Tuesday, December 31, 2013

* Top Ten (2013)

Top Ten Books of Past Years:
2012


The year 2013 was a very busy year for me!  While working full-time at the Andersen Library in UW-Whiteater, I also completed two more semesters of grad school at UW-Madison through the library and information studies program.  This summer I took a continuing education course called Reading by the Lake where we spend the weekend talking about books and book discussions.  In January, I started a book club with some of my friends from college and read a couple of books from my mom's book club in Germantown.

At the end of the summer I started listening to audio books on the way to and from work and while walking my dog, Hannah.  I wasn't sure if I'd like them or now, but they're starting to grow on me and they make the 2-hour drive each day go my much faster!  I also started a crafting blog this year, sold greeting cards and candy gifts at craft fairs this fall, and held a monthly card making workshop the retirement community where my friend works as a life enrichment assistant.

This year, I read 38 books - 13 of them being audio books.  You can check out my list on the left hand side of my blog or on my goodreads page.  Here's a list of my top ten:

(The links of the book title will take you to the full review on my blog)


#10: Night Road (Kristen Hannah)

I've enjoyed Kristin Hannah's novels in the past, but this was one by far my favorite and the most moving.  The story begins with a young teenager named Lexi.  After a hard childhood living with a drug-addicted mother and many foster parents, she finally settles in with her great-aunt Eva.  On the first day of high school, Lexi becomes friends with Mia Farraday and the two become inseparable throughout high school.  Lexi and Mia's twin brother eventually fall in love, but one bad decision leads to a night that will change their lives forever.  In the years that follow, Lexi and the Farraday family are torn apart and must find away to put their lives back together.  It was beautifully written story about love, friendship, and family.


#9: The Shoemaker's Wife (Adriana Trigiani)

This boy-meets-girl love story takes place at the turn of the century in the Alps of Italy.  After love at first site, both Enza and Ciro are forced to leave their village.  Unknown to one another, they both travel to America where they begin new lives for themselves.  On their journey's to make a home in America, fate intervenes and they find each other once again - but just as Ciro is leaving to fight in World War I.  As stated in the review: "The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk."


#8: The Street Sweeper (Elliot Perlman)

It is an epic novel that intertwines a survivor's account of the holocaust with modern-day characters and story-lines and a wonderful testimony to the importance of oral and first-hand accounts of history.  Elliot Perlman's portrayal of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers were the most graphic I have ever read.  The author gave a great amount of detail on the procedures of death camps.  The descriptive and graphic language brought the horrifying experiences that the characters went through in prospective and intertwined the past with the present.


#7: Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)


Libby Day was seven years old when her mother and two sisters were murdered. Libby was the only one to escaped and later testified that her 15-year-old brother Ben was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Libby is a troubled and lonely adult and her brother still sits in prison.  The novel alternates between Libby's story in the present and her mom's and Ben's the day the murders happened.  I couldn't wait to find out what happened and was really surprised by the ending. The pieces fit so perfectly together and it was an insightful and intriguing story of the affect that tragedy has on  it's victims.  I enjoyed Gillian's Flynn best-selling novel, Gone Girl, as well - but this one really stuck with me!



#6: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)

This young adult novel mixes fiction and photography for a unique and intriguing reading experience.  Looking for family secrets, 16-year-old Jacob travels to a remote island and discovers the ruins for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  As he searches through the home and discovers photographs, he begins to understand that these children might have been held at the home for a reason - and that they are still living there.


#5: Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)

This is the first book in the Earth's Children series by Jean M. Auel.  The books are essentially the story of cavemen - the first people to walk the earth about 25,000 years ago.  The first book in the series tells the story of a young Cro-Magnon girl who is orphaned when the rest of her people are killed by an earth quake.  She is discovered by Iza, the medicine women of a clan of Neanderthals who call themselves the clan of the cave bear and must adapt to the ways of their people.  I started listening to this series as audio books on the way to work and am currently on the third volume.  My favorite part of the book was not only the complex character interactions, but Auel's description of life thousands of years ago.    Auel brought up interesting concepts regarding the mind and physical characteristics of the clan how it resulted in little change of the  people over hundreds of thousands of years. 


