Tuesday, March 29, 2016

After Alice by Gregory Maguire (audio)

"As for dreams, they are powered by urgent desire, even if that desire is only to escape the quotidian."

I never know how I'm going to feel about a Gregory Maguire book.  Wicked is one of my all-time favorite books and I also really enjoyed the fourth book in the Wicked series, Out of Oz.  I really struggled to get through Son of a Witch (book #2) and A Lion Among Men (book #3) and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - the only other Maguire book I've read - was good, but not great.  

(There were all read before my review-writing days, so no links...)

I have a lot of admiration for the author and his amazing storytelling abilities and imagination, but I had a hard time getting into this book.  Since the title is After Alice, I guess I was expecting the book to be what happened after Alice went down the rabbit hole and returned from Wonderland.  But instead, it told the story of Ada - Alice's best friend who went after Alice and ended up in Wonderland herself.  Much of the story also focused on Ada's sister Lydia and the town looking for Alice and Ada in Oxford in the 1860s.  This was interesting and gave a lot of insight to the original story by Lewis Carroll, but I still struggled through the book.  It was a little too complicated and I found it hard to focus on what was going on.  I'm sure that is a lot more to the story that meets the eye, but I couldn't figure out what it was.  What I loved about Wicked was the extreme detail of the people and culture of OZ and I felt that this book just didn't have that kind of depth to it.

I don't remember when I read Alice and Wonderland, but I must have been before I started keeping track of the book I read in 2004.  I remember being older - maybe 12 or 13, but I found some parts hard to understand and I was easily distracted while reading it (something that usually doesn't happen to me...)  I liked the story, but it was a little too "out there" for my tastes at the time.  I hoping to go back and re-read it one of these days, so maybe I will have a different perspective reading it as an adult.  

I have a ton of respect for Gregory Maguire and I will continue reading his books, but After Alice was not one of my favorites of his.  I'm sure this will appear to hard-core Maguire fans, but it defiantly isn't for everyone.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline

"I've read that one out of twenty-four people is a sociopath, and if you ask me, the other twenty-three of you should be worried."

This is the first novel that I have read by best-selling author Lisa Scottoline.  Dr. Eric Parish is the Chief of the Psychiatric Unit at a hospital.  He has always had his life under control, but recently things are beginning to fall apart.  Eric is in the middle of a divorce and a custody battle for his seven-year-old daughter, he was accused of sexual harrassment at work, and he is worried about his new patient, seventeen year old Max.  He is being targeted by a dangerous sociopath - and all of these things may just be related.  This was an engaging thriller.  It was a bit too unrealistic and everything came together in too neat of a bow at end end, but I generally enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more by this author.  It was a good change from what I normally read and I did not see the ending coming - at all.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

★★★★ 1/2
" 'I'll pretend to be who they want me to be.' He grinned then, and she saw his youth. 'But it won't work. In the end I'll have to disappoint someone.  Either them, or myself.' "

I have been looking forward to reading this book since it was released back in August.  I have read two of Alice Hoffman's books: The Dovekeepers (which I LOVED) and The Museum of Extraordinary Things (which I didn't really like all that much).  I was so hoping to love this book and am so glad it was as good as I thought it would be.

This is the story of Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro  - the mother of Camille Pissarro, an artist and one of the main leaders of Impressionism.  Living on the small and private island of St. Thomas, Rachel dreams of leaving her life behind and traveling faraway to Paris.  Rachel is a difficult child and rarely gets along with mother and her only salvation is her spending time with her father in his library and her friendship with Justine, the maid's daughter.  Her parents are Jewish in the refugee community and she too must be an example.  There are strict rules to live by and Rachel struggles to follow them.  She sacrifices everything for her family when she agrees to marry a widower with three children to save her father's business.  When he passes away, Rachel finds love for the first time but her love is condemned because goes against the strict practises of her religion and her community.  Over next several decades her children and grandchildren suffer the consequences of their parents decisions. 

