Friday, July 29, 2011

Just For Fun Friday Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key
by: Tatiana de Rosnay

Genre: Historical Fiction, general fiction
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Paris in 1942 finds Sarah and her family arrested and rounded up with all of the other Jews in Paris but not before Sarah has a chance to hide her little brother in a closet with a promise to come back in a few hours.

When journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article for the 60 year commemoration of  the Vel' d'Hiv' round up she stumbles upon the story of a little girl whose family is connected to her own. She is drawn to this little girl and her story and begins to weave it together and in the process begins to reflect more on her own life.

This was one I listened to in the car and I found it very well done. One thing that I really loved about this book was in the parts where it was from Sarah's point of view, we don't get names. Her mother, father and brother don't really develop much of a personality and we don't really get to know them. This had the effect of making this tragedy apply to every family that went through it. it was a way to remember all of the victims. The Starzynski's didn't have a corner on the pain and suffering.

This is a book that will make you think and will make you remember. I believe that Julia's journey is one that we should take ourselves. She becomes a deeper person because she faces the past rather than rejecting it.

The book did have occasional slow points and the ending did seem rushed but the overall theme of the novel is one that is still powerful even with these flaws. I believe that it is a wonderful book which will make you think and remember even if it is hard to do so.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Historical Thursday

Code Talkers
by: Joseph Bruchac

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: 4 Stars

Follow the life Ned Begay. In his childhood people tried to erase all that was Navajo from his live, later during the Second World War, he and his companions become invaluable as code talkers. Ned goes to through the Pacific side of the war  from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima. The things he experiences will change him like nothing else will.

I remember falling in love with this when I first read it in 7th grade. Since then it has been recycled through both of my brothers and several of my cousins. I tells a wonderful story that shouldn't be forgotten. When I first read it, I simply loved learning about the war and all of the separate aspects of it. Now though it seems to me to be something which can show how we mustn't undervalue other cultures. 

It was hard for me to read the first part of this again because it shows to what great lengths the authorities went to ensure that the young Navajo children because as white in culture as possible. Cultural preservation is what led up to the unbreakable codes used in WWII. 

It is definitely written for a younger crowd, simpler language and such, but the story is one that can reach all ages and one which should be remembered.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

YA Wednesday

by: Joan Bauer

Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 4 stars

It is hard to be a quiet person when your entire family isn't. Ivy Breedlove is peace-loving individual in a family of lawyers. Working on her family's history she tries to find out more about her aunt Jo, a recluse who the Breedlove clan claims is "stuck in the backwater." This journey leads Ivy on journey to discover exactly how much strength she has inside.

Joan Bauer is one of my favorite young adult authors. She deals with real life in a way that few authors are able to manage and has created a wonderful character with Ivy.  I am a little more on the introverted side, so I immediately latched on to this shy girl. 

Her journey (a literal one not metaphoric) brings her to Mountain Momma one of my favorite characters in Bauer's books. She is no nonsense and gritty and is brimming with wise tid-bits that really have a lot more depth to them than when you first read them.

I love the realism that Bauer has, she keeps the angst out of the picture - because not every teenager is angsty and whiny so it's nice to not always have to read about them.  I would recommend this to young women (and some not so young) who are looking for a gentle read that can have them laughing and thinking in alternate moments.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel
by: Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Genre: Classic
Rating: 5 stars

Set during the bloodiest days of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, the Scarlet Pimpernel is an enigmatic character who has saved countless lives from Madame Guillotine. Such dashing and bold escapes require the cunning and skill which no one would associate with Sir Percy Blakeney. This English Fop and his band of friends however band together as time and time again they save innocents from the likes of Chauvelin and other French leaders. This business of his is so secret that he must keep it all from those he holds dearest - even his wife Marguerite St. Just. 

Step aside Darcy I believe that you have met your match. 

Bold words I know, but really the Baroness has created a very undervalued hero who in all aspects outshines. The book is teeming with adventure, wit, mystery and suspense. Another one which I would recommend to gentleman as well as ladies. Always two steps ahead of the French government, the Scarlet Pimpernel still keeps us reading and wondering if he will pull it off once again. 

There is also the romantic element with his wife Marguerite. Just after their wedding, it comes to light that Marguerite just may be sympathetic to the leaders of the Reign of Terror, and her husband is forced to shut her completely out of his work. And while all this is happening Chauvelin - a French agent has been sent to sniff out the British gentleman responsible for rescuing the families who have been deemed traitors to the republic.

Goodness what more could you possibly ask for. It is extremely well written, the first in a series, and once more on just about every count - from wealth, to looks, to a romantic nature -  Blakeney is far and away a better hero than dear boring Mr. Darcy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Miscellaneous Monday - Science Fiction

Tunnel in the Sky
By: Robert Heinlein

Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

What started out as a test for school turns into a survival trip no one was expecting. After the way home disappears with no sign of returning, several young men and women must fight to survive on a planet on the other side of the universe. Without any of the luxuries from home, including a steady source of food, law enforcement and hospitals these young adults must make a new civilization for themselves.

