Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

"Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

I've always been fond of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and the rest. I don't remember if I actually read these when I was younger, but I very much enjoyed them when I read them to my 2-month old daughter.  This was our first story collection that we read after we had read all of our picture books several times and needed something to get us through late-night feedings.  These stories of the Hundred Acre Wood will stay in my mind for years to come. I loved the charming characters and humor that A.A. Milne brings to each story.  The illustrations by  E.H. Shephard were wonderful as well!

We also read:
Now We are Six
When We Were Very Young

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

★★★ 1/2
"But I found out everybody's different - the same kind of different as me.  We're all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us.  The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place.  So in a way, we is all homeless - just workin' our way toward home."

This memoir is the story of two men from very different backgrounds that becomes friends.  Ron Hall is a wealthy art dealer living in Fort Worth, Texas.  His wife Deborah becomes active in the church and convinces Ron to help out at a mission center near their home.  Ron reluctantly agrees and the couple serves meals to the homeless at the center once a week.  Ron and Deborah meet many homeless people and Deborah tells Ron that she had a vision about a withdrawn man named Denver.  After awhile, Ron and Denver slowly becomes friends.  Denver is a homeless man from Louisiana that grew up on a plantation in circumstances similar to slavery.  Where he grew older, he left the plantation and spent the next years on the streets and in and out of jail trying to survive.

Denver becomes like a part of the family and Ron and Deborah becomes more and more involved in serving at the mission.  Deborah is diagnosed with cancer.  After a long battle with many failed treatments, she dies at her home.  Many people give money to the mission in support of her name and a new mission is built in her honor.  Ron and Denver reach out to each other to support there lose of Deborah and work together selling artwork on an estate.  Denver also becomes interested in art as well and begins selling art of his own.  He is active in the church and preaches about his love of God and tells about Deborah impact on him and her work with the homeless.

I don’t usually read nonfiction, but I generally liked this book.  The book read as a narrative and was able to keep my interest.  I enjoyed reading the story from two very different perspectives and thought that the book brought up new understandings of individuals that are homeless and in similar situations.  It was a bit preachy at times, but I was glad that the authors were able to use their tragic situation to inspire others.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

"He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there's the future. Clear vertigo."

This post-apocalyptic novel focuses on the character of Snowman, previously known as Jimmy, as he begins to cope with the idea that he may be the last human on earth.  Snowman is living near a group of human-like creatures called the Crakers that have been genetically engineered to be the ideal species.  The Crakers can communicate, but have simplified speech and thought processes.  They see Snowman as their leader and teacher.  Slowly starving to death, Snowman leaves the group to return to the ruins of a compound that he worked at in search of food and supplies.   He must escape from hybrid pigs that have overrun the area in order to get back to the Crakers.

During this time, Snowman has frequent flashbacks to his previous life as Jimmy and readers slowly piece together the events that lead to world-wide destruction.  Jimmy lives in what seems to be the early twenty-second century.  The United States is dominated by corporations called compounds where scientists are exploring areas such as immortality, bioengineering, and reproduction. In grade school, Jimmy meets his best friend Crake and they spend time playing advanced computer games and watching executions and porn on the internet.  After attending college, Jimmy goes to work with Crake who has become the leader of a bioengineering company that specializes in allowing parents to chose ideal traits for their children.  Jimmy falls in love with Oryx, Crakes lover and employee who works with the Crakers.  Crake’s company creates a drug that is marketed to cure all sicknesses and imperfections, but a global pandemic breaks out shortly after it is distributed.  Jimmy has been given a vaccine to the disease and is left to deal with the collapse of society.

I read The Handmaid’s Tale by the same author in high school and thought that this one sounded interesting as well.  I have read a few science fiction books, (although not many) but I really enjoyed this book.  It was very engaging and had a perfect mix of technology and interaction between the characters.  I loved how the author used flashbacks to slowly reveal to readers how the events unfolded.  I am very excited to read the two remaining books in the trilogy!

This book was #4 on my top ten list of 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch

"Finally, when she was six weeks old, I heard her stir in her crib, so I dragged myself in to begin the routine: diaper, nurse, burp, sing, nap all over again.  Katie was staring at her pink floral bumper guard and must have heard me enter.  She startled and started to wail, and my insides curdled at the sound of it.  But then, I poked my face over her crib, and she shifted her head and our eyes locked.  She can see me!  I thought.  She hushed immediately, and a tiny smile crept across her pink rosebud lips.  And I felt it: that rush akin to a drug-fueled high that mothers, explain as indescribable, that tug of love that knows no boundaries."

From the outside, Jillian appears to have the perfect life. Jillian strives to make a picture-perfect lifestyle for successful banker husband and eighteen-month old daughter - just like in the parent magazines that she obsessively reads.  Even though Jillian does everything right, she struggles with her slowly faltering marriage and the day to day repetition of her life as a stay at home mom.  When she hears that her ex-boyfriend Jackson is engaged, she starts thinking about what her life would have been like if she had married him instead. 

Suddenly, Jillian is transported back in time seven years.  She wakes up in her old apartment with Jackson where she works at her old job as an advertising agent.  Jillian is forced to make herself fit in to her old life and she begins to think that it is much easier the second time around.  Free from the duties of being married and parenthood, she is free to focus on her job and her personal life.  She dodges past fights with Jackson, reconnects with her mother who abandoned the family, and saves her best friend from miscarriages.  Things seem to be going great, except that she misses her daughter and starts to realize that her relationship with Jackson might not be as great as she once thought.  Reliving the past turns out to be a lot more complicated than Jillian thought.  Plus she keeps running into her husband Henry.  Jillian starts to realize that maybe that problem wasn’t her marriage or her mundane life, but herself.  Now she is forced to choose between her life with Jackson and her marriage with Henry.  And if she chooses Henry, she has to first figure out how to get back from her past.

I tend to enjoy women’s fiction novels that have a little most substance, but I actually found this book very entertaining.  I’ve read a lot of intense and “hard-issue” books lately so this was a nice change of pace.  I found myself liking the character of Jillian (even though her “perfect life” made me role my eyes more than a few times) and thought that the author did a good job of incorporating time travel without overdoing the details.  I really liked how different aspects of the character’s lives were slightly changed once Jillian arrived back in the past and thought that it was a very realistic portrayal of marriage and motherhood.  The ending was rather surprising as well.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

"You may look normal like everyone else, but you're not.  Not on the inside."

Anya is a young immigrant from Russia living in the United States with her family.  She doesn’t seem to fit into anywhere at her private school, is constantly worrying about her appearances, and is in love with a popular boy that barely knows she exists.  While walking to school, Anya falls down a well and meets Emily, a ghost from World War I that fell down the well after her parents were murdered.  Anya is eventually rescued, but several days later Emily appears at her house and starts following her around.  At first, Anya loves having the extra help at school from Emily and finally has a friend she can talk to, but Emily begins to become very controlling and threatens Anya’s family.  Anya learns that Emily killed a couple because she was jealous and finds away to send Emily to the afterlife where she belongs.

I enjoyed reading this book.  Even though it was brief, the author was able to create a fascinating story that incorporated many different thematic elements about identity and friendship.  I thought that the graphic novel format was a very efficient way to tell the story and effectively showed elements that a traditional novel would not have been able to capture.  I really enjoyed the character of Anya and thought she was very easy to relate to.  I loved the she used the experiences of meeting Emily to change her need to conform and be popular.  I would recommend this book to young adults, especially those struggling with personal identity.