Nest is the newest addition to a sudden spate of novels set in the 1970s, this one a middle grade book chock-full of some heavy themes that are bound...moreNest is the newest addition to a sudden spate of novels set in the 1970s, this one a middle grade book chock-full of some heavy themes that are bound to get a lot of attention. Ehrlich, it should be noted straight away, is an excellent writer and there is absolutely nothing to quibble with her ability to write a fantastic story with emotionally charged characters.
The year is 1972 and Chirp is a spirited eleven-year-old girl (although there are many moments through-out where she seems much younger) who is on the cusp of her teen years. Her family is as middle-America as it is possible to be: a psychiatrist father, a free-spirited stay-at-home mother who once harbored dreams of being a dancer, and an older sister just entering those mysterious teen years. Everything should be perfect. Until Chirp's mother is diagnosed with M.S. And her world falls apart.
There's nothing I despise in a review worse than unnecessary spoilers, so I hesitate to write more. There are some very adult, difficult themes in this novel. And I did *not* have a problem with those themes being presented. In fact, I applaud it. This is where my issues arose: Erlich chose to address some of these themes (a vague example: child abuse) via 1970 standards. Understandable given the novel's setting. But these 1970s standards are presented as *acceptable* when we all know that they are NOT. Now, if this were an adult novel this would be fine because as adults we can make these corrections in our head and be just fine with it. But this is a middle grade book geared towards age 10 and up. Can a ten year old make these corrections?
In other words, is a ten year old going to automatically understand that the 1970s tendency to sweep child abuse under the rug or ignore it is not okay? These are questions I asked myself and they bothered me. As a ten year old, I'm not sure I would have been able to see the difference and know the answer.
I recognize that one of the reasons readers are loving this book is it's ability to evoke emotions (ie, it's a tear-jerker). I often love a book that is well-written enough to do this to me, as well. But in this case, being able to yank my emotional chains isn't enough. When you're writing for adults, anything goes. When you're writing for children, I do believe there is a level of responsibility that goes with it (feel free, though to disagree with me...I get that). I'm of the opinion that the responsibility part is missing with this novel.
So do I recommend it? Yes, if you are there to discuss it with your child! Talk about the book. Talk about the differences in society. Talk about how things are different now and how we know so much better now. That would make it so much better.(less)
Sofi Oksanen is a very successful and popular Finnish-Estonian writer, although Purge is her only novel translated into English (so far...there is ano...moreSofi Oksanen is a very successful and popular Finnish-Estonian writer, although Purge is her only novel translated into English (so far...there is another coming in early 2015). Hugely successful in Europe and the winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the Fnac Prize, and the Prix Femina Prize in France (there are probably more here that I've missed), Purge was - simply put - a huge, huge success throughout Europe.
Originally brought to life as a play, Purge is a parallel story, told in two different eras, of two women in Estonia. We meet Zara in the early 1990s. A young Russian victim of sex-trafficking, Zara is breathlessly escaping her captors and has found her way to the countryside in Estonia where she shows up at a lonely house occupied by an old woman named Aliide. She has a reason for going to Aliide, although Aliide is unaware of any connection she might have to Zara.
Aliide, of course, is our parallel storyline which takes us back to the closing years of WWII in Estonia as the Nazi occupation is coming to an end and the Iron Curtain is falling over Estonia. Aliide is only a young woman and her family is about to be torn apart; her way of life is about to change forever as the Soviets take over her beloved Estonia. The choices Aliide must make, to change or die, make this novel a psychological study in extremes. It goes without saying that Aliide and Zara's lives must of course intersect. Where and how are what make this novel so thrilling.
The novel is a translation and that is always tricky because I know some things are always going to be lost in the process. Purge, however, is a strong enough novel that it withstands any translation loss. Beware that Zara's story involves the sex trafficking industry: there are some extremely graphic moments in the novel. But that is not the primary focus of the story. It is Aliide's choices, all those years ago when the Iron Curtain fell over Estonia, that drive the novel. The repercussions that follow Aliide and her entire family in the ensuing years, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, are so compelling it's difficult to put the book down.