This is one of the few books that I have read that I feel like I could unquestionably recommend to men as well as women. It is a wonderfully crafted adventure which, due to the fact that it is 55 years old, gets overlooked.  At first it looks like a Lord of the Flies remake, however it is done in such a way that it is much more enjoyable to read, yet is a wonderful examination of human nature and how we form our societies. This is a great book to read even if you aren’t into sci-fi. It doesn’t rely heavily on the futuristic world but rather on this “what-if” scenario -  putting people in a situation where no one is taking care of them and seeing what human characteristics emerge.  It also shows what true leadership is and how it is attained.

As I previously stated, I would recommend this to guys as well as girls, probably in the younger set, 14-16 but because of the content you can still read it when you are older and enjoy it immensely.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just For Fun Friday

The Distant Hours
by: Kate Morton

Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

It all begins with a long lost letter. Its contents compel young Edie Burchill to journey to the eerie realm of Milderhurst Castle, where her mother, then just 13 years old, waited out the London Blitz. What Edie learns about those distant hours in that faraway place will forever change her view of her mother and herself. 

Of the three novels that Morton has published this is probably the third favorite. I don’t at all mean to say that it isn’t a great novel I just like the other two better.  It does have mystery just as the others do, and I love that Morton’s mysteries revolve around a family’s past not around a murder, well not generally.

Here we are introduced to the Blythe sisters. They are quite a set. There is a depth about them that is generally found around in those who are heavy with secrets.  The castle in which they live seems like a place that could take you to Narnia, or perhaps another land that is darker, it is simply full of a kind of magic that comes with being an ancient building. Also I love how much writing, and the creative process is involved throughout the whole thing.

Edie Burchill is a wonderful concoction. She is very real with a marvelous fluidity about her – especially in regards to her relationship with her mother which undergoes much change throughout the course of the story.  It really is a marvelous read, very well written. Morton has her own unique style which I have fallen
in love with and I would love to see more from her.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Historical Thursday

My Name is Marry Sutter
by: Robin Oliveira

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 stars

Summary from Goodreads:
Mary Sutter is a brilliant young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Eager to run away from recent heartbreak, Mary travels to Washington, D.C., to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of two surgeons, who both fall unwittingly in love with her, and resisting her mother's pleas to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister's baby, Mary pursues her medical career against all odds. It is a novel rich with historical detail-including cameo appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix.
This was a book that I listened to while driving and I must say that it was really well done for a book on tape. I really enjoyed the premise of this novel. There are many accounts of the lives of the soldiers in the Civil War, and we do hear about Clara Barton (who makes a cameo appearance) but the rest of the medical side of the war really isn’t much known to us. This book offered a glimpse into exactly what was faced in the surgeries on the battle fields.

Oliveira did her research, there is a lot of medicine and surgery information in there and mention of the pioneering nurses of the time – the well known Clara Barton of course but Dorothea Dix takes the foreground here. There are also some interaction and parts from the point of view of President Lincoln showing exactly how nurses got to be allowed to help in the army and on the battle field and also offering a glimpse into the unpreparedness of the North.

It is an amazing idea that I really wanted to fall in love with, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t connect to the characters or really pity Mary’s heartbreak. Mary seemed a little cold to me which made me wonder why there were two men fighting for her. And about those two men I really didn’t care which one won. And if you don’t care about who the leading lady ends up with you don’t care about the leading lady. For me that is a bad sign. On another note there are bits of profanity that I didn’t feel were needed.

But I don’t want to leave on a terrible note because it wasn’t a terrible book. I liked how it emphasized the medical and historical aspects rather than dwell on the romantic. And I liked the writing style for the most part. It is one I would recommend to Civil War buffs- especially now as it is the sesquicentennial year of the start of the Civil War.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

YA Wednesday Crown Duel

Crown Duel
by: Sherwood Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads:

Over their father’s deathbed, young Meliara Astiar and her brother Branaric promise to lead their people against the evil King. The impoverished count and countess discover that even when the cause is right, leading a war is much tougher than it appears. When Meliara falls into the hands of the elegant Marquis of Shevraeth, the enemy commander, she knows she has to either escape or die. After a desperate chase across country, she discovers that she and Bran are not alone—but the alliance is offered by the person she hates the most. Once the king is gone, she faces a new type of battlefield: not muddy fields and sharpened steel, but marble palaces. The weapons now are fashion, manners, and the subtle and secret language of fans. Finally, there is the toughest challenge of all, courtship. For how do you defend yourself when the one who draws your eye, and your heart, is your worst enemy?


These two books were joined together to form one novel in their latest publication so that is how I am going to review them. 

I must say that this book is among the top of my re-reads. I am not entirely sure how many times I read it in jr. high and high school it is one that I loved that much. Mel has all that I like in a character, she is brave, intelligent, and yet she has flaws. She cares about things going on around her but recognizes her limitations and does what she can to correct them. The first part of the novel is completely action packed – as is customary with revolutions. The second part has a different kind of action. There is a lot of intrigue around the court a new monarchy is being established. Different actions but equally entertaining.