#4: Kitchen House (Kathleen Grissom)

This novel is set in the late 1700s and is told from two very different point of views: Lavinia, a young orphan from Ireland and Belle, the illegitimate daughter of the owner of the plantation.  After her parents die on a ship heading to America, she is taken in to live and work on a tobacco plantation.  Lavinia is eventually welcomed into the family of these working at the Big House.  As Lavinia grows up, she is torn between her adopted African-American family and her expected role as a young white women in society.  When she is forced to make a choice between the two worlds, everything she knows is put into question.


#3: The Sandcastle Girls (Chris Bohjalian)

The Sandcastle Girls is the first novel I have read by Chris Bohjalian and I loved it!  Deeply moving and unforgettable, the book centers around the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and tells the story of Elizabeth, a young girl from American and an Armenian soldier named Armen.  Throughout the next year, they write each other letters and begin to fall in love.  Many years later, Elizabeth's grand-daughter, Laura, researchers the story of her grandparents and learns of the tragedies and secrets that they both overcame.


#2: The Dovekeepers (Alice Hoffman)

This tragic novel tells the story over 2,000 years old when nine-hundred Jews held the Romans on Masada in the Judean desert.  In the end, only two women and five children survive.  Told from the point-of-view of four very different women, they arrive at the siege from very different background.  As they work together as the dovekeepers, their stories are mingled together to create a beautiful story.


#1: 11/22/63 (Stephen King)

The basic premise of the novel is a teacher named Jack Epping who travels through time to 1958 where he tries to stop the John F. Kennedy assassination. But changing the past is a lot hard then he thinks. And to top it off, he realizes that he really likes living in the late 1950s / early 1960s. And, of course, he falls in love.  This novel includes a little bit of everything - historical fiction, mystery, time-travel, suspense, romance...by far the best book I read this year.  I can't recommend this enough!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

* Lady Leer Society Catch Up - 2013


Tonight the Lady Leer Society got together to to catch up and discuss the books we read over the past twelve months.  We were able to read over ten books...pretty good for our first year :)

We put together a quick recap of each book - three adjectives to describe it, what we thought about it, and if we would recommend it.  Take a look at the books we read below, checkout my Book Club Selections tab on my blog, or take a look at what we're reading on our Goodreads page.

January - The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
exciting, tragic, addicting
We liked basically everything about this book and also read the other two books in the rest of the series.  We enjoyed the first two movies that are out, but liked the books better. The second movie left out a lot of important details such as secondary character development of the other tribute winners and Haymitch's backstory.  We all agreed that the third book was a little lacking and repeditive, but that overall the series is great for older kids and teens.  We didn't agree with Katniss in her choice and liked Gale better than Peta!
Would we recommend this: yes


February - Blue Asylum (Kathy Hepinstall)
interesting, peculiar, regrettable
We felt that the premise of the book was interesting and liked the crazy secondary character, but felt it was not well executed.  We liked that the book had a unique view point of the civil war, but that it was unrealistic for the time period.  We also we not fans of the ending!
Would we recommend this: no


April - Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
tedious, odious, long
We all agreed that we enjoyed the musical and movie better than the books.  While we liked the storyline and epic transformations to the characters, we thought that the book had too much detail and was tough to get through.  This one took us two months to read.
Would we recommend this: no, perhaps the abridged version would have been better?


May - The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
scandalous, refreshing, complicated
We liked reading a book from a secondary character's point of view and loved the description of the  time period.  Fitzgerald was able to capture the selfishness of the characters perfectly and we all enjoyed the movie as well!
Would we recommend this: yes


June - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Seth Grahame-Smith)
comical, surprising, satisfying
We liked the zombie take on Jane Austen's classic novel and like the change of fate for many of the characters.  We thought that the book was a little easier to get through because it contained a lot more action and Elizabeth was a much more independent female character.  However, it wasn't very consistent and the zombie aspect was a little overdone.
Would we recommend this: maybe


July - Wicked (Gregory Maguire)
mesmerizing, thought provoking, gratifying
We all thought that this book was an amazing retelling to children's story told from different prospective of the characters of Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West.  We also read the original Wizard of Oz and loved the historical aspect of the mythical land and the simple connections that the author created.  Even though it was a bit confusing at times, it brought up a lot of expanded details such as political aspects and the true meaning of good vs. evil.
Would we recommend this: yes


August - The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan)
predictable, humorous, educational
Overall we thought that this book was ok.  We liked the human aspects of the Greek Gods and how they interacted with each other.  It was enjoyable, but not very captivating and had a lot of aspects of the Harry Potter books on a more watered-down level.  We didn't feel it was worth reading the whole series, but enjoyed the movie version.
Would we recommend this: maybe


September - Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)
compelling, eye-opening, insightful
This book was a little slow to start, but we all really enjoyed it.  It was very insightful into the mind of a child with Asperger's and the social aspects of those around him.  The story was told from a unique aspects of the boys imaginary friend and told how imaginary friends are created, interact with other imaginary friends, and eventually die.  It was very thoughtful and enjoyable.
Would we recommend this: yes


October - Juliet (Anne Fortier)
beautiful, intriguing, unpredictable
We really enjoyed the historical and modern aspects of Romeo and Juliet in this book.  It was very fast-paced and unpredictable.  The book was a great combination of family drama, mystery, romance, and history.  We thought that the dialog was a bit lacking (between Julie and her sister) and were a little confused by the motives, but overall enjoyed the writing style and tragic but happy ending.
Would we recommend this: yes


November - When We Were Strangers (Pamela Schoenwaldt)
empowering, raw, heartbreaking
We really liked the medical and historical aspects of this book from the 1880s.  Even thought we felt that the main female character was a bit unrealistic for the timer period, she was hardworking and independent.  It told an unique immigrant story.  We enjoyed the book, but we not impressed with the ending and felt that it came out of nowhere.
Would we recommend this: yes


What We're Reading and/or Listening To:
Angie 
A Lion Among Men (Gregory Maguire)

Mickie  
Red Queen (Philippa Gregory)

Trisha  
When We Were Strangers (Pamela Schoenwaldt)
The Mammoth Hunters (Jean M. Auel)

Favorite Book of 2013:
Angie 
Walking Disaster (Jamie McGuire)
Juliet (Anne Fortier)
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)

Mickie 
Tutor Court Trilogy (Susan Wiggs)
Juliet (Anne Fortier)

Trisha 
11/22/63 (Stephen King)
The Dovekeepers (Alice Hoffman)
Wicked (Gregory Maguire)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Juliet by Anne Fortier



"Everything we say is a story.  But nothing we say is just a story."

When Julie Jacobs inherits a key from her great-aunt, she travels to Italy to find answers to a six-hundred year old family secret.  Piece by piece she learns that she and her twin sister are the descendants of the Shakespeare's Juliet.  Every answered question seems to more mysteries and Julie is on a search for a Romeo of her own.  Intermingled with Julie's search is the real story of Romeo and Juliet - and it's a lot different then we thought.

This book was decent.  I loved the historical aspects of Shakespeare's famous play and how it evolved over the years.  Julie's story was interesting, but I was a little disappointed.  I felt that the dialogue didn't really fit with the feel of the story and the characterization was a bit lacking.  I really tried to like Julie, but by the end of the book, I found myself not really caring about what happened to her.  What really held the story together was the historical tale of Romeo and Juliet.  I loved that the author showed how the story progressed and changed since the 14th century and evolved into what it is today.  Once that ended, I wasn't all that excited to finish the rest of the book and finding out how it ended.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel (audio)

"Ayla, I've looked for you all my life and didn't know I was looking.  You are everything I've ever wanted, everything I ever dreamed of in a women, and more.  You are a fascinating enigma, a paradox.  You are totally honest, open; you hide nothing yet you are the most mysterious women I've ever met."

Earth's Children #1 - Clan of the Cave Bear

This is the second book the the Earth's Children series.  I still not exactly sure how to categorize it.  Some sort of cave people version of Romeo and Juliet with some Fifty Shades thrown in there, perhaps?  The first part reminded me a lot of a more adult version of one of my favorite books as a child, Island of the Blue Dolphin.

This novel begins right after Ayla has been forced out of the Clan (a group of Neanderthals) when Broud becomes the new leader.  Forced away from the only people she has ever know, she must survive on her own.  She is haunted by the lose of her family, especially her young son Durc.  Ayla is determined to find the the people she was born to whom the Clan refers to as "the others."  No longer restrained to the ancient ways of the Clan, she is able to experiment with new ways of hunting, making a fire, and craftmanship.  She find a valley inhabited by horses and adapts a baby horse that she names Winnie.  Completely alone, she begins to treat the foul as her pet and later adapts a baby lion cub as well as Winne's foul.