Alice Hoffman is a wonderful storyteller who is able to get into the very depth of the reader's emotion.  There are several sub-stories in the novel as well that are connected to Rachel's story that emphasis the idea of the generation gap.  The author was spot-on with her portrayal of the complex relationships between parents and their children.  I was so hoping that Rachel would be more accepting of her own children considering what she went to in order to marry the man she loves, but these situations are not always as simple as they seem.  This is a historical novel, but many of the story's issues can still be scene in the world today.  We are not fully accepted by our parents (for one reason or another), but then we do not give this same acceptance to our children.  We want the very best for our children, but sometimes our idea of what is "best" is not what our children want or need. 

I felt like the middle dragged a bit, but other than that, I can not say enough good things about this wonderful book from an amazing author.  A very powerful and important novel and one that will stay with me for a very, very long time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our Favorite Easter Board Books of 2016

Isabelle and I - now almost 14 months old - have busy reading all sorts of Easter books together. Here is a list of some of our favorite Easter board books that we have read this year:

#7 Ollie's Easter Egg by Olivier Dunrea
Ollie's friends are all dying Easter eggs and he comes up with a plan on how to get them.  After going through a range of pre-school type feelings, Ollie comes up with a plan to have the best Easter egg hunt they've ever had.

#6 Easter Parade: Funny Faces by Roger Priddy
We loved reading this super simple and cute Easter book!  Isabelle spend almost an hour with her Grandma Carla entertained by the "googly-eyes" and eye holes.  Each page features a different Easter animals with big and bright illustrations.  Plus the sheep's name was "Belle" - to that's always a plus for us!

#5 Happy Easter Mouse! by Laura Joffe Numeroff
From the creator of the popular If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" series comes this wonderful board book in which Mouse tries to find out who is leaving the Easter eggs all over his house. Each page features different colored eggs and readers can help Mouse find and count the eggs.

#4 Llama Llama Easter Egg by Anna Dewdney
Just like the popular Llama Llama picture books, the board books by the same author introduce babies and toddlers to simple concepts with simple phrases and cute illustrations.  In this book, Llama Llama and his friend find all sorts of Easter treats to put in their baskets.

#3 Duck & Goose Here Comes the Easter Bunny by Tad Hills
In this fun and colorful board book, Duck & Goose are in a search for the Easter bunny.  Filled with will lots of laughter and, of course, Easter eggs!

#2 Here Comes Easter! by Caroline Jayne Church
One of our favorite books to read this Easter!!  This is a super cute and simple story about a little girl going on an Easter egg hunt.  The pictures are bright and colorful and there is a "touch and feel" part on every page.  Little can have fun looking for the Easter eggs and counting them as well!

#1 Owen's Marshmallow Chick by Kevin Henkes
This book features Owen (from the Mouse books) as he opens his Easter basket and discovers all sorts of candy and a toy chick.  The story is cute and simple and the famous "fuzzy yellow blanket" also makes an appearance.  We are looking for forward to read the other four books in the series as well!

Let us know some of your favorites - we are always looking for suggestions!  Happy Easter!!!

Monday, March 21, 2016

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? by Jane Yolan

Isabelle hasn't been feeling well all week so we've been spending lots of time reading books, watching some of our favorite movies, and drinking lots and lots of juice!  Today we got our one of our favorite books by Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?  Super cute book about teaching kiddos how to behave when they are sick - but mostly just a great book to enjoy reading together.  And Isabelle has since decided that she LOVES making dinosaurs noises, especially when we are suppose to be trying to fall asleep!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March 22, 2016

All THREE of these highly-anticipated and well-reviewed books are all getting released on Tuesday, March 22:

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Summer Before the War by Helen SimonSon
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

They are all currently sitting on my book cart at work - processed and ready to go out on the shelves early Tuesday morning.  Of course, I want to read all of them at the same time, but (realistically) I can only start with one.  Thoughts???