And then there is our hero commonly known as Sheveraeth, he is what I believe Mr. Darcy would be if he were young, in the middle of a revolution and starring in a fantasy novel. **spoiler**It is because of him, and the letter writing between him and Mel that I love writing and receiving letters. (if this doesn’t seem like a spoiler SHAME on you for reading the spoiler before the book because if you had read the book you would understand why this is a spoiler.) **spoiler done**

Even if you have passed young adulthood, if you like a good adventure with believable characters this would be an excellent choice.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Classic Tuesday: Persuasion

by: Jane Austen

Genre: Classic, Chick-Lit
Rating: 5 Stars

8 years after Anne Elliot turned down a proposal of marriage, Captain Wentworth, comes back wealthy and waiting to prove himself.  While the years have been kind to Wentworth, bestowing him with fame, wealth, and position, they have done quite the opposite to Anne whose family has fall upon hard times. Though Anne is still in love with him as ever, he - having made his fortune - doesn't seem to feel the same about the woman who jilted him.

This is the final book that Austen finished before she died and if it is any indication, we can believe that she had reached a new depth and had she lived we would be blessed with sheer genius. I love not only, how deep the characters go, but also how different they are. Anne Elliot is 27 years old, an old maid by all standards and she appears as though she has lost her bloom. This is a far cry from our Mariannes and Lizzies of books past. 

Sadly I think that this little gem is overlooked as the better known Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility take the stage. And while I am not saying those aren’t good (I love almost all Austen’s equally) I do wish that Persuasion got the recognition it deserves. And as amazing as Mr. Darcy seems, I think that Captain Wentworth would give him a run for his money.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Miscellaneous Monday: Porcupine Named Fluffy

A Porcupine Named Fluffy

by Helen Lester

Genre: Childrens

Rating: 5 Stars

I feel like children's books sometimes get forgotten and it is fun to go back and remember some of the stuff you (or more likely your parents) read when you were very young.


What do you name a porcupine? Lance or Spike? No, those are too common, you want something unique. Fluffy sounds like a good idea. Fluffy grows up and begins to realize there is a problem...he isn't fluffy. After many desperate, and somewhat silly attempts to become fluffy he meets a rhinoceros who has a name just as ridiculous as his own. 

This was the first book I "read" on my own. Quite frankly I believe that it had been read to me so many times I had it memorized. I love all the different ways that Fluffy tried to become fluffy, my favorite involved mounds of shaving cream. I love how he finds someone who has just as odd a name as he does and because he found someone else like him he accepts the fact that he simply isn't fluffy. I love the illustrations and how well both it and the text work together. This was one that I still come back to when I am home from school and one that will most definitely be on my children's bookshelves.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's July 15th...You Know What's Coming.

Today marks the end of the era of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling has somehow managed to create a world which has become deeply entrenched in the lives of almost every American whether or not they read the series.

To this day I am still trying to determine what exactly in this series has captured the hearts of so many and from such a varied audience as well. There is the general premise of it of course - who on earth wouldn't want to be able to wave a wand and fix the problem set in front of them, or be able to fly or disappear? There is also the depth of character that is found throughout the entire series. Constantly there are little unnecessary details - like the Weasleys nightly routine found in book four or Hagrid finally having his own special mug at The Three Broomsticks. These little things make the characters so real to us that we feel it personally when one of them wins at quidditch or gets turned down to the Yule Ball.

This vibrancy of character and depth of knowledge lend themselves marvelously to readers attachment. And if that weren't enough Rowling slips in turns of phrase which simply make you chuckle quietly to yourself. When reading about the mountain troll in Sorcerers Stone the sentence describing Harry as both "incredibly brave and incredibly stupid" remains with readers and comes back over and over during his continuous escapades.

I love this series. I have grown up with it. I waited in line for the books to come out starting with Goblet of Fire (my parents wouldn't let me stay up that late for the others) and devoured them as soon as I could get my hands on them. My siblings don't even remember a world without muggles and now finally my computer accepts the fact that "muggles" is indeed a word.

If you haven't read it yet, for whatever reason, please give it a try. For those of who for whom it's been years since you last picked it up reread it again - it's well worth it. It is magical and while at times dark, the light will shine through.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Historical Thursday

Courting Morrow Little
by Laura Frantz

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian
Rating: 2.5 Stars

Summary found on Goodreads:
Morrow Mary Little has bad memories of the day her mother and baby sister are brutally murdered at the hands of the Shawnee warriors, and her brother, Jess, was taken captive. All that is left of her family is her pa and herself. And her pa won’t go into the side of the dogtrot cabin that the murder occurred. He leaves the door shut, the damage undisturbed. 

Now a grown woman, Morrow’s pa is ailing, and men are vying for her attention. Morrow is torn over who to wed. But even more troublesome are the Shawnee man and his son who keeps coming by the cabin. At first, Morrow tