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.