I listened to about a third of this before abandoning it. The characters were dull and all the plot mechanics around horse racing I found uninterestin...moreI listened to about a third of this before abandoning it. The characters were dull and all the plot mechanics around horse racing I found uninteresting. I had wanted to read more about Sisi (Empress Elizabeth of Austria) about which there isn't much available in English, but this isn't the book for that. (The Hapsburgs need to become as popular as the Tudors.)
The audio narrator was serviceable but I found her voice for Sisi grating.(less)
Winning graphic novel memoir for middle grade students. Cece Bell is an average four year old until a bout of meningitis results in profound hearing l...moreWinning graphic novel memoir for middle grade students. Cece Bell is an average four year old until a bout of meningitis results in profound hearing loss. When she starts elementary school she must wear a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. The book traces Cece's attempts to make friends and her feelings of being different due to her deafness.
Many of the conflicts described in the book are universal in theme -- the friend who is too bossy, the first crush, feeling different from others in some way. Cece is a funny, appealing character that kids will relate to. The character of El Deafo is an imaginary superhero version of herself that has amazing powers of hearing due to her Phonic Ear. The art in the book is bright and colorful and the sequential panels flow easily. All of the characters are depicted as anthropomorphic bunny rabbits; I normally dislike anthropomorphic animals but I didn't mind it here.
This is a great book for kids (and adults) about friendship and differences. Readers who enjoyed Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Smile by Raina Telgemeier will enjoy this warm and funny memoir. (less)
British nurse Bess Crawford promises to tell a dying man's family his last words. Upon arriving at the family estate in England, she is soon drawn int...moreBritish nurse Bess Crawford promises to tell a dying man's family his last words. Upon arriving at the family estate in England, she is soon drawn into a mystery surrounding the eldest son, Peregrine, who has been shut up in an insane asylum since killing a maid years before. Peregrine escapes from the asylum and forces Bess to help him discover the truth of what happened in the past.
I was interested in reading this mystery since it was set during WWI. The beginning of the novel does describe Bess's experiences as a nurse on a hospital ship and introduces the catalyst that will start her down the path to solving the mystery. However, the crime occurs in the past and much of the drama involving the Graham family doesn't directly relate to the war at all. The mystery is very Gothic in nature with a twisted family and hidden secrets. I did enjoy the character of Bess, who was intelligent and fearless but would have preferred a mystery tied more directly to WWI. Wartime Britain was an interesting frame and conditions on the homefront were described.
This book will appeal to readers of historical mysteries (especially the Maisie Dobbs series, although I found Bess a more enjoyable character than Maisie, who I thought was somewhat of a drip) and readers who like Gothic influenced stories.
I listened to this book on audio and felt the narrator did a good job.(less)
Historical fiction set in 1930s Hollywood. Julie is an ambitious Smith grad who is newly arrived in Hollywood to pursue her dream of being a screenwri...moreHistorical fiction set in 1930s Hollywood. Julie is an ambitious Smith grad who is newly arrived in Hollywood to pursue her dream of being a screenwriter. The novel opens with Julie on a Hollywood set to watch the burning of Atlanta (the first scene shot in Gone With the Wind). While there, she meets two people who will influence the rest of 1939 for her: movie star Carole Lombard and producer Andy Weinstein (a fictional character). Julie becomes Carole Lombard's assistant and has a front seat to the romance of Carole and Clark Gable. She also falls for Andy (a producer for David O. Selznick) and gets to see much of the filming and behind the scenes struggles of Gone with The Wind.
Julie is a likable everywoman just starting out on a career. Her journey documents the sexism in Hollywood at the time as she struggles to become a scriptwriter. Her romance with Andy is complicated by his aloof nature and his concern for his Jewish relatives still in Europe. I have read about Carole Lombard and the making of Gone With the Wind, so none of the behind the scenes information was new to me but it was fun to read about it again. I wasn't that invested in Julie and Andy's relationship -- Lombard and Gable were the more compelling couple.
Readers who like fiction about movies or have an interest in Gone With the Wind will enjoy this book. (less)
**spoiler alert** Interesting look at the banality of evil. The book starts with a great hook, a German soldier on the Eastern front in WWII marries a...more**spoiler alert** Interesting look at the banality of evil. The book starts with a great hook, a German soldier on the Eastern front in WWII marries a woman by proxy -- only her photograph is present at the quick ceremony. Peter has never met the woman, Katharina, before. He is marrying her only to get honeymoon leave and she is marrying him to get a widow's pension in case of his death. Peter travels to Berlin for the honeymoon and there is much sexual chemistry between the two. Peter then returns to the Russian front and the narrative moves back and forth between Katharina's life in Berlin where her father is a friend to a Nazi party bigwig and the family begins a climb up the social ladder and Peter's life in Russia as the the war drags on. The battle of Stalingrad marks a turning point for Peter and Katharina. He deserts to the Soviets and she decides to wait for him even though there is no evidence if he is alive or dead. As the Soviets take Berlin, more horror finally befalls Katharina and when the couple is finally reunites several years after the war's end, they are both shadows of the good looking confident couple at the start of the novel.
In some ways this is a daring book to write. Most fiction told from the German perspective during WWII features somewhat sympathetic characters who realize the evil of the Nazi regime and fight against Hitler. This book doesn't do that. Peter and Katharina support the Nazi party blindly and out of pure self-interest. They believe they are better than others and deserve things stolen from Jews and Russians because German Christians are superior. Their casual racism is probably an accurate portrayal of many people during that time. The style of the novel is also distinctive. Much of the text is dialogue and without any adverbs to inform the reader how the it is delivered. Often this terse method comes across as flat and formal (characters are constantly including the name of the person they are speaking to in a way that feels unnatural i.e. "We can only do our best, Katharina.")The book is also frank and unaffected in the descriptions of violence and gore.
This would be a hard book to recommend to readers both because of the formal style and the unlikeable characters but it is intellectually probing and I can understand why it has been nominated for awards. I can appreciate the skill of the author without necessarily "liking" the book. (less)
I think this book would work better for me in print than audio. I had trouble paying attention and when the third disc starting skipping, I abandoned...moreI think this book would work better for me in print than audio. I had trouble paying attention and when the third disc starting skipping, I abandoned the book. It was a promising historical thriller set shortly before WWII. (less)
Classic children's novel about a sister and brother who run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This short novel had a bit of m...moreClassic children's novel about a sister and brother who run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This short novel had a bit of mystery and lots of good sibling dynamics. While some of the specifics are dated (typewriters, automats, and the low prices), the heart of the story has aged well. I didn't read this book as a child and would probably have enjoyed it much more if I read it at age 10.
The narration by Mrs. Frankweiler wasn't very believable but the character herself was funny and memorable.(less)
Fascinating Non-fiction book about one of the most memorable hijacking cases of the early 1970s. In 1972, Roger Holder, a Vietnam Vet, and his girlfri...moreFascinating Non-fiction book about one of the most memorable hijacking cases of the early 1970s. In 1972, Roger Holder, a Vietnam Vet, and his girlfriend Cathy Kerkow hijacked a Western Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Seattle. Holder planned to free Angela Davis (the on trial for her role in a prison break), collect a large ransom, and then fly to Hanoi where he would give the money to the Vietcong. Instead they ended up in Algeria where they became members of the Black Panthers international division.
Koerner does a great job of explaining the climate of the late 1960s/early 1970s which led to a rash of airplane hijackings. He highlights notable other skyjackings (it seemed that every other week someone would hijack a plane and head for Cuba) and explores the backgrounds of Holder and Kerkow. This is a great example of narrative nonfiction with fast pacing and information well integrated within a storyline. There are pictures spread throughout the text.
This was a great story and would make an excellent movie. (less)
Perhaps inspired by recent news stories of black male teenagers dying after being shot by white men, How It Went Down is a realistic teen novel that l...morePerhaps inspired by recent news stories of black male teenagers dying after being shot by white men, How It Went Down is a realistic teen novel that looks at the experience of poor black teens. The novel opens with the shooting of Tariq by a white man on a busy street in the ghetto of a fictional town called Underhill. It appeared that Tariq had just robbed a convenience store and some people claim they saw a gun (no gun was found, just a Snickers bar) The shooter gets in his car and drives away. The shooting is described by the all the various people witnessing the crime. The rest of the book follows the next nine days in the neighborhood and is narrated by multiple people impacted by the crime -- Tariq's mom and grandmother, his little sister, his best friend, gang members who were trying to recruit him, the local convenience store owner, and many more.
The chapters are short and the novel is briskly paced. Magoon does an excellent job of capturing the voices of the various teenagers and portraying life in the ghetto. While Tariq's death is the inciting incident in the book, this is also an examination of gang life. The local gang leader, Brick, is one of the characters and several plot points revolve around getting out of (or into) a gang.
This would be a great option for a book to use in the classroom since there is much to discuss. It will appeal to teens interested in gritty contemporary stories and portrayals of gang lifestyles. I do wish that more time was spent on the police cover-up and white/black tensions in the community. (less)
**spoiler alert** Literary fiction about the effects of the Sri Lankan civil war. The first part of the novel is narrated by Yasodhara. She describes...more**spoiler alert** Literary fiction about the effects of the Sri Lankan civil war. The first part of the novel is narrated by Yasodhara. She describes her family's background on both her mother's and father's sides of the family and her early childhood in Colombo. Her Sinhala family moves to the U.S. in the early 1980s after the outbreak of Sri Lanka Civil War. The second part is set years later during the Civil War. The narrator is Saraswathi, a young Tamil girl studying to be teacher. After she is abducted and brutally raped by Sinhala soldiers she becomes radicalized and joins the Tamil insurgents. The lives of Yasodhara and Saraswathi intersect in tragedically in Sri Lanka when Saraswathi is responsible for the death of Yasodhara's beloved younger sister while deploying a suicide bomb on a bus.
I enjoyed the beginning of the novel and learning about life in Sri Lanka and the adjustments the family experienced when they immigrated to America. The shift to a different narrator in the second part of the book (and then back to Yasodhara) was abrupt and Saraswathi was not as well defined a character. The events towards the end - Yasodhara's husband cheats on her but then she falls in love with her childhood friend who was her sister's boyfriend -- were too melodramatic. The language also struck me as too self-consciously poetic; at point characters having sex were described as riding each other like waves.
