Tuesday, December 31, 2013

* Top Ten (2013)

Top Ten Books of Past Years:

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:
A Lion Among Men (Gregory Maguire)

Red Queen (Philippa Gregory)

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

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

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

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.