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock


This charming little book was written in 1970 by Betty Brock.  It tells the story of Annabel Tippens - who seems like an ordinary girl, except for her tiny talking dog Gloria who has looked after her since she was a baby.  But then Annabel meets a cat named Belinda and she learns that she may not be as ordinary as she thought.  In fact, she may be a fairy whose parents were vanished years ago to mysterious island.  And she may be able to fly!

Filled with love, adventure, and all the wonderful things that magical stories are made of this is a cute story of a six-year-old girl whose life changes in a mere instant when she learns who she is.  I loved the characters (especially Gloria) and the beautiful illustrations through out the book.  I wish I would have read this story as a child, but it was just as charming reading it as an adult.  I also read it to my one-year-old daughter before bedtime.  We tried to read a chapter a night - which was fun for both of us - and makes going to bed a little easier for her.  I found this book through a group on goodreads called Kindred Spirits - a group devoted to discovering and rediscovering middle-grade and young adult classics.  I have the complete list on my blog here or it can be found on the Kindred Spirits home page.  Looking forward to reading more classic books in the future!!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult (audio)

"You couldn't have strength without weakness, you couldn't have light without dark, you couldn't have love without loss."

I've read also a dozen of Jodi Picoult's novels over the years, and this one was rather different than her usual books.  I generally enjoyed it, but I guess I was expecting a bit more. - especially from the ending.

The book centers around Trixie Stone - a fourteen-year-old teenager - and her parents, Daniel and Laura.  Trixie is a typical teenager who has just been dumped by Jason, the "love of her life" and also the most popular boy in her school.  Trixie is heartbroken and at a loss  what to do with herself after losing Jason and she is determined to win him back.  Her and her best friend devise a plan at a high school party when her friend's mom is out of town, but the party gets out of control and Trixie reveals to her dad the next morning that Jason raped her.

Throughout the remainder of the book, readers are left to struggle with the question as to if Trixie was raped and if and what she is telling the truth about.  As details are revealed we go back and forth and things begin to get a lot more complicated.  Jason is charged with rape and the whole town becomes involved.  Daniel and Laura are also having problems on their own and the family struggles to deal with the incident and aftermath.  

I liked a lot of things about this book.  Daniel is a primarily as stay-at-home dad and I really enjoyed seeing his relationship with Trixie since my husband stays at home with our daughter.  The novel brought up a lot of questions on what a father (or parent) would do to protect their children.  The father-daughter relationship was particularly unique.  I also connected with Trixie as a young teenager and the emotions that she was going through during and after her breakup with Jason.  I had my first "real" boyfriend at around the same age and it really brought up a lot of emotions.  Trixie was (in perspective) so young, but that made her feelings all the more real.  There was also a strong presence of "the tenth circle" (aka the circle of hell) throughout the novel.  Laura is a professor at a local college and her main course is teaching Dante's Inferno.  Daniel has a connection to this concept as well and is a comic book artist whose new story features a father journeying through the circles of hell to rescue his daughter.  At the end of each chapter there is another story told through comics and this is bits and pieces for Daniel's new book.  I really liked this incorporate and thought that it brought a really unique aspect to the novel.  It reminded me of when Picoult used original music in the audio book edition of her book "Sing You Home."  I listened to the audio of "The Tenth Circle" as well, but checked out the print book so that I could read the comic book parts.

I enjoyed a lot of aspect of this story, but I kept expecting something else to happen and the ending didn't add up as much as it usually does for me when I read a Jodi Picoult.  Plus the supernatural aspects did not work for me at all.  I've seen it done well - even from Picoult - but this felt awkward and disjointed.  Even so, this was a relatively good book that brought out a lot of emotions on a touch subject.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

"Open your heart.  Someone will come.  Someone will come for you.  But first you must open your heard."