The differences between Tamils and Sinhalas were described on a simplistic level and never went very deep. I felt it was a strong first effort and the depictions of family dynamics were a highlight of the book. Munaweera definitely has talent and hopefully her future work will have more cohesive plotting. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy Southeast Asian fiction and depictions of the horrors of war. (less)
Offbeat YA novel about a teenage boy growing up and finding love. Finn Easton is different from other guys. He views the world in miles instead of min...moreOffbeat YA novel about a teenage boy growing up and finding love. Finn Easton is different from other guys. He views the world in miles instead of minutes (the earth travels 20 miles every second), has heterochromatic eyes, and suffers from epilepsy. Finn's mother died in a freak accident (crushed to death by a falling horse) when he was a child; Finn was also involved and the epilepsy and an unusual scar are the lingering effects.
The novel opens at the end of Finn's junior year in high school in a small town in Southern California. Finn spends most of his time with his tobacco chewing, baseball star best friend, Cade Hernandez. He frequently "blanks out" due to his epilepsy. When Julia Bishop, a new girl, arrives in town, Finn ends up falling for her.
The plot of the book is difficult for me to describe. There is a lot of hanging out with friends (this isn't a plot driven book) but some big events occur near the end of the book that change Finn's conception of himself and what he is capable of. The biggest appeal factor of the book is its tone. Finn (and his friend Cade) are very specific characters who speak in a combination of gross low humor and poetic insight. The rural Southern California desert setting is also unique and an additional character in the book. However, the book didn't really work for me. There was a lot of profanity and references to boners (probably how a lot of teen boys talk and think). There was a weird subplot about a famous, bizarre sounding science fiction novel written by Finn's dad with a character in the book with the same name. Finn is worried that he is trapped in his father's book and isn't a real person which just seemed odd not quirky to me.
This book is best suited for older, male teen readers who may be attracted to the gross out humor and authentic sounding teens. The romance between the Finn and Julia is from a male perspective and it was refreshing to read about a teen boy not feeling that he is ready to have sex. This has gotten several starred reviewers and Smith is becoming a name in the YA publishing world. (less)
Enthralling book centering around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Using a large cast of characters in Jamaica and the US, James tel...moreEnthralling book centering around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Using a large cast of characters in Jamaica and the US, James tells the story of criminal gangs in Jamaica and their reach into the US.
The novel starts off with a chapter narrated by a dead man and then jumps to the voice of a young Jamaican boy who describes horrific violence and poverty. At this point, I almost gave up but kept reading and was rewarded with a rich, descriptive story with a number of memorable characters. James switches back and forth between several characters who relate life in Jamaica right before Bob Marley (referred to as "the Singer" throughout) performs in a Smile Jamaica concert. There is an assassination attempt on Marley and then the narrative moves to 1979 in Jamaica following the characters involved and affected by the crime. The action then switches to the US in 1985 and the US/Jamaica in 1991 as James continues to trace the lives of his characters. There are a number of memorable characters: Josey Wales, a Jamaican crime don, a Rolling Stone journalist, various gangsters, CIA operatives, and Nina Burgess, a Jamaican woman who knew the Singer.
There is a lot of Jamaican patois in the book; I didn't have a problem with it but some readers might find it difficult or distancing. There is also Quentin Tarantino level violence and explicit homosexual sex scenes which may not be for sensitive readers. This is a deep and rewarding book. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy tv shows such as The Wire and contemporary literary fiction.(less)
**spoiler alert** Contemporary fiction about a dysfunctional family (plus two close family friends) vacationing in Mallorca, Spain. Over the two week...more**spoiler alert** Contemporary fiction about a dysfunctional family (plus two close family friends) vacationing in Mallorca, Spain. Over the two week time span, a couple will break up, another will find their way back together, and the third will find out they have been chosen to adopt a baby. Infidelity and lies are a big theme in the novel as the characters deal with disappointed expectations.
Some readers have found the book and characters humorous but I just found them self-centered, unlikeable snobs. There are moments of humor and Straub does a good job capturing the voices and personalities of the various characters -- everyone from an 18 year old girl to a middle aged gay man.
I didn't really see the appeal of this book (which has been quite popular this summer) and preferred the author's earlier, Hollywood themed, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures.(less)
**spoiler alert** Historical biographical fiction based on the life of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and early feminist. The narrative is split betwee...more**spoiler alert** Historical biographical fiction based on the life of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and early feminist. The narrative is split between Sarah and Hetty, an African slave given to Sarah as a gift on her 11th birthday. The novel spans over 30 years and traces Sarah's development into a public speaker and advocate for the rights of the oppressed and the continued brutality visited on Hetty that forces her to finally flee the South.
This book was very similar in structure and theme to The Kitchen House, another historical fiction book that I read within the past few months. While Kidd's novel is much better than that book, I found myself tiring of white women writing about the hardships experienced by African Americans. There was nothing horrible about this book but it didn't move me as much as it did other readers. (less)