Tin Win is a successful lawyer who simply walks out of his life one day. His children have both graduated from college so he apparently has decided thTin Win is a successful lawyer who simply walks out of his life one day. His children have both graduated from college so he apparently has decided that he's a free man. There's a search but it quickly comes to a dead end in Bangkok. His daughter Julia decides several years later to go looking for him in Burma, his native country, after finding a love letter he had written to a woman named Mi Mi. She quickly stumbles onto a man named U Ba who is able to tell her father's story from his start as an abandoned peasant boy to the time he left Burma.
Eh. I enjoyed this. And then I got to the end. It felt way too Nicholas Sparks-y to me. Nothing against him, that's just not my kind of book. At all.
The book and translation are beautifully written and the audio version is fabulous. Cassandra Campbell is an excellent narrator. Burma is not a country that I've read much about but it was fascinating. The descriptions of Tin Win finding his way through the world as child, relying mostly on his sensitive hearing, were amazing. The story of his first love was heart-wrenching.
But then I don't understand what happens. We are told how he ends up in America but I can't say that I truly get it. I can't lay out my questions without giving away spoilers, so I'll just say--why? I think it was a cultural thing. But it felt like a contrivance to set the story on the teary Nicholas Sparks path.
So I obviously don't think this is for everyone but if you like reading love stories with your box of tissues nearby, pick this one up....more
Ursula Todd is born on a cold winter's night in England in 1910...over and over again. Sometimes she is stillborn, other times she makes it through, oUrsula Todd is born on a cold winter's night in England in 1910...over and over again. Sometimes she is stillborn, other times she makes it through, only to die later and start over at the same place. Each time, something is a little different and her life takes drastically diverging paths as a result.
Someone asked me what this is about and it's almost impossible to explain. "Reincarnation but...not. She lives the same life over and over but...not really." What matters is watching how minute differences in Ursula's life change her story completely.
That was what I really enjoyed. I liked the whole concept of playing with a character's life like that just to see what happens. There were lives that I hated and lives that I loved. Some were depressing, some were horrific, some were odd, but they were almost all interesting. Some got a little crazy. The prelude shows us Ursula, a pretty English girl, setting out to assassinate--a Nazi official (I'm pretty sure it's not spelled out at that point). Where the heck did that come from? Once I got to that life, it did make sense but still--wow.
There were a couple of drawbacks though. The book got repetitive. I don't think there was any possible way to avoid that in this kind of story but there you go. I think the author did the best anyone could have but I was still heartily sick of that snowy winter night that Ursula was born. Also, I started having trouble remembering what had happened in each life by the end. "Is this the one where this happened or was it that?" I can't say that I was always entirely sure.
The characters weren't a huge draw for me but this is one instance where the story itself was engaging enough that I was able to overlook that. Ursula varied so much that I can't comment on whether I liked her or not. I guess I liked her well enough. Her mother was just terrible. Her brother Teddy was too good to be true. Her aunt Izzy was a flighty idiot but generally fun. Pretty much everybody could be summed up in one sentence.
Still, the book was so different from anything else I've read that it kept my attention and I would recommend it. ...more
Bernadette Fox is an...eccentric...mother and wife living in Seattle. Her daughter, Bee, is an excellent student and has asked for a family cruise toBernadette Fox is an...eccentric...mother and wife living in Seattle. Her daughter, Bee, is an excellent student and has asked for a family cruise to Antarctica as a reward for earning all A's (or her school's equivalent) throughout her middle school career. Bernadette and her husband, Elgin, can't think of a reason to say no so the planning begins.
Bernadette is in a fragile place mentally due to a Huge Hideous Thing that happened when she was still living in L.A. The stress of planning the trip, or having her virtual assistant in India plan it, added to the stress of the terrible parents at Bee's school and the general anxiety Bernadette experiences every day prove to be too much; Bernadette disappears. This book is a collection of emails and other ephemera as Bee tries to figure out where her mom went.
This was hilarious but it was also so sad at the same time. The parents at Bee's school were horrific beyond words. One in particular took helicopter parenting to an entirely new level. No wonder poor Bernadette calls them "the gnats." She tries her best to just lie low and let them do their thing but they won't let her. All parents must be joiners! All parents must volunteer in the classroom! All neighboring parents must keep their backyards in the condition that chief helicopter mom dictates! Holy cow.
Bernadette herself was an enigma. I liked that she just kind of gives the other parents the finger but it was obvious that something just wasn't right with her. She would go on huge rants about how she hates Canadians and 5-way intersections, both of which are apparently innumerable in Seattle. She seemed to be most honest in emails with her virtual assistant. She chose a house that used to be a girls' school and then let it crumble down around her family's ears. I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on with her. And then I found out what the Huge Hideous Thing was and I just had to gasp out loud and sit back and process it for a minute. It was nothing that I had ever expected at all. Once I knew what had happened, I had much more sympathy for Bernadette.
I flew through the first half of the book with all the emails and notes and twists and turns. The second half is more of a straightforward journal written from Bee's point of view. I can't say that I lost interest but my reading definitely slowed down. I think it had to be written this way but I preferred the first half.
I highly recommend this funny romp through the lives of a modern American family....more
Mariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cuMariatu Kamara was twelve years old when she was caught up in the civil war in Sierra Leone. Most of her village was killed in a raid. Boy soldiers cut off both her hands but let her go. She shares the story of how she learned to cope in the new world she found herself in.
Holy cow. I just can't imagine living through the things this young woman has experienced. And she was so young when everything happened! I just shudder to think of it.
