Monthly Archives: May 2010

>The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti *Review*

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Twelve-year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is one of the mysteries that Ren has been trying to solve his entire life- as well as who his parents are and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys. When a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren’s long-lost brother, his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and gives Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? As Ren is introduced to a life of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves, he begins to suspect that Benjamin holds the key not only to his future but to his past as well.
The Good Thief was a dark and fantastical fireside tale. With similarities to the depressing elements of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett, the cold dreariness of this book makes you feel like it’s one to be taken in by the hearth of a warm crackling fire just so the lack of warmth doesn’t invade your bones.
But just because the book is not a happy one does not mean it’s not a good one. Full of harelips, dwarves and a giant killer dug up from the dead this is a book you can really escape into. Ren does get his answers, and while I still don’t know if it was the answers he seeked or if he welcomed them I do have to say I enjoyed this despairing, unfulfilling book.

>Library Loot

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Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here’s what’s in my bag:

On a property in western New South Wales a man named Holland lives with his daughter, Ellen. Over the years, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, he plants hundreds of different eucalyptus trees on his land, filling in the landscape, making a virtual outdoor museum of trees. When Ellen in nineteen, he announces his decision; she may marry only the man who can correctly name the species of each and every gum tree on his property.

Suitors emerge from all corners, including the straight-backed Mr. Cave, a world expert on these famous Australian trees. And then one day, walking down by the river where silver light slants into the motionless trunks, Ellen chances on a strange young man resting under the Coolibah tree. In the days that follow, he tells her dozens of stories-set in cities, deserts, and faraway countries

Eucalyptus is at once a modern fairy tale and a marvelously touching love story, played out against the spearing light and broken shadows of Australia- its land, its history, its people.

To meet Allegra O’Riordan of Chicago, you’d think she was like anyone else- a modern single woman in her thirties; a more or less lapsed Catholic; more or less gainfully employed; urban, independent, irreverent, and smart. But there’s a hole in her life, and it doesn’t really show until, going through her late father’s effects, she comes upon a photograph of her mother. Now, her mother was a prim, unsmiling woman who died when she was three. But this is something- someone- else, a laughing, beautiful, sexy girl, who inscribed the picture to someone Allegra’s never heard of.

Astonished and intrigued, she returns to her hometown of Los Angeles to find out more about this mother of hers, only to be met with smiles and evasions and a definite sense that people are keeping something from her- and of course, that only makes her more determined to find out what it is, even though she’s beginning to suspect she’s not going to like it one little bit…

Meg Landry expected it to be a day like any other- her asthmatic eight-year-old son would step off the bus home from school. But on this day, the boy on the bus doesn’t seem to be Meg’s son. Though he shares Charlie’s copper hair, tea-brown eyes, and slight frame, there is something profoundly, if indefinably, different about him. In the wake of Meg’s quiet alarm, her far-flung family returns home and unease sets in. Neither Charlie’s father not Charlie’s rebellious teenage sister can help Meg settle the question of the boy. They look to her for certainty- after all, shouldn’t a mother know her child?

Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest ion college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that there parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s illusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including- perhaps- their aunt.

What do you think of my loot this week? Anything you’ve read that you are raving about- or not? Or, does anything look interesting to you. Let me know what you think!

>Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins *Review*

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Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.
The second book in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire had a lot to live up to.
The Hunger Games was so thrilling what could Suzanne do in the second book to keep the momentum going? But keep the momentum going she did. This book was just as exciting as the first one.
As I waited for my son to finish the book so I could start it I kept saying “surely they wouldn’t…” and “surely they wouldn’t…” but he wouldn’t breathe a word about it He kept me in suspense so I could experience it just like he did.
Again he urged me to hurry up and finish it so he could talk about it and enthusiastically I picked it up at every opportunity.
While not as heartstoppingly as good as the first (sequels never seem to be) I wouldn’t rate it much lower. It kept my interest and the characters were as true as what they were in Hunger Games. You definitely do not want to miss this book nor, I suspect the next to come.

>Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins *Review*

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In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the edges of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Katniss Everdeen is a fighter and a caretaker. Evident from the very beginning in the way she risks her life daily to sneak out of her fenced & controlled district to hunt for meat to feed her mother and her sister, it comes as no surprise when she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games- an annual fight to the death survival game which is used to show the people in outlying districts the power of the Capitol to control their lives.
So not my type of book at all, I had resisted reading it even after reading numerous reviews telling me it was one I shouldn’t miss.
I finally put it on reserve at the library, picking it up with about a dozen others and promptly placing it at the bottom of the stack as one to be read if I got around to it, so sure I was not going to like it.
Being a YA book, I suggested my son should give it a try one day when he was looking for something to do. My fifteen-year-old son Zachary, is not an avid reader. It’s very hard to find a book that interests him. Many books are started and put down a chapter later never to be picked back up again. But when he does find one he likes he absorbs it voraciously. I knew the next day when he was 3/4 of the way through this book I needed to rethink my reading pile and the placement of this book.
Zach begged me to read it right away so he could talk to me about it. Being the type of mom who can’t say no to their children I picked it up the minute he put it down and read it just as quickly.
I loved the fact that even though it was set in the future (a definite turn off for me in book genres) it never felt futuristic. A little fantastical yes, but never overtly science fictiony.
Katniss’ strength and will to survive so she could continue to help those she held dear were uplifting at an age when so many are so egocentric. The characters were likable (even some of the unlikeable ones like Haymitch) and believable.
I loved this book and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second one which my son was already halfway through with.

>Library Loot

> Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures,

Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here’s what’s in my bag:

John and Ella Robina have shared a wonderful life for more than fifty years. Now in their eighties, Ella suffers from cancer and has chosen to stop treatment. John has Alzheimers. Yearning for one last adventure, the self-proclaimed “down-on-their-luck geezers” kidnap themselves from the adult children and doctors who seem to run their lives to steal away from their home in suburban Detroit on a forbidden vacation of rediscovery.

With Ella as his vigilant copilot, John steers their ’78 Leisure Seeker RV along the forgotten roads of Route 66 toward Disneyland in search of a past they’re having a damned hard time remembering. Yet Ella is determined to prove that, when it comes to life, a person can go back for seconds- sneak a little extra time, grab a small portion more- even when everyone says you can’t.

Eighteen years ago, Billy Peters disappeared. Everyone in town believes Billy was murdered- after all, serial killer Arnold Avery later admitted killing six other children and burying them on the same desolate moor that surrounds their small English village. Only Billy’s mother is convinced he is alive. She still stands lonely guard at the front window of her home, waiting for her son to return, while her remaining family fragments around her.

But her twelve-year-old grandson Steven is determined to heal the cracks that gape between his nan, his mother, his brother, and himself. Steven desperately wants to bring his family closure, and if that means personally finding his uncle’s corpse, he’ll do it.

Spending his spare time digging holes all over the moor in the hope of turning up a body is a long shot, but at least it gives his life purpose.

Then at school, when the lesson turns to letter writing, Steven has a flash of inspiration… Careful to hide his identity, he secretly pens a letter to Avery in jail asking for help in finding the body of “W.P.”- William “Billy” Peters.

So begins a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Just as Steven tries to use Avery to pinpoint the grave site, so Avery misdirects and teases his mysterious correspondent in order to relive his heinous crimes. And when Avery finally realizes that the letters he’s receiving are from a twelve-year-old boy, suddenly his life has purpose too. Although his is far more dangerous…

When Miranda first hears the warnings that a meteor is headed on a collision path with the moon, they just sound like an excuse for extra homework assignments. But her disbelief turns to fear in a split second as the entire world witnesses a lunar impact that knocks the moon closer in orbit, catastrophically altering the earth’s climate.

