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 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!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult (audio)

"If you didn't remember something happening, was it because it never had happened?  Or because you wish it didn't?"

I've read a couple of other books by Jodi Picoult - Handle with Care, My Sister's Keeper, and The Pact - and I always enjoy them.  I could deal with a little less of the court-scene drama but, they have all been page-turners and have surprising endings.  This book was no exception.  

The book begins with a 18-year-old Katie - an Amish girl who has just been accused of giving birth in her family's barn and murdering the baby.  When questioned, Katie and her parents claim to have to recollection of Katie giving birth or being pregnant.  Her boyfriend, Samuel, won't even admit to having sex with her.  Ellie Hathaway is a experienced lawyer who arrives in Paradise, Pennsylvania after a trying case and fight with her long-time boyfriend.  She has plans to relax in the Amish town and stay with her aunt, an ex-Amish women herself and Katie's aunt.  When Ellie hears about the accusation, she agrees to help defend Katie and moves into the family's house.

As the truth about Katie and the birth of her child begins to unfold, Ellie and Katie lives become intertwined.  Katie must learn to deal with the truth of what happened to her and Ellie takes a long, hard look at her own life. Both women are forever changed by this experience.  I'm not sure how accurate the Amish lifestyle was portrayed, but I found it really interesting.  It gave me a very different prospective of the Amish.  I'm still not sure how I felt about the ending, but as usual with Picoult's novels, I didn't see it coming!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe


"I will never be able to read one of my mother's favorite books without thinking of her - and when I pass them on or recommend them, I'll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world."

"That's one of the amazing things great books can do - they don't just get you to see the world differently, they get you to look at people all around you, differently."

" 'Everyone doesn't have to do everything,' she told me.  'People forget you can also express yourself by what you choose to admire and support.  I've had so much pleasure from beautiful and challenging things created by other people, things I could never make or do.  I wouldn't trade that for anything.' "

"Of course you could do more - you can always do more, and you should do more - but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can.  You just do your best, and that's all you can do."

"We're all in the end-of-your-life book club, whether we acknowledge it or not; each book we read may well be the last, each conversation the final one."

This book was wonderful!  There were so many good quotes - it was very hard to pick my favorite.  Or as you can see above, even a couple of favorites.  I'm not sure if it was because of the writing, the story, or that this was written about books, but I've never been able to get through a non-fiction this fast.  I got this book last Christmas and I've been meaning to read it since then.  I kept putting it off - too busy and too many other books to read - but I'm so glad I finally got the chance to finish it!

This is a beautiful story about Will Schwalbe and his mother.  A wonderful tribute to both his mom and the books that they read together.  Will and his mother have always shared a love of books and reading.  When his mom is diagnosed with cancer, they spend a lot of time together during frequent trips chemo treatment.  They share books they've read or always wanted to read and begin to talk about them.  After awhile, they begin to realize that they have formed a sort-of two person book club.  

I wish that they book had focused a little more on the books that they read and less on all of Will's mother accomplishments and political aspect.  She was a great person did a countless number of things to help others - both the people around her and people in other countries - but, she was one of those people I both admire and get a little annoyed with at the same time.  I'm glad that there are people like her who can do all those wonderful things for others and still have time for themselves, work, and their family because I sure can't! 

I love that the book focused on not only books, but the connections that people have with each other through the books they read.  This book brought up a lot of connections to the relationship that I have with my mom.  She doesn't run all over the world helping people in her spare time and, thankfully, she's very healthy and will hopefully be in my life for many, many years to come, but I while I was reading the book, I found myself thinking a lot about her.  My mom and I have always been avid readers, but in the last few years, we have started to share the books we're reading and talking about them.  She joined a book club about a year ago and we are constantly swapping books and recommending them to each other.  Whenever I finish a really good book, she's always the first person I call to rave about it!  This book got me to think a lot about the bonds that books create and made me appreciate the connect that I have with my mom and the other people in my life through the books we read.