But she's a strong girl. She knows from the beginning that she must learn to live on her own. From the time she turns down the first helpful stranger's offer to feed her a bite of mango, she struggles to live her new life on her own terms.
Her story is inspiring and heart-breaking and important. I know I as an American sometimes forget that most of the world doesn't have it as good as I do. I get caught up in the day-to-day of "I can't believe I have to deal with this at work," or "Traffic is a nightmare, I hate this commute," and forget that in some places in the world, children are killing and maiming each other in wars they don't understand. I for one need a reality check like this from time to time.
Anyone who reads this should also read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Mariatu avoids demonizing the boy soldiers but it's still a good idea to get their perspective as well. They were also victims in this terrible conflict.
This is by no means an easy read but I highly recommend it. ...more
Molly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty hoMolly Ayer has messed up one too many times. She's caught up in the foster system and her latest mistake has left her with a choice of either fifty hours of community service or going to juvie. Her boyfriend searches around and finds out that his mom's employer, 91-year-old widow Vivian Daly, needs help cleaning out her attic. Everyone agrees that this can be counted as community service so Molly heads over to the old woman's house. She initially sees it as a chore but she's pleasantly surprised when she realizes how much she and Mrs. Daly have in common.
In New York in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Niamh Power is left an orphan when her recently-immigrated family is killed in an apartment fire. She lives in an orphanage for a few months but then the Children's Aid Society sends her out to the Midwest on an "orphan train." Chaperones would take scores of kids around to different venues and basically give them to whomever wanted them. No one knew which would be worse--not to be chosen at all or to go to a bad family. Either way, the entire process was humiliating and nerve-wracking.
This was such a good book. I hadn't ever heard of the orphan trains, but they were a reality in American history from about 1850 to 1930. Apparently over 200,000 children were relocated in this way. Can you imagine? With all the red tape today? Just show up at the train station and pick yourself out a healthy-looking boy to help Pa out around the farm. Of course you'll promise to send him to school but who's going to check up on that? Nobody. And who's going to make sure that you're feeding him enough? Again, nobody. And if Pa occasionally gets a little too rough with the discipline, well, it's not like he's family or anything. Maybe it was better than slowly starving to death on the streets of New York, but it was a deeply, deeply flawed process. Holy cow.
In a dual narrative like this, I think every reader will enjoy one story more than the other and that was true for me here. I couldn't wait to get back to Niamh's story. There was nothing wrong with Molly's present-day story but the draw for me was the history. I related a little more to Niamh too. She's a good girl who tries her best to blend in and do as she's told while Molly, outwardly at least, is more of a rebel. I'm always going to understand the Niamh personality more than the Molly personality, at least in general and up to a point.
I hope this is okay to share...
I read this with my book club. One of my friends couldn't wait to talk about her reactions to the book. She's been through the foster system herself and she was blown away by how spot-on the whole book was. From the insecurity to learning to work the system in your own favor, she said every word was accurate. I've never been through anything like this (Thank heaven for a loving, supportive family) but I would guess that the rest of us liked it because it rang true. I'm going to get into the dangerous world of stereotypes here and say that most readers are an empathetic bunch so we're going to notice if something just doesn't feel right, whether it's a situation we've ever personally experienced or not. This one felt right.
The book was not without its flaws but they are easily overlooked. There's at least one huge coincidence that left me rolling my eyes. Events occurred that I just knew were setting up a future conflict that never happened. The ending was a little too tidy and it was definitely abrupt. Our whole book club agreed on that.
Read this for a look at a little-known piece of American history, to feel a little more thankful for your family if you're fortunate like me, or to feel a little less alone if you've been through situations like this. It was a fast read and I thoroughly enjoyed it....more
A group of friends travel to Pamplona, Spain for the annual running of the bulls and subsequent bullfights and fiesta.
I didn't like it. Not one bit.
WeA group of friends travel to Pamplona, Spain for the annual running of the bulls and subsequent bullfights and fiesta.
I didn't like it. Not one bit.
We read this for my book club because one of our members remembered loving it when she read it in an English class and had been wanting to re-read it. Even she said it was not at all what she remembered and it must have been made better by an awesome English teacher. Let's hear it for awesome English teachers!
Left to struggle through on my own devices, however, I found nothing redeeming in any of these characters. Which was probably the point, but still. I like to read about characters that I actually like. The best one was the narrator, so that was a plus, but he couldn't keep his friends in line and I don't think he wanted to. They were all so very cynical and had seen everything and done everything that they got a little boring.
I told one of my friends who hadn't quite finished by the time our meeting rolled around, "Let me save you some time. They go out, get drunk, Brett sleeps with someone who is not her fiance, the Jew (as he was mostly known) got mad that she wasn't sleeping with him and hit somebody, they all drank some more, and started over the next day."
And that's what I took away from this book. Life is short and boring, you drink and argue, then you die.
I did like Hemingway's style. He's very short and to the point and without seeming to waste a lot of time on description, he manages to put you firmly in a scene. I would occasionally get confused as to who was speaking because he didn't like to use too many "I said"s or "Brett said"s. Otherwise, stylistically, we got along just fine.
I knew this was a classic, so I started trying to find some sort of symbolism. I decided that the poor impotent narrator should be the steer in his herd and then I tried to relate what was happening with the bulls to what was going on with the people, but nothing ever clicked. I must not be in a place in my life for Hemingway to speak to me.
I got confused about time a little too. It would sound like weeks had passed when really it had been days. People would be intensely in love and talking marriage and decide it would never work and sound like they'd had a whole long time together when they'd just met for the first time five or six days before, as far as I could tell.