If you like foreign thrillers, I highly recommend you find a copy of Purge. Keep any eye out for Oksanen's next English translation novel due out (I believe) in February or March of 2015, as well.(less)
My six year old daughter is currently obsessed by these books (as was I as a child) and so we are reading them aloud together. I got a bit off in thei...moreMy six year old daughter is currently obsessed by these books (as was I as a child) and so we are reading them aloud together. I got a bit off in their proper order and mis-remembered Farmer Boy as #2 in the series (it is actually #3), but no harm done. As a child, this was actually my least favorite of the series if only because I simply loved Laura and Mary (probably because I related to them best). But as an adult, I found this installment of the series absolutely delightful. My daughter loved it as well, if only because it features one very special young colt (horse crazy, she is).
My daughter continues to be mesmerized by the historical differences...in this book, it was the non-compulsory schooling that caught her attention and held it throughout. She can't seem to wrap her mind around that idea, nor can she understand why a child wouldn't WANT to go to school. Of course, she also quickly picked up on the idea that as a first grader, she likely has more education than many ten year old's had of Almanzo's generation. This fascinates her. As does the immense amount of responsibility children had back then, as well.
These books continue to provide tons of fodder for conversation, lol.(less)
First "real book" read-aloud with Little Kid, aged six. She is in love with Laura and Mary. Fascinated by the customs of the time. Best part: when Lit...moreFirst "real book" read-aloud with Little Kid, aged six. She is in love with Laura and Mary. Fascinated by the customs of the time. Best part: when Little Kid decided that she wanted to re-create a Sunday as experienced by Laura and Mary...ie, no playing with toys, silence except reading books, etc. It lasted all of 15 minutes. Her brother thought she had quite lost her mind.
Nevertheless, she is quite smitten with the books and once we finished, demanded we go on to the next in the series.(less)
For readers who have discovered the dark and twisted delight of Tana French's critically acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, the upcoming release of...moreFor readers who have discovered the dark and twisted delight of Tana French's critically acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, the upcoming release of The Secret Place - the fifth book - is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. French has already secured her place as the queen of psychological crime novels; the Washington Post recently named her "one of the most talented crime writers alive." With a bar set so high, there is always that short moment of fear when you open each new novel: the fear that this time the magic French seems to imbue in each book won't be there.
Sigh of relief.
One of French's endearing traditions: every novel's protagonist is plucked from a previous novel where they made an appearance as a secondary character. The Secret Place has harvested Stephen Moran, who fans will remember from the 2010 novel Faithful Place where the eager young detective assisted one of French's most memorable characters, murder squad Detective Frank Mackey, solve a rather gruesome crime. But that was years ago and Detective Moran's career didn't accelerate the way he hoped. Languishing in the Cold Case Department, he's both surprised and oddly excited the day Holly Mackey - Detective Frank Mackey's teenage daughter - walks into his office with fresh evidence in a cold case murder of a sixteen year old boy that occurred on the grounds of St. Kilda's, Holly Mackey's exclusive Dublin boarding school.
Assigned to team up with Antionette Conway, the one murder squad detective all the lads hate for not being a lad, Detective Moran at last has a chance to prove himself worthy of the big time: the murder squad. And thus Moran and Conway enter the byzantine halls of St. Kilda's where they find that the apparatus of the teenage mind can be far, far darker and more twisted than the most deviant sociopaths stalking the streets of Dublin.
French brilliantly pulls off a dual timeline throughout the novel: Moran and Conway's detecting efforts take place throughout the course of one single day as they interview students at St. Kilda's, while the alternative timeline follows the students in the months leading up to the murder. It's a crafty technique and her success in pulling it off so seamlessly proves that French is at the top of her game in the crime writing scene.
"Late in January, half past ten at night. Fifteen minutes till lights-out, for third-years and fourth-years at Kilda's and at Colm's. Chris Harper - brushing his teeth, half thinking about the cold soaking into his feet from the tiled floor of the bathroom, half listening to a couple of guys giving a first-year hassle in a toilet cubicle and wondering whether he can be arsed stopping them - has just under four months to live."