Everything else in Miranda’s life fades away as supermarkets run out of food, gas goes up to more than ten dollars a gallon, and school is closed indefinitely.

But what Miranda and her family don;t realize is that the worst is yet to come.

Which of these have you read- and did you like them? If not, which one looks the most interesting?

>Blog Tour: Life, In Spite of Me by Kristen Jane Anderson with Tricia Goyer

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Overwhelmed by wave after wave of emotional trauma, Kristen Anderson no longer wanted to live. One January night, determined to end her pain once and for all, the seventeen-year-old lay across train tracks not far from her home and waited to die.

Instead of peace, she found herself immersed in a whole new nightmare.

Before the engineer could bring the train to a stop, thirty-three freight cars passed over her at fifty-five miles per hour. After the train stopped and Kristen realized she was still alive, she looked around- and saw her legs ten feet away.

Surviving her suicide attempt but losing her legs launched Kristen into an even deeoer battle with depression and suicidal thoughts as well as unrelenting physical pain- all from the seat of a wheelchair.

But in the midst of her darkest days, Kristen discovered the way to real life and a purpose for living.

Life, In Spite of Me recounts in riveting detail the trauma of her suicide attempt, the miracle of her survival, and the life-tansforming power of hope in Christ.

Kristen should never have lived to tell her story. That much is evident from what the paramedic who was at the scene told her and what a train engineer explaining the physics of a train described.

But Kristen has done more than just live. She has fought, excelled, learned, inspired and reached out to others in similar situations- all with the help of God. I am reminded of one of my favorite sayings when I think of all Kristen has accomplished so far.

“You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”

Kristen’s story is an inspirational message of hope to those who suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide. There are people who love you and want to help. You don’t have to travel the road alone. 3.5/5 stars

Suicide Warning Signs: (from Kristen’s book)

  • appearing depressed or sad most of the time
  • having no hope for the future
  • feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, or trapped in a situation, and having excessive guilt or shame
  • talking or writing about death or suicide
  • withdrawing from family or friends
  • acting recklessly or impulsively
  • a change in personality, sleeping or eating habits
  • decreased interest in most activities
  • dramatic mood changes
  • giving away prized possessions
  • writing a will
  • poor performance at work or in school
  • strong anger or rage
  • abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • self-harm
  • self hate

View the video of Kristen Jane Anderson on Life Today. Or, download the first chapter of her book here.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

>The Help by Kathryn Stockett *Review*

> Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.
Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.
In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women–mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends–view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t
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Reserving a book at the library just because numerous book blogs rave about it is usually- for me- a recipe for disaster. The book gets set up in my head to be a fantastic life altering tome. reading it is usually deflating and disappointing.

While I wouldn’t say The Help was disappointing, I would say it was not near what I hoped it would be, although I do think it would make an excellent choice for book clubs.

Prejudices. The Help is full of them. Set in the south in the 1960’s, slavery is no longer permitted. But similar to slaves, the black servants and housekeepers of the well-to-do housewives who employ them are treated just as bleakly.

I was really naive to believe that in the 6o’s- the decade of peace and love- the attitudes towards blacks were better then this. I knew blacks were still segregated to a certain extent but the ignorance and small mindedness of the families featured in this story was unbelievable.

Bathrooms being built in garages or outside for the help so diseases wouldn’t be caught from them sickened me. These were the housekeepers who cleaned their homes and raised their children and yet were considered unclean themselves. How degrading it must have felt for them to be viewed as no better than animals.

And the prejudices didn’t stop there. Minnie’s white boss deals with prejudices of her own, being misjudged because of where she lived or what she wears.

Skeeter decided to take on prejudices by writing a book about it and opening the eyes of the town in which she lives.

The Help was an eye-opener for me, and for that it deserves a higher rating in my book then I would normally have given it. I didn’t love-love it, but it was an excellent story and one worth my time as well as yours. 3/5 Stars