This book was not for me, but obviously it appeals to someone. It might appeal more to men (Hemingway being one of those very masculine writers) or to urbane people with a cynical mindset, I don't know....more
Tom Joad, just released from prison, heads back to his parents' farm only to find that they have been evicted from their land and are on their way toTom Joad, just released from prison, heads back to his parents' farm only to find that they have been evicted from their land and are on their way to California in search of a fresh start. Thousands of families are in a similar situation and there are many ruthless people along the way who take advantage of them, mistreat them, and make their lives harder than they have to be.
Is there another version of this book floating around out there somewhere? Because this is not the book I remember reading in high school. Yes, I'm joking. Sort of. I deeply disliked this when I had to read it for class. All I could remember was how depressing it was and the very, very last scene. It made an impression on my 16-year-old self.
Now firmly in my 30s, I don't know if 16-year-old me was an idiot or if current me is just old and jaded, because I just about loved this. I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could.
It's still dark and depressing, there's just no way around that. Everything that can go wrong for the Joads, does. From before they even hit the road, and I'm sure continuing on well after the last page is turned, they just can't catch a break. It was infuriating, even more so because I knew that this was firmly based on the reality of the Dust Bowl and the Depression.
But this time around, I saw some hope.
The Joads are not beaten. They have taken a beating and they are down, but I don't think they're out. They're still out there struggling along, doing the best they can, for themselves and others. Do you see that? And others. They have practically nothing, but they still give what they have to people who are worse off than they are. They go to some extreme lengths to do it too. As long as the Joads and people like them are still around, I have to have hope for their migrant community. I have an essay about this churning around in my head with quotes to support my point of view and everything, but I'll try to stay out of that. But that's where I stand.
The characters definitely had their own distinct personalities, but they weren't so distinct that I couldn't relate them to people I know. Ma is fierce in protecting her family and gentle in her kindness. Pa just wants to do some honest work for an honest day's pay. Tom has grown up fast and is slowly becoming the leader of the family in their changing environment. Al feels overshadowed by his older brother. Rose of Sharon goes through an emotional journey that is impossible to get into, but I think most women would understand where she's coming from. I think these characters are what made the book a classic. I have never known what it is to be hungry or homeless, but because I know people like the Joads, I can put myself in their place. I don't know if I would have their grace, but I admire it in them.
Steinbeck chose to write in a dialect that might make it hard for some people to understand the conversations. I took right to it and found myself thinking the way that the Joads talked. Even just looking back through the book right now to decide what I wanted to write, I found myself slipping into it.
I read East of Eden about a year and a half ago and was surprised by how much I liked it. I had a feeling that maybe I had misjudged Steinbeck a little all those years ago. I read the first chapter of The Grapes of Wrath and I was pretty much blown away. This man could write! He opens with a description of the land drying up and dying and the people's hope drying up with it and that chapter is practically perfect. I felt parched and dry and uneasy. He set the stage for this book that well in just about four pages. He chose to write the story in alternating chapters. One chapter about the Joads and one chapter about life in this era. I liked that he wrote it this way. He didn't have to make an unrealistic amount of stuff happen to the family to show how bad life was for everyone. He was free to range around different topics. And the beauty of his language showed in the general chapters.
I re-read this for my book club, and I believe we all agreed that reading it in early spring was not a good idea. I for one like fluff when the sun starts shining because that's about all my brain has the capacity for. If you can relate, pick this one up in the wintertime.
But pick it up, even if, like me, you hated it when you were forced to read it in school. You might be surprised by how your perspective has changed....more
June Bentley "Jubie" Watts is 13 years old in 1954 when her mother decides to take all four of her children to visit her brother in Pensacola, FloridaJune Bentley "Jubie" Watts is 13 years old in 1954 when her mother decides to take all four of her children to visit her brother in Pensacola, Florida. As any affluent housewife of the time would do, she asks the maid to come along on the trip to help take care of them. Jubie does a lot of growing up on this trip and her eyes are opened to pervasive, ugly prejudice.
I liked Jubie, I really did. She had spunk and she questioned the attitudes that everyone else accepted and made their own. She still has the heart of a child and she questions why her kind, intelligent maid should be treated as inferior because of the color of her skin. But I didn't entirely trust her as a narrator and I'm not sure if I was supposed to. I guess everyone feels like their parents were harder on them than on their siblings, but it's taken to an extreme here. One part in particular was devastating to read. Jubie's dad is an alcoholic who apparently only takes his temper out on her.
It didn't seem entirely realistic to me that Jubie's story would be told almost completely through the filter of race. There is very good reason that she would have become hyper-aware of the issue through the lens of time but I didn't feel like she was looking back on these events from far in the future. They felt pretty immediate. I just felt that a 13-year-old girl would have had more distractions, I guess.
I did appreciate that the author tackled the actual violence of the times. Other books set around the Civil Rights era hint at it but then either nothing terribly bad happens or the brutality is in the background. The violence is the heart of this book and it left me so sad and disgusted. I just don't understand people who judge based on skin color and I definitely don't understand those who think it's permissablenecessary to injure or kill someone because of it.
I really, really liked Mary, the maid. She had a huge, courageous heart. She bravely stands up for Jubie when Mr. Watts is on the rampage, she loves all the children in ways that their mother can't, and she is not afraid to reprimand her employers or their guests when they start making disparaging, prejudiced remarks. The world would be a better place if there were more Marys.
I was surprised to find myself respecting Mrs. Watts in the end. I don't know if I ever liked her but she comes a long way throughout the book. Her growth surprised me.