Moran and Conway are one of French's better detective teams. Although this case could potentially boost their professional reputations, failure to find answers at St. Kilda's in this one single day might very well do significant damage to their respective career paths. It's a refreshing, if somehow ironic, change to see law enforcement characters dump the Protect and Serve motivation that most often pepper crime novels. A distrust that slowly evolves into grudging mutual respect adds to the acerbic banter between the two detectives, a relationship that doesn't reach it's full potential until the very end of the novel making it somewhat sad, knowing we won't be seeing them again, as protagonists anyway, in future books.
As for our suspects --- oh, our suspects. A girl's boarding school makes for a virtual viper's nest of suspects. These are, after all, sixteen year old girls. But French goes much deeper than that. She understands the vitality that pulsates just underneath the surface there and the myriad of ways that can be expressed - good and evil. Perhaps most disconcerting is the acknowledgment that teenage girls do indeed have to deal with the themes such as slut-shaming and women viciously cutting down other women at so young an age. Disturbing? Yes. Fascinating? Yes.
All of this isn't to say the novel isn't without a glaring problem. For reasons unexplained, French introduced an element of magic (as in witchcraft magic) to the story. While the idea of boarding school girls playing with magic might have played well, actual magic - however small - added nothing of value to the plot and only served to detract from the seriousness of her writing.
Aside from that misstep, The Secret Place is an excellent addition to an otherwise notable series. French's uncanny ability to capture the psychological nuances flowing between her characters - both adult and teen alike - keeps everything nicely taut from the very first chapter. Longtime fans will of course be watching the secondary characters -- who will star in the next Dublin Murder Squad novel?
Highly recommended for fans. First time readers are encouraged to begin with In the Woods, the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, although that isn't strictly necessary to enjoy this novel. (less)
It's difficult to rate a story 4 stars ("really liked it") when the story runs as dark and twisted as this classic Flannery O'Connor tale. Because let...moreIt's difficult to rate a story 4 stars ("really liked it") when the story runs as dark and twisted as this classic Flannery O'Connor tale. Because let's face it, there is the kind of dark and twisted that it is fun to read and then there is the dark and twisted that is just downright uncomfortable to read. A Good Man is Hard to Find most assuredly falls into that latter category.
So why on earth is this shockingly uncomfortable story such a classic? An overarching theme of redemption seems to be the order of the day...if you can find it. Some do, some don't. Just a warning: this is perhaps one of the darkest, bleakest, hopeless stories you will ever read. Don't read it on a day you are feeling the sad-sads.
#1.5 of the Old Man's War. A transcript of a Q&A session with John Perry as he completes a PR tour for the Colonial Defense Forces. He is on the H...more#1.5 of the Old Man's War. A transcript of a Q&A session with John Perry as he completes a PR tour for the Colonial Defense Forces. He is on the Huckleberry Colony fielding questions from colonists. Scalzi, as always, does a stellar job squeezing in philosophical, ethical, moral questions about war and the human race...."Making peace is often a simple thing, but simple isn't the same thing as easy."
My personal favorite? "The one real advantage that humans have is that on a pound-for-pound basis, we're meaner. (laughter) Now, I said that to get a laugh, so I'm glad I got one. But when it gets right down to it, it's also usually true. I imagine it's kept our species alive more than once."
If you haven't read the series, you should think about it, even if you're not a sci-fi kind of reader. I'm not, but I am loving this. And - heads up - this series is being made into a television series right now....nice to read the books first.(less)
As a person quite left of center, I don't mind a little left-leaning to my biographies. A little. This had far, far too much. I can't do biased. The p...moreAs a person quite left of center, I don't mind a little left-leaning to my biographies. A little. This had far, far too much. I can't do biased. The prologue, for heaven's sake, opens with Obama's 2013 re-election inaguration and does nothing but make fun of the hat Scalia chose to wear to the event. Even a left-leaning, tree-hugging, coffee-drinking, Seattle-ite commie like myself could see that the man was paying homage to Sir Thomas More, for the love of Pete and what the hell is wrong with that? Sigh. I'm no fan of Scalia, that's for damned sure, but I can't read a biography that is going to unfairly tear him to pieces. Tearing him to pieces is good - but do it justly and fairly and base it on good, solid evidence and research. This bio, I could tell immediately, was not going to be that book. Not going to waste my precious reading time here. No rating...I didn't finish.(less)