen.

    The em dash has several uses. It allows, in a manner similar to parentheses, an additional thought to be added within a sentence by sort of breaking away from that sentence—as I’ve done here. Its use or misuse for this purpose is a matter of taste, and subject to the effect on the writer’s or reader’s “ear.”

    Em dashes also substitute for something missing. For example, in a bibliographic list, rather than repeating the same author over and over again, three consecutive em dashes (also known as a 3-em dash) stand in for the author’s name. In interrupted speech, one or two em dashes may be used: “I wasn’t trying to imply——” “Then just what were you trying to do?”

    Also, the em dash may serve as a sort of bullet point, as in this to-do list:
    —wash the car
    —walk the dog
    —attempt to explain em and en dashes


    Monday, August 18, 2014

    On this Day in History: Lolita is published

    On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita is published in the U.S.

    The novel, about a man's obsession with a 12-year-old girl, had been rejected by four publishers before G.P. Putnam's Sons accepted it. The novel became a bestseller that allowed Nabokov to retire from his career as college professor.

    Nabokov wrote the book in English and later translated it into is native language, Russian.

    A quick summary: Humbert Humbert (yes, that's the name) is a professor in his late 30s who becomes enamored enough by a 15 year old girl that he marries her mother to be close to her. They have sex, he becomes possessive, they drive across the country, she flees him, marries another man and later begs Humbert for money, which he gives to her.

    There is, of course, much more, but you get the gist from this.

    The book has perennially appeared on Top 100 lists of all sorts, included "Most Banned Books". Movies, plays, operas and even a one-man show have been made from the book, although few of them resemble the text.

    In an interview with Life magazine in 1963, Nabokov was asked which of his writings had most pleased him. He answered:
    I would say that of all my books Lolita has left me with the most pleasurable afterglow—perhaps because it is the purest of all, the most abstract and carefully contrived. I am probably responsible for the odd fact that people don't seem to name their daughters Lolita any more. I have heard of young female poodles being given that name since 1956, but of no human beings. 
    The first line of the book: "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

    While not a "feel good" novel, it is worth a read.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2014

    Reading list for August

    Let's see if I can get my act together and pull together a reading list for this month. That will give me some good structure for an otherwise fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants reading.

    Here are books to read for my Wednesday night book club:
    1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    2. Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons
    3. Not To Disturb by Muriel Spark
    4. Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline
    5. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
    6. Dolci di Love by Sarah-Kate Lynch

    Here are books I need to read for my Bibliophile Reading Challenge (which ends at the end of August):
    1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
    2. Detour #6 on the Challenge (still to be announced)
    Books that have caught my eye:
    1. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
    2. Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
    That is 10 books, and I think that is very doable!

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

    Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris until she meets Etienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home. As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna and readers have long awaited?

    My take: 2.5 looks
    Nice teenage love story. Anna has just been uprooted from her school, her city, and her country to spend her senior year in Paris. The fact that her father is a famous author of books Anna doesn't care for was amusing to me. He is trying to give her more culture, when it's he whom needs it!

    With just the right amount of snarkiness between teenage girls, a perfect love interest, and a whole year of getting the know the people and sights, this was a very light, albeit sophomoric, read.

    Not a book I would normally choose, I chose it to meet a challenge requirement for a landmark on the cover, in this case, the Eiffel Tower. I recommend the book if you liked the Twilight Series and got tired of vampires, or if you are in junior high school. The book is perfect for that set.

    Sunday, August 3, 2014

    I Shall Not Want by Debbie Viguie

    Charity work can be murder!   It’s Thanksgiving and Joseph Tyler, one of the members of Cindy’s church, has organized a new charity that provides homeless people with rescue dogs to love and care for. But one by one, the homeless recipients are being murdered and their dogs stolen. Could an overly competitive millionaire with his prize-winning pooches and a grudge be behind the crimes? Or could it be someone much closer to Joseph who has something sinister to hide? Cindy and Jeremiah must rush to find a killer before he strikes again.

    My take: 3 looks
    Book 2 in The Psalm 23 Mysteries did not disappoint. I read this one on the heals of finishing the first, "The Lord is My Shepherd". This mystery takes place several months after the first and was nicely crafted again. It was simple, straightforward, contained a few nice subplots, and wrapped up well in the end. Existing characters were further explored, and a few new names were introduced.

    I continue to recommend this light mystery series.