In one way, this was a quick, easy read, but in another, it was so difficult to get through. When you're feeling brave enough to confront some of the senseless ways that people hurt each other, pick this up....more
It's been a while since I read this, but I actually remember quite a bit of it. That's a good sign. Details of books generally leave me pretty quicklyIt's been a while since I read this, but I actually remember quite a bit of it. That's a good sign. Details of books generally leave me pretty quickly. Still, bullet points will probably say it best.
*I wasn't particularly fond of Marina but I don't remember why.
*It was very slow to get started. Once Marina gets to Brazil, I didn't think she was ever going to leave that first dirty, hot, hopeless town. Ever.
*The beautiful young people she finds to help her were irritating as hell.
*The drug that Dr. Swenson was working on left me sending stink-eye stares in the general direction I think my parents live in. "Don't even think about it, Mama. Just don't." (I know you're reading this and wondering if your feelings should be hurt. It's nothing bad. Ask me about it and you'll understand. You'll be shooting stink-eye glances at Granny.)
*I read this just weeks after starting a job in clinical research. After all of my brand-new training in Good Clinical Practice and Human Subject Protection and all that, I was a little tickled to read something that I understood from that point of view, at least a little, and horrified by how all of those regulations were thrown out the window by this group of fictional scientists.
*Snakes. Snakes! Oh my gosh, possibly the most freaking-Jennifer-out snake scene I have ever read in my life! *shuddershuddershuddershudder*
*Once it got going, it was a page turner. My sister compared the plot to something Michael Crichton would write, and she loves his work. I can see where she's coming from.
*The plot did fall apart a little bit toward the end. There was simply too much going on.
Let's call this a thinking-person's adventure story. I enjoyed it overall and recommend it if you're looking for something of that description....more
John Singer is a deaf-mute living a solitary life in a Southern city. His best friend, Spiros Antonapoulos, has been taken away to the state asylum. BJohn Singer is a deaf-mute living a solitary life in a Southern city. His best friend, Spiros Antonapoulos, has been taken away to the state asylum. But as Singer makes his solitary way through life, he draws a group of four lonely individuals to him: Mick Kelly, a poor young girl with dreams of being a famous composer; Jake Blount, an alcoholic trying to spread the word about the evils of capitalism and the glory of Communism; Dr. Copeland, an African-American doctor trying to lead his people to a better life; and Biff Brannon, a cafe owner who is trying to figure out what the others see in Mr. Singer.
I read this back in college but couldn't remember a thing about it when we decided to read it for book club. Time for a re-read! Now I know why I wiped it from my memory.
This is one of those novels that is probably classified as "Realism" and that I choose to call "Pessimism." No one is happy. No one will ever be happy. They are all going to die alone and misunderstood. And McCullers seems to be saying that's the way life is for everyone. I refuse to buy it. That's my biggest problem.
Another problem is that nothing really happens. Nothing. The book just drifts from character to character, each of whom just will not move on to another topic to think about. There's only so much I can read about Mick's "inner room" and how much she loves music. I can list about three or four events that are actual events. The rest of it is just repetitive introspection.
I will say that Carson McCullers' writing voice is perfect for the story. It just feels stark and lonely from the beginning. Perfect for this bleak novel.
I didn't like any of the characters. Mick could have been a great character for me. A dreamy Southern girl who loves music? I should have loved her. But she's too antsy and aggressive. She just won't let well enough alone. She's always picking at everyone in the family. Her tendency to yell at people to leave her secret treasure box alone had my elder sibling tendencies kicking; I was itching to open it up and taunt her with it. I never understood why no one else did. Blount is just an alcoholic. Dr. Copeland won't come down from his ideals to work with the real, living people around him. He sees "his people" the way he wants to see him rather than how they are and so he never reaches them. I still don't know where Biff Brannon was coming from. He's an observer, so maybe he was supposed to give me an outsider's perspective, but he just puzzled me with his motherly tendencies. I didn't even understand Mr. Singer. He was objective enough to realize that the others saw in him what they wanted to see but he couldn't see what a drag Antonapoulos was and move on.
If you like your books stark and bleak, you'll probably like this one. If you see any hope in the world, you should probably give it a pass....more
Dr. Alice Howland teaches psychology at Harvard. A brilliant researcher and professor, she has a field-changing body of work behind her and looks forwDr. Alice Howland teaches psychology at Harvard. A brilliant researcher and professor, she has a field-changing body of work behind her and looks forward to many years of pursuing her passion.
Then she starts noticing serious lapses in her memory. She finally gets scared when she goes out for a run and gets lost a few blocks from her home, in an area that she has lived in for decades. She goes to the doctor, and is eventually diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease at fifty years of age.
I've heard a lot of people talk about how much they loved this book. I decided very early on that it was not for me and forgot about it. Then my book club decided to read it. I have dreaded it. (Sorry, Sonya, but it's true.) I even voted to read it and I still dreaded it. Reading about a brilliant woman losing herself to Alzheimer's? Way too serious and heart-breaking for me.
Just so you know where I'm coming from, no one in my family has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I've never had to watch this happen to someone I love. But, working in healthcare for as long as I have, I've seen what it does. It scares the pants off of me. I've never worked anywhere that leaves me caring for the same patient for any amount of time, so I haven't seen the progression in one person. But I've seen the shells that this disease leaves behind. I vividly remember one 46-year-old patient I had with early-onset Alzheimer's. I literally watched that man die of a heart attack. And that seemed the better alternative to what I had seen before he went bad. That same empty shell, who seemed incapable of doing much more than rattling his bed rails. What kind of "life" is that?