Isabelle and I read this together over the last couple of months and it was a wonderful little book!  This is the story of Edward Tulane, a china rabbit who goes an a very long journey from owner to owner over the timespan of many decades.  The chapters were short and simple and I loved the additional of colored pictures throughout.  It reminded me a lot of a fairy tale, but I've heard it compared to a fable as well.  I loved the last page where the entire book was compiled into a short tale and the author has a really neat website featuring Edward and his journey.  The story was a bit sad in places, but ultimately had a satisfying ending!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

"He wished he had inhabited more of his life, used it better, filled it fuller."

This is the first book that I have read by Anne Tyler.  It is a wonderful and compelling novel about the marriage gone horribly wrong of two people and the effects that it has across three generations.  Michael and Pauline are young when they meet at Michael's mother's grocery store in the early 1940s.  Michael is smitten at first site, but from the beginning, it is evident that the two are not well-suited to be together. They have a short courtship before rushing off to a hasty marriage due to Michael returning from the war.

Throughout the next sixty years, Michael and Pauline suffer through an unhappy marriage.  They are both relatively decent people, but they just don't work well together.  Each chapter focuses on a short time in their lives and is filled with rich detail and insight into themselves and their relationship.  As the years pass, we also get a glimpse at how their actions effect their children and grandchildren.

I thought this book was extremely well-written and did a great job of writing about realistic characters and realistic situations throughout an ordinary life.  It wasn't all that fun to read and was actually pretty depressing, but that wasn't what the book was about.  It was heartbreaking to read at times, but was able to cause the reader to relate to each of the characters in different ways.  I loved the descriptions of the time periods and way of life during different time periods.  The vivid detail works well with the chapters.  The book spans many decades, but does so in a way that readers don't see the character throughout every event in their lives and instead focuses on specific periods with long gaps in between.  I really thought that this worked well in this book and it is one that I will remember for a long time.  I will definitely be looking at more books by this author.

I read this book as a buddy reads on goodreads.com for the month of March with some fellow goodreads members.  It was a great discussion book for us!!  You can view (and join!) our discussion here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani (audio)

★★★★ 1/2
"Everything was the same.  Nothing had changed.  Everything but the snow."

I was first introduced to Adriana Trigiani a little over two years ago when I read The Shoemaker's Wife.  I really enjoyed that book and I loved this one too.  I was a bit spectacle to start it - it got somewhat mixed reviews from what I've seen and there has been a lot a negative feedback due to the fact that Loretta Young's daughter-in-law publicly claimed that the birth of Loretta's daughter, Judy Lewis, had been a result of date rape by Clark Gable and that they did not have an affair that had been previously assumed.  I believe that this happened in 2015 - shortly before the book came out.  Since this is a fictional account of the characters and their lives, I am going to base my review of the book on that and not the accuracy of the events - which I am assume that the author did not know about when the book was being written.

This novel was the story of two women - the famous movie star of the 1930s and 1940s, Loretta Young, and her secretary, Alda Ducci.  They novel covered several decades of their always intertwining lives.  I would have liked to see a little more character development of both women, but what really draw me into the novel was the writing of the setting and the time period - primarily Hollywood in the 1930s.  I'm not sure if I would have gotten this as much if I had read the book instead of listening to the audio version, but what I loved most about the novel was the energy.  From Loretta's life at home with her sisters and mother to the set of Call of the Wild, I could almost feel as if I were there.  The sections focusing on Loretta were also a very interesting contrast to that of Alda - who was involved in show business, but in a much more simple and mostly removed way.

I felt for both women, who had their own set of life-long struggles and burdens to bare.  And when Judy Lewis was born, I felt for her as well.  Even though I understood the circumstances, I felt that it was unfair that she wasn't even given the option to know her father, especially when she grew older.  Gable seemed to love Loretta (to an extent) and Judy, but - as the book states many times - he didn't know how to love them.  And he knew nothing about how to be a good father or husband, despite the fact that he was married several times.  Despite what was true and what wasn't, I really enjoyed this book: the energy, the setting, the characters, and the tragic love stories that I kept cheering on even though I ultimately knew the outcome.  

And now to go watch some old Hollywood movies :)