Intertwined in Ayla's story is the adventure of two young brothers, Jondalar and Thonolan.  As part of the Zelandoni tribe, they are the people that Ayla was born to (Cro-Magnons).  On their long journey, the brothers meet many different groups of people along the way.  The live with the Sharamudoi for a period of time after Thonolan falls in love with a young women of the tribe.  After she dies in childbirth, Jondalar and Thonolan leave the people - Jondalar hoping to return home and Thonolan, sick with grief, hoping to die. 

Ayla and Jondalar's lives cross paths when she saves him, from a lion attack - the same young cub that she raised.  Thonolan's wounds prove to be fatal, but Ayla brings Jondalar back to her cave and begins to nurse him back to health. This is a wonderful love story of people from two very different backgrounds.   When they finally meet, Jondalar and Ayla struggle to find similar means of communication and deal with constant misunderstands due to their cultural differences.  

In their interaction, the author stress the extreme differences between the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon people. Through Jondalar and Thonolan's journey, the reader was introduced to many different groups of people.  They all had different customs and it was really interesting to see how early humans might have dealt with issues such as survival skills, family structure, sex, and religion.  I was expecting Ayla's story to be a bit boring (after all, she was alone with only animals to keep her company for almost three years!), but the author kept my attention with her great since of details, explanation of thought patterns, and human-animal interactions.  I inevitability knew that Jondalar and Ayla were going to get together, but I found myself so excited when they began to understand one another other.  The story ends with the young couple meeting a group of mammoth hunters.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

* 20 Magical Children’s Christmas Books To Read Aloud




Reading Christmas stories are one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.  Check out an awesome list of 20 of the top Children's Christmas Books.  It includes a short summary and reasons "why you should read it."  The first one is one of my all-time favorites - How the Grinch Stole Christmas. :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

* How to Make a Bookworm Tree

I've been seeing lots of these on facebook this year!!  Such an awesome idea and they look gorgeous.  I will need to make one as soon as I have the room for it...I'm sure I can find enough books :)

I also found really neat instructions on how to make one!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (audio)

"But when did you see her talk to me?  When did you see her go into the cave?  Why did you threaten to strike a spirit?  You still don't understand, do you?  You acknowledged her, Broud, she has beaten you.  You did everything you could to her, you even cursed her.  She's dead, and she still won.  She is a women, and she had more courage than you, Broud, more determination, more self-control.  She was more man than you are. Ayla should have been the son of my mate."

This book was amazing!!  I can't believe that I've waited so long to read these books...and now I have five more to read.  It's going to be a very busy next couple of months :)

This is the first book in the Earth's Children series by Jean M. Auel.  She wrote the book back in 1980 (eight years before I was born!) and the final book in the series didn't come out until a couple of years ago in 2011.  The books are essentially the story of cavemen - the first people to walk the earth about 25,000 years ago.  The first book in the series tells the story of a young Cro-Magnon girl who is orphaned when the rest of her people are killed by an earth quake.  She is discovered by Iza, the medicine women of a clan of Neanderthals who call themselves the clan of the cave bear.

Iza and her brother Creb, the clan's Mog-ur or magician, become Ayla's adoptive parents and Iza begins to train her as a medicine women. Ayla is excepted as one of the people by the leader, but no everyone agrees, particularly the leader's son Broud.  As Ayla grows up, she struggles to conform to the ways of the clan. 

My favorite part of the book was not only the complex character interactions, but Auel's description of life thousands of years ago.  Her writing of the difference between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals is insightful and draws on scientific evidence of evolution and the development of man kind.  Intermingled in her story are numerous culture references to religion, family, sex, language, and survival techniques such as hunting and craftmanship.  Auel brought up interesting concepts regarding the mind and physical characteristics of the clan how it resulted in little change of the  people over hundreds of thousands of years.  I'm not sure if other books are out there or not, but this is the first historical fiction novel that I have heard about of read focused on this time period - or anything similar to it.