But Still Alice didn't bother me quite as much as I expected it to. Oh, it smacked me in the face alright, but I never dreaded picking the book back up. I was kind of curious to see how Alice would cope with the next curve ball her mind threw at her. Because she is such a brilliant woman, she develops some amazing coping mechanisms. But then she would get lost looking for the bathroom in her own house and my heart would break. Luckily, the scenes that really bothered me never lasted too long.
I am glad that this book is told from Alice's point of view. I think it was a brave decision and I think it was a story that needed to be told. To not just watch this happening to someone else, but to be inside the mind that is slowly breaking down. That made it real in a way that reading the same story from her family's point of view wouldn't have accomplished. Aside from that, I appreciated how Alice felt when others talked about her like she wasn't there. She was having good days and bad at that point, but her loving family inadvertently talked around her occasionally, even on good days. I can't imagine how frustrating that must be. To know that your good days are numbered and to have your loved ones fail to help you make good use of them.
That said, I do wish I knew a little more about what is going on inside her husband's mind. John's obviously not coping well, but he does step up in some ways and make things harder for Alice in other ways. There are a couple of scenes with him in particular that I can't wait to discuss with my book club.
I love the cover and how it fits into the story.
This is obviously not a book for everyone, but if you're on the fence about it, I do recommend you go ahead and give it a try. It's eye-opening in a lot of ways and will leave you thinking. It's good for us all to read books like this sometimes....more
In this classic tale of growing up in the Jim Crow South, Scout Finch captures readers' hearts as she plays her games and begins to lose her innocenceIn this classic tale of growing up in the Jim Crow South, Scout Finch captures readers' hearts as she plays her games and begins to lose her innocence as she watches the adults in her town. A trial that has been defined by race is making everyone show his or her true colors and it's an eye-opening experience for Scout.
I've read this probably 4 or 5 times by now, but I've never actually reviewed it. I really want to say, "I love this book. Not a passing love, but a deep and abiding, down to the soul love. Read it." And leave it at that.
But I won't let myself do that.
I love everything about this book. The biggest thing for me are the characters, especially Atticus and Scout. I love Atticus. No, really. I do. He's such a good man. As several other characters point out, he's the same on the street as he is in his house. He tries to live a life that permits him to look his children in the eyes. As someone else points out, he's the town's conscience. They trust him to do the right thing, often in spite of them. He never lets them down. I noticed this time how much it costs him. Scout is such a little motherless tomboy, I just have to love her too. She's pretty passionate about everything and she's still so innocent. This time around, I actually noticed Jem. I've overlooked him in the past, but I can see that he's going to follow in his father's footsteps.
The story is such a well-done contrast. There are the carefree, almost idyllic days of Scout and Jem's childhoods painted against a background of racism and pettiness and revenge. Harper Lee makes her point about race issues without beating her readers over the head with it. It sneaks up on me every time the same way that it sneaks up on Jem and Scout.
I'm more curious than I've ever been about Boo Radley after this reading. Why does he stay inside? Is he happy, or at least happy enough? What really happened to him in his past?
I'm also curious about Calpurnia. She seems happy enough, but is she really? I started conflating her with Aibileen from The Help. I think Calpurnia is probably as happy as anyone in her position can be, working for the Finches, but she still lives in a racist society.
And I think that's about as articulate as I can be. Why is it always so hard to write reviews of books you love? If you've never read this, pick it up. If you have, isn't it about time for a re-read?...more
I think the rest of the book suffered from my personal Southern lit overload. I do love my Southern books and my Southern authors but between another lady and me, our book club was reading a Southern book at least every other month for a while there. The plot of this one just didn't stand out enough in all of that.
I loved the Savannah setting and the quirky neighbors, but I've forgotten a lot of details. I know there was one racial scene that felt a little rushed through; It seemed like it should have been a much bigger deal. I think part of my problem was that I was expecting something a little meatier and this felt like it could have been a young adult book. There's nothing wrong with that, but I must not have been in the mood for that at the time.
I do recommend this, just be prepared for something more young adult-ish....more
Louie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned hisLouie Zamparini was a little bit of a punk as a young teen, staying in trouble all the time. But then he discovered running and pretty much turned his life around. People were taking notice of his times and the Olympics were in his future. He made it to the Berlin Olympics in a distance that was not his specialty. He didn't medal but at least he gained some experience. He started training in earnest for the next Olympics but then WWII broke out. He was soon flying in bombers over the Pacific Ocean. And then his plane went down.
Wow. I am in awe Louie's survival instincts. I read this on vacation in Jamaica and I have to say that I was not paying attention to the beautiful beach around me; I was fully present with Louie in his life boat. I periodically read bits from the book to my husband and at one point I looked up and said, "If I'm ever in a life boat in the middle of the ocean, I want this man to be with me. You won't believe what he just did!" and launched into that story. I won't spoil it for you but I remember it vividly.
I was thinking that this would make a good gift for my dad but by the time I finished, I wasn't so sure. Louie just goes through so stinking much. I got so frustated! "Why can't this guy get a break?!?!" was on a constant repeat in my head. It was one thing after the other and just when I thought he was going to be okay, things actually got worse. And worse. And worse. I'm not so sure that my dad would handle it all that well.
I thought I would like this because I so enjoyed Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand's first book. She is an excellent narrative nonfiction writer. She is able to put me right there in the middle of her story and make me care about things that aren't normally on my radar. I don't care about horse racing and I was manically cheering for a little knock-kneed underdog. I do like WWII books, but I tend to stick more with the Holocaust end of things rather than the actual fighting and have only rarely, if ever, ventured into the Pacific Theater. I definitely felt my ignorance here. I was a little embarrassed at myself. Pearl Harbor...atomic bomb. A whole lot of fighting in between. That sums up what I know. I got a little crash course here.
Hillenbrand also knows when to stop writing. That feels like a rare gift sometimes. She goes into some of the "afterward" and just when I was starting to get worried that she was going to lose me by going too far, she wrapped things up. Her story is about WWII so there's no great need to go past that in my opinion. Thankfully, she seems to agree. I'm sure that Louie's life has always been interesting (he's a rare man, how could it be otherwise?) but let's stick to one story. She did.
There are parts of the book that will upset some people, I'm sure. There's one scene in particular that Louie described as the worst thing he saw in the war (I'm 99% sure on this) that has kind of haunted me. It's a little event in the big scheme of things that shows a lot about the man who did it and what kind of men Louie found himself surrounded by. It still bothers me, just thinking about it now. People sensitive to degradation and utterly meaningless violence should probably steer clear.
Hillenbrand is a heckuva writer and she found a fascinating man to write about. I feel honored to have read his story and encourage anyone who is even slightly interested to read it too. You won't be disappointed....more
"My name is Calpurnia Virginia Tate, but back then everybody called me Callie Vee. That summer, I was eleven years old and the only girl out of seven"My name is Calpurnia Virginia Tate, but back then everybody called me Callie Vee. That summer, I was eleven years old and the only girl out of seven children. Can you imagine a worse situation?" "That summer" is the summer of 1899 and it is a scorcher. Amid the heat and the drought though, Callie is finding out who she is. She is a born scientist. She is a little lost in the shuffle of all those brothers, but one day, desperate for an answer to a scientific question, she bravely goes out to confront her eccentric grandfather in his "laboratory." The rest is history. The two recognize a "kindred spirit" in each other and set out on scientific pursuits together. Granddaddy encourages Callie in all her experiments and dreams, seeing past her gender to her brilliant mind, but slowly Callie realizes that she is destined for a life of embroidery and children and cooking. She is not happy.
I love Calpurnia Tate. She is a childhood heroine for the ages, joining the likes of Anne Shirley in my heart. I do not say that lightly. I have loved Anne for about 20 years, but now she has good company with Callie.
Calpurnia is a thinker and a quiet fighter. When her mother tells her she can't cut her hair, she does it an inch at a time. I have utmost faith that her fighting spirit will help her get what she wants and prepare the way for women who follow. She is funny and honest and she tries so hard to make her family happy with her. She is far from perfect and gets into some hilarious scrapes. She has a gigantic heart and tries to help those she loves any way she can. I wish I could know her in real life.
I love Granddaddy too. There's a line that I can't find now that says something about how Calpurnia and Granddaddy almost missed each other even though they live under the same roof. Callie wouldn't be the girl she is without Granddaddy encouraging her. One person who believes in you can make all the difference in the world, and Granddaddy was that person for Callie. He is pretty funny too. He doesn't have much patience for Callie's long-suffering mom and will occasionally put her in her place with a perfect one-liner.
This book is pretty much perfect. I was lost in Callie's world as I read along, flipping pages quickly to find out what she would get up to next, but not wanting to finish either. I wasn't ready to be done with Callie's story.
The ending was absolutely perfect. It's a quiet moment, but it foretells big things in Calpurnia's future. I was beaming as I finished.
I can't recommend this highly enough. Everyone should read it, but little girls with big dreams will find a kindred spirit in Miss Calpurnia Virginia Tate....more
Twins Marion and Shiva Stone are orphaned when their mother, a nun, dies in childbirth and their father denies them. They are blessed to be taken in aTwins Marion and Shiva Stone are orphaned when their mother, a nun, dies in childbirth and their father denies them. They are blessed to be taken in and raised by an Indian woman who loves them with every fiber of her being. Cutting for Stone primarily follows Marion as he grows up in Ethiopia and then immigrates to the US.
That's a pretty weak synopsis, but it's hard to capture this book in just a few sentences.
It started off just a little slow, which is why I'm only giving it 4.5 stars. I could see the potential for a fantastic story so I kept reading, but the entire first part--131 pages--is technically only one day with a lot of flashbacks and back story thrown in. I started to feel like, at this rate, the twins might be a week old by the time I finished this 658 page book.
But then it picked up and I never looked back. In fact, I sat down to read for just a few minutes while I was eating dinner one night and I finished the last 150 pages of the book. I just could not put it down. I was fully invested in what happened with Marion by then, and that's about the point where I really and truly started to worry for him.
I liked reading about Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. I hate to admit it, but before reading this, I couldn't have even told you which country Addis Ababa was located in. I would have taken a guess at somewhere in the Middle East and been completely wrong. And who knew that it's at an elevation of about 8000 feet and it's cool and misty? That doesn't fit my "We Are the World" image of Africa. As soon as I finish this review, I have a ton of post-its in my book marking places and facts I want to look up and learn more about. I don't really do that very often, but I'm obviously ridiculously ignorant about this part of the world.
This is such a big, epic story that it's hard for me to really say what I think. I hear epic and I tend to think about fantasy books and their pages and pages of characters and relationships, and that's not the case here. It's just epic in that it covers only a few characters' lives but those characters have stories worth telling. They travel around from India to Ethiopia to the US, showing a lot of culture and history along the way.
I love that very few people in this "family" are actually related, but they couldn't love each other more if they tried. I don't know why that kind of storyline always resonates with me when I have a big extended family that I love dearly, but it does. I guess I like to think that those who are unfortunate enough to be born into crappy families have the choice to build their own good families.
I did love the characters. They were complicated and felt real to me. My favorite just might have been Ghosh. He's probably the least complicated, but he has a heart full of love and wisdom, loves a good time, and has a wicked sense of humor. Hema is so fierce that I couldn't help but love her too. Thomas Stone is a little bit of an enigma throughout the whole thing. I was glad that I finally got some of his background so I could try to understand where he was coming from. The Matron is such a practical nun that I had to respect her as well. I'm not sure how much faith she had after years of struggling to help poor Ethiopians, but she did whatever she had to in order to continue caring for them. I don't even know what to say about Genell. My feelings about her veered around wildly, so I won't say anything in order to avoid spoilers. Sister Mary Joseph Praise. She's not even fully present in the story, but she's the connection between all these people. They love her, so I had to as well. You get her background pretty early on, and my heart just broke for her.
Then there's Marion and Shiva. I didn't understand Shiva, I admit. I don't know if his traumatic entrance into the world made him the way that he was, but he was just different. He was almost impossible to know and could best be described as amoral. He does what he wants and doesn't quite seem to understand the point of society's laws and rules of behavior. I couldn't blame him for what he was. Marion seemed to get all the heart and the nobility. He tries so hard to do what's right and respect others. He genuinely wants to help people. I was rooting for him all along.
I highly recommend this book. Stick with it through the first section, and I promise the payoff will be worth it. I can't wait to discuss this tonight with my book club!...more
This is the continuation of the true story of Vladek Spiegelman's survival as a Jew in WWII Poland.
Most of what I wrote in my review of Maus I still sThis is the continuation of the true story of Vladek Spiegelman's survival as a Jew in WWII Poland.
Most of what I wrote in my review of Maus I still stands, but there’s a bit more of the author’s feelings included. You can see the catharsis he’s going through as he writes this novel. He’s painfully honest about the conflicting feelings he has toward his father and his mother.
Again, most of Vladek’s survival relied on luck, but I was left in awe of his ingenuity and his talent for survival. But the man would drive me crazy. I was left wondering if he was the way he was because of what he went through or if he was just born that way.
This book touches on prejudices we still have today, even people who should know better.
I have to admit that I was welling up before I had read one word of the story--and I'm not a crier.
Maus I and Maus II are just such powerful books. Still highly, highly recommended....more
Just finished a re-read for my book club. I didn't fall quite as head-over-heels in love with these characters, but I stand by my 5-star rating. AbsolJust finished a re-read for my book club. I didn't fall quite as head-over-heels in love with these characters, but I stand by my 5-star rating. Absolutely wonderful book....more
Mattie Gokey is an intelligent high school senior living in rural New York in 1906. As this book unfolds, we are following two different, intertwinedMattie Gokey is an intelligent high school senior living in rural New York in 1906. As this book unfolds, we are following two different, intertwined arcs of Mattie's life: the earlier months when she is desperate to get to college and the later months when she's working at a summer lake resort where a young couple has just gone missing.
I have neglected writing this review for about two weeks now. I loved this book, and I know that I'm never going to do it justice.
First of all, there's Mattie herself. Do all readers adore books where the main character is reader also, or is it just me? Mattie is a beautiful writer; a voracious, hungry reader; and a word collector. I just loved her. The book is written in first person, and her voice is authentic and beautiful. The edge of my book is a flurry of post-it flags marking quotes that I loved. You know I'm going to quote them at you at the end of this review, right?
She's at that age when the world is open before her, but she has ties tugging her back. You know that feeling that your soul is bigger than your body and you just have to stretch your wings? Mattie describes it perfectly.
A lot of the book centers around the choice that Mattie must make between what she wants and what's expected of her. She's torn and I was so worried about her, all the way through. I desperately wanted her to choose what would make her happy. I just love characters that do that to me.
As Mattie is making her decision, she's reading letters left behind by the lady who is missing. These are real letters from a real crime committed in NY. The contrast between the letters and Mattie's story is just perfect. I loved having this backdrop for Mattie's fictional story to unfold against. They played off each other beautifully.
My one tiny complaint is that I loved the book so much, I had high hopes for a last line that would knock me back in my chair. The last lines were very strong, but they were a tiny bit cliched. My socks weren't knocked off. But, like I said, it was definitely a strong ending.
I guess you've got the point by now, but I highly, highly recommend this book. Don't be put off by the fact that it's labeled as a young adult book. These authors have a lot to say that people of all ages can relate to. Put aside any pre-conceived notions you might have of young adult novels and give this a try. I really don't think you'll regret it.
My favorite quotes: "Right now I want a word that describes the feeling you get--a cold, sick feeling deep down inside--when you know something is happening that will change you, and you don't want it to, but you can't stop it. And you know, for the first time, for the very first time, that there will now be a before and an after, a was, and a will be. And that you will never again be quite the same person you were."
"A new word. Bright with possibilities. A flawless pearl to turn over and over in my hand, then put away for safekeeping."
"What I saw next stopped me dead in my tracks. Books. Not just one or two dozen, but hundreds of them. In crates. In piles on the floor. In bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling and lined the entire room. I turned around and around in a slow circle, feeling as if I'd just stumbled into Ali Baba's cave. I was breathless, close to tears, and positively dizzy with greed."
"There were lives in those books, and deaths. Families and friends and lovers and enemies. Joy and despair, jealousy, envy, madness, and rage. All there... I could almost hear the characters inside, murmuring and jostling, impatient for me to open the cover and let them out."