I can't wait to read the rest of the books in the series and have already checked out all of the audio books so that I can listen to them on my way to work!  From what I have seen so far, the series is very well researched and took over 30 years to complete.  You can see some of Auel's sources that she used on her website.

This book was #5 on my Top Ten list of 2013.

Monday, November 25, 2013

* Top 10 Most Read Books in the World


 I saw this interesting list of facebook today for the Top 10 Most Read Books in the World in the last 50 years.  Not sure how valid the information is, but it looks like the guy put a lot of research into it.  Gone with the Wind and Harry Potters are two of my favorite books of all time and the bible is still at #1, but I was a little surprised at Twilight.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the books as well - the same way I enjoy reality TV shows when I'm card making - but making it on to the top 10 list?  There are soooo many other great books out there!!!  Plus I'm wondering how they accounted for multiple books in a series like with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

Anyways, here's the list:

1. The Holy Bible
2. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Tse-Tung)
3. Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling)
4. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkein)
5. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
7. The Twilight Saga (Stephanie Meyer)
8. Gone with the Wind (Margret Mitchell)
9. Think and Grow Rich (Napolean Hill)
10. The Diary of Anne Frank (Anne Frank)

I've also read some of Lord of the Rings and The Diary of Anne Frank, but they were before I started keeping track in 2004, so they are not on my blog.  This list was also another constant reminder that I need to read the Bible one of these days!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Major Pettigew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

"The world is full of small ignorances.  We must all do out best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don't you think?"

"Life does often get in the way of one's reading."

This novel was really cute!  Essentially a love story between 68-year-old retired Major Pettigrew and a 58-year-old shopkeeper from Pakistan named Mrs. Ali. Brought together by their love of literature and drinking tea, the unlikely individuals become friends in a small villiage in England.  Fighting pressure from their family and neighbors, the friendship begins to blossom into something more as the two struggle to find love at an older age.  It got a bit slow in the middle, but this charming novel is a wonderful tale of life lessons and finding just what you need at a later age in life.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bahjalian (audio)


"He looked up at Christina and with the umbilicus of siblings sensed instantly what she was thinking.  Not the precise details, not the particular images.  But the lines around her eyes were all grief, and he knew that behind them was a memory."

I really enjoyed this book!  I first came across Chris Bohjalian about a month ago when I read The Sandcastle Girls.  I love his writing style - it's the perfect blend of historical-fiction, mystery, and drama.  The Light in Ruins tells about a unique perspective of World War II.

This novel begins in 1943, where a young women named Christina lives with her family in the hills of Florence, Italy.  Born of nobility, Christina has grown up in the ancient villa without a care in the world.  She spends her days roaming the land and looking after her young niece and nephew.  As the Nazis begin continue to invade Italy, the family is thrown into a world of chaos and uncertainly.  In the mist of it all, Christina begins to fall in love with a Nazi soldier.

Fast-forward twelve years and Christina's sister-in-law has just been murdered. Sarafina, a young detective with the Florence police department, begins to investigate the murder.  She learns about Christina's family she learns of the secrets of the war and discovers that her own tragic story may play a part in the mystery.





Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell (audio)


I didn't really like this book all that much.  I don't know...maybe I just don't get British humor.

I liked the concept enough: A young man throws a housewarming party for his neighbors, all who have their own story to tell.  Three college roommates, a reunited elderly couple, a recently divorcee who want to drink herself to death, a history phanatic, and the care taker and his wife.  Intertwined in the story our the new neighbors. Tigerlily and her husband / brother / uncle (no one is quite sure!)  The stories were interesting enough, but in the end, I didn't really care all that much what happened to any of the characters...which is probably good considering many of them did not even life to see the end of the book.  





Friday, October 25, 2013

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian (audio)

★ 1/2

"My mother used to talk about passages and, once and awhile, about ordeals.  We all have them; we are all shaped by them.  She thought the key to find the healing in the hurt."

This is the second book I've read by Chris Bohjalian (the other one was The Sandcastle Girls).  I really like his writing style and characters.  Plus my local library has a lot of his books on playaway!!!

The Night Stranger was pretty good.  After a devastating plane crash that kills 39 people, the pilot Chip relocated his wife Emily and twin daughters to New Hampshire.  The old Victorian house that they move into holds many secrets - a door bolted shut in the basement and stories of a young boy committing suicide years before - the family is for more then they bargained for.  The story gets stranger as Chip meets some of the dead passengers from the plane crash in his basement and the herbalist neighbors begin to take a strong and almost obsessive interest in the twin girls.  This modern-day ghost story is full of town secrets and and the strange people that live there.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

* Christmas List Books for 2012


Finally finished all of the books that I got for Christmas last year!!!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

★ 1/2
 "The best historians...take a thorough knowledge of the evidence of their subject and combine it with a sharp intellect, the warmest understanding of people and the highest imaginative powers."

I first started this book last March and had to re-start in about a month and a half ago because I couldn't remember where I left off.  It was also one of the seven books I got for Christmas last year.  The novel was over 600 pages and it took me about a month and a half to finish once I started it again.  It is an epic novel that intertwines a survivor's account of the holocaust with modern-day characters and story-lines and a wonderful testimony to the importance of oral and first-hand accounts of history.

I first got really interested in the holocaust and World War II sometime in early high school.  I don't exactly remember why exactly, I have always liked history and historical fiction and found the time period to be extremely interesting.  The holocaust was a horrific event and is often very hard to read about, but I became fascinated with personal accounts of those involved and learning about how people survived these unthinkable tragedies.  In high school, my senior portfolio centered around music in the holocaust and in music college music history course, I wrote a paper about this as well.  It focused on the children's opera Brundibar that was produced and performed by prisoners at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that was used for Nazi propaganda and contained many prominent Jewish musicians, writers, artists, and scholars.  I've completed a lot of extensive research and try to read as many books on the subject as a I can (you can see my complete list here).

That being said, Elliot Perlman's portrayal of the Nazi death camps and gas chambers were the most graphic I have ever read.  The author gave a great amount of detail on the procedures of death camps.  The descriptive and graphic language created an simple comparison between the camps and factories - which, essentially it was.  A factory solely designed for killing as many people as possible.  I guess I was just being naive, but I did not give much thought to what happened to the prisoners once they entered the gas chambers.  I guess I just assumed that they were killed instantly.  And while this was a tragedy in itself, it was nothing compared to the pain and suffering that they had to endure in the minutes before their deaths.  

This was a great story, but it had A LOT of different characters and story lines: a ex-convect searching for his daughter, a elderly holocaust survivor, a historian on the verge of losing his career and relationship, a psychologist research personal accounts of concentration camp survivors in the mid 1940s - just to name a few.  While all of these stories ultimately fit together, there was a lot going on and a lot of keep track of. Normally I don't mind lots of complicated story lines, but the author seemed to go back and forth between each one around every other page.   I might have to read this one again because I feel like I missed some important detaiils while trying to keep everything straight!

This book was #8 on my top ten list of 2013.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (audio)

"Meaning that history is always written by the winners.  When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books - books which glorify their own cause and siparage that conquered foe.  As Napoleon once said, 'What is history, but a fable agreed upon?'...The Sangreal documents simply tell the other side of the Christ story.  In the end, which side of the story you believe becomes a matter of faith, and personal exploration, but at least the information has survived."

By looking at the reviews on goodreads and amazon, everyone either seemed to love or hate this book.  I wouldn't say that this was one of the best books I've ever read, but I did enjoy it.  There was a lot going, and some parts got a little confusing, but that might have been because I was listening to it instead of actually reading the book.  I first watched the movie when it came out in 2006 (wow that seems like so long ago!!!) and the book has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.  Glad I finally got the chance to read...or I guess I should say "listen" to it!

The novel tells the a contemporary story of the famous search for the "Holy Grail."  While lecturing in Paris, the symbologist Robert Langdon becomes involved with the murder of a famous curator at the Louvre.  Shortly before his death, he left a secret message to his grand-dauther, Sophie Neveu.  When Robert is accused of the murder, he and Sophie begin a chase across France to find out the truth about the death of Sophie's grand-father.  They quickly discover that the clues reveal the truth about a two-hundred year old mystery - and about the involvement of Sophie's family.

There were a lot of things that I really liked about this book:
     1.) Historical information - Throughout the story, are all kinds of facts about Western history and religion including Da Vinci's paintings, the legend of the holy grail, the portrayal of women, and Christianity.  I'm not sure how much was fact and how much was Brown's interpretation, but I enjoyed it none the less.
     2.) Paris - The novel was mostly set in Paris and the author used the scenery and well-known places throughout the book.  I spent two weeks in Paris a couple years ago, so it was really neat to remember all of the places the were mentioned in the book.  My aunt and cousins went right after right after the movie came out.  They not only saw it at a theater in Paris, but traced the route that Robert and Sophie took...it turned out to be a really awesome scrapbook page!!
     3.) Information literacy - This is going to sound really dorky, but I LOVED all of the research that was incorporate into the novel.  My favorite part was when Robert and Sophie visit the curator of a religious museum and search for articles in a database that will lead then to a tomb where a key item in solving the mystery of the holy grail is hidden.  I was super excited that they used actual research terminology like keywords, truncations, and proximity searching!!!

Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

* A Year of Reading the World


I came across this article today on my facebook page.  This girl spent the last year reading a book from every country around the world...that's 196 books!  You can visit her blog where she has posted about each book and also has a list of recommendations that were given to her.

I love these types of challenges!!!  Not only do they promote reading, but, like book clubs, it's a great opportunity to pick up books that I wouldn't normally read.  I didn't get a chance to look too much at the list, but she has some great books on it.  What a great way to read and learn about all of the different cultures around the world!  I can't wait to read her book "Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf" when it comes out in 2015.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (audio)

"What the color is, who the daddy be, who the mama is don't mean nothin.'  We a family, carin' for each other.  Family makes us strong in times of trouble.  We all stick together, help each other out.  That the real meanin' of family.  When you grow up, you take that family feelin' with you."

I've read so many wonderful books lately and this one was no exception!  This novel is set in the late 1700s and is told from two very different point of views: Lavinia, a young orphan from Ireland and Belle, the illegitimate daughter of the owner of the plantation.  After her parents die on a ship heading to America, she is taken in to live and work on a tobacco plantation.  Lavinia is eventually welcomed into the family of these working at the Big House.  As Lavinia grows up, she is torn between her adopted African-American family and her expected role as a young white women in society.  When she is forced to make a choice between the two worlds, everything she knows is put into question.

I really liked how this book incorporated the lives two very different women.  It showed not only the tragedy of slavery at the time, but of women as well.  Both Belle and Lavinia are left with very little choice on what would happen to them.  Even though the story was very sad, I felt it was very realistic and a wonderfully moving story of plantation life in the south.

This book was #4 on my top ten list of 2013.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (audio)


"But history does matter.  There is a line connecting the Armenians and the Jews and the Cambodians and the Bosnians and the Rwandans.  There are obviously more, but, really, how much genocide can one sentence handle?"

The Sandcastle Girls is the first novel I have read by Chris Bohjalian and I loved it!   Deeply moving and unforgettable, the book centers around the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and tells the story of Elizabeth, a young girls from America and an Armenian soldier named Armen.  After refusing to marry, young Elizabeth arrives in Aleppo, Syria with her father to aid Armenian refugees during World War I.  Elizabeth is horrified by the conditions that the refugees are in and is overwhelmed by their situation and tragic pasts.  She makes many connections with the Armenian people, including Armen, a young engineer.  Just as they begin to realize their feelings for one another, Armen travels to Eqypt to enlist in the British army.   Throughout the next year, they write each other letters and begin to fall in love.  Years later, Elizabeth's grand-daughter, Laura, researchers the story of her grandparents and learns of the tragedies and secrets that they both overcame.

I really liked that the novel centers on two narrators in different time periods - Elizabeth in 1915 and Laura in the present.  As Laura was learning more and more about her grandparent's history, Elizabeth was living through it in the past.  Like the author mentioned in an interview, Laura's narrative also gave the readers a much needed escape from the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.

This is the first time that I have really read anything about the Armenian Genocide.  The narrator of Laura often refers to this time of the "tragedy that you know next to nothing about" and it couldn't be more true.  I've spend a lot of time reading and learning about the holocaust and I was really surprised at how similar these events were - and how little I knew about the circumstances of the Armenians.  Over 1.5 million people were killed during this time and I'm not sure why so little is known about it.  History is interesting that way - and Bohjalian did an amazing job of writing a tribute to the Armenian people that was sad and beautiful and filled with hope.

This book was #3 on my top ten list of 2013.







Saturday, September 21, 2013

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samanta Van Leer (audio)


"Everyone deserves a happy ending."

I'd read a few of Jodi Picoult's books in the past and have always enjoyed them.  I love her writing style and how I can always have trouble putting them down.  This one was very different.  First of all, it was a fantasy and young adult novel.  She also wrote the book with her daughter, Samantha Van Leer.  

Fifteen year old Delilah is a bit of a loaner.  Instead of hanging out with kids her age, she would much rather spend her time reading books.  One book in particular has caught her attention - it's an old children's fairytale that she found at her school's library.  After awhile she begins to talk to one of the characters in the book: a prince named Oliver.  Oliver and the other characters in the book are trapped in the story that they must act act every time someone reads the book.  As Delilah begins to fall in love with Oliver, she becomes determined to get him out of the book.

I enjoyed this story.  It was really cute and a good "modern-day" fairytale.  It was a lot different than what I was expecting, and there were quite a few of unexplained things in Oliver's world, but I'm glad I read it.  I really liked that the actual fairytale was written in between the novel!




* Sharon Creechaton

How cool is this??  

Pledge to read a novel this month as part of the Creechaton and enter to win all of Sharon Creech's books!

Sharon Creech was one of my favorite authors in my late elementary school/early middle school years. I first learned of her books in 5th grade when our class read  Walk Two Moons .Her books are wonderful and I love that many of the characters appear in multiple books.  I read all of her older books when I was younger (many more than once) and reread Walk Two Moons a few years ago for one a book talk in my children's literature course.  I also read Bloomability for the Whitewater public librarie's summer reading young adult Battle of the Books contest.  Both amazing books!!

Her website also has great resources and guides for teaching all of her books in the classroom.  It was a great resources when I was lesson planning a couple of years ago!

Friday, September 20, 2013

* Life Lessons from Shel Silverstein


Saw this on facebook today and just had to share...


These books are amazing!!!  I remember reading them over and over again when I was a kid...I checked them out from my school's library more than I could count.  The poems are so creative and unique and I love the drawings!  Definitely will have to read these all again someday :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Little Bee by Chris Cleave (audio)

"Truly, there is no flag for us floating people.  We are millions, but we are not a nation.  We cannot stay together.  Maybe we get together in ones and twos, for a day or a month or even a year, but then the wind changes and carries the hope away.  Death came and I left in fear.  Now all I have is my shame and the memory of bright colors and the echo of Yevette's laugh.  Sometimes I feel as lonely as the Queen of England."

"It was beautiful, and that is a word I would not have to explain to the girls back home, and I do not need to explain to you, because now we are all speaking the same language.  The waves still smashed against the beach, furious and irresistible.  But me, I watched all of those children smiling and dancing and splashing one another in salt water and bright sunlight, and I laughed and laughed and laughed until the sound of the sea was drowned."

I had no idea what to expect when I first picked up this book.  The back cover was very vague...it talked a lot about not wanting to tell the reader "what happens" and not wanting to "spoil the ending." I'm still not entirely sure what how I felt about the ending, but I think I would have enjoyed the story more with out all the hype on the back.  It was an interesting approach, but not very effective for me.  I think I was expecting too much...and I've found that the best books usually just speak for themselves.

The book tells the story of two women: Little Bee - a young refugee from Nigeria and Sarah: a women living in London who is trying to be a good mother to her 4-year-old son in the mist of a struggling marriage.  The women meet one day on a beach in Nigeria on a day that will change both of their lives forever.  Two years later, Little Bee finds Sarah and the help one another to put their lives back together.

This book was very unique.  There are strong themes of globalization, cultural differences, and and where you fit in with the human race.  It brought up a lot of thought about refugees that can be applied to the United States as well.  Little Bee has a very distinctive personality that shines through as she moves form one world to another in the mist of tragedy.  The story was very sad and moving. And humorous at rare times  - like when Sarah's son Charlie refuses to take of his Batman suit and saves the "goodys" from the "battys" and Little Bee's fascination with the Queen of England as well as how she would explain what is happening her to "the girls back home."  I'm glad that the author was able to add in some comic relief - otherwise I don't know if I would have been able to make it through!