"I know it is a bad thing to break a promise, but I think now that it is a worse thing to let a promise break you."...more
Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Jew living in Poland in WWII. He made it through, and Maus I is Spiegelman’s story of his father’s life, as welArt Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, was a Jew living in Poland in WWII. He made it through, and Maus I is Spiegelman’s story of his father’s life, as well as an exploration of the way the lives of the survivors and their family members were never the same.
Okay, let’s look at the fact that this is a graphic novel first. It absolutely works. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the French are frogs--you get the idea. This is a young adult book, so I think that helps kids/teens deal with the story a little better. A skeletal mouse is alarming enough, but it would be so much harder for a child to deal with if it had been a photo of a skeletal person. As an adult who knows something about what happened, I found that the form made me see with new eyes. We’ve all seen “Schindler’s List” or read one of the books written by survivors. But this form somehow hit me a little harder, almost as if I were learning about the Holocaust for the first time.
It still stays true to the horror and atrocity. Some of it is sort of passed over, but the moments when the violence is shown stand out that much more. I’ve read quite a few Holocaust novels, but the moments of random violence in Maus I hit me hard. Spiegelman took the “less is more” approach and it worked.
There were so many things I liked about this book. The historical part of the story opens with Vladek as a reasonably prosperous young mouse marrying into a wealthy family. I liked that this is where it started. I got to see how everything was slowly stripped away until they were desperate for any shelter and any food. That stripping away is something that I haven’t come across very often. I also liked that Vladek’s ingenuity and bravery played a part in his survival, but it was obvious that the biggest factor was just dumb luck. He built or found many different hiding places. The author includes drawings of these, and I’m so glad he did. I can make sense of a picture, but a description of a complicated system for hiding usually just leaves me confused. Vladek doesn’t skip over the fact that there were some Jews who sold out others in an effort to secure their own safety. That’s not something you come across very often either. Vladek tells his own story in his slightly broken but very readable English. I liked that too. I felt like I was hearing the story instead of just reading it. I got so wrapped up in the story that I was scared every time Vladek was trying to decide whether or not to trust someone. His very survival depended on making the right judgment.
This also looks at how the Holocaust affected those who came after. Vladek survived, but did he really? He and the other survivors have a lot of psychological problems that stayed with them for life. Their problems in turn affected the children they had later, to the point that the children feel survivor’s guilt and they hadn’t even been born in WWII.
I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a bit of a fresh look at a survivor’s story. I’d also recommend it as an introduction to the Holocaust for older children and teens. If you do decide to read this, have the second one nearby. Maus I ends on a cliffhanger....more
Enzo, the wonderfully perceptive narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a dog. His master is Denny, a talented race car driver who can't seem tEnzo, the wonderfully perceptive narrator of The Art of Racing in the Rain, is a dog. His master is Denny, a talented race car driver who can't seem to get a break. There is always something that keeps him from realizing his full potential. Enzo is an astute, loyal observer of Denny's life as events spiral out of control around them. With wisdom and compassion, Enzo relates Denny's story with his own incisive commentary.
This review keeps veering off into "Why I Love Enzo," so I guess I'll start there but try to keep it short. He is the friend that is quietly there, always loyal, always listening, and always loving. He's so quietly necessary that it would be easy to take him for granted. Luckily, Denny knows what a good dog he has so that doesn't happen. Enzo has almost a zen take on life and he shares his thoughts in such a way that I wanted to highlight almost the whole book. He believes that good dogs are allowed to come back as men in the next life, and he believes he's reached that stage. I agree. He understands life and being human better than most of us ever will.
Enzo relates some tough times in his life with Denny. There's the adjustment period as Denny gets married and has a child. As Enzo shares very, very early in the book, Denny's wife also dies and there's huge fallout from that. That's where the book got almost infuriating. I was so aggravated with the jerks around Enzo and Denny! I didn't know why Enzo would even aspire to be human when we do such horrible things to each other. But that's where they both actually shine and they have the most to share. It was hard, but when I was able to step back from my gut response and try to understand what there was to learn in this situation, I could see what Enzo was trying to tell me.
The book opens with Enzo lying on the floor, knowing that his time is at an end. He is reflecting on his life with Denny and all that they have learned from each other. That is not a good beginning for me. I absolutely hate sad animal stories. If the animal goes through a lot of trouble but is still alive and happy at the end, I'm alright. If it ends with a one-way trip to the vet, I am almost angry at what I see as emotional manipulation. Death happens, but I don't want to read about it. So I had that hanging over me throughout the whole book. I was trying my best not to get too attached to Enzo, because I knew where this had to be going. But I just couldn't help it. He was such an awesome dog that I had to love him. I won't give anything away, but I will say that if you're like me, I think you'll still be pleasantly surprised by the ending. Don't skip this because you think it's another tear-jerker of an animal story.
A few of my favorite quotes:
“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to.”
“I don't understand why people insist on pitting concepts of evolution and creation against each other. Why can't they see that spiritualism and science are one? That bodies evolve and souls evolve and the universe is a fluid package that marries them both in a wonderful package called a human being. What's wrong with that idea?”
“My soul has learned what it came to learn, and all the other things are just things. We can't have everything we want. Sometimes, we simply have to believe.”
“You should shine with all of your light all the time.”
“We are all afforded our physical existence so we can learn about ourselves.”
When you're looking for some hope on a gray day, pick this up and let Enzo lift your spirits. He's got life figured out and he can share it in a way that's easy to understand. You'll love him as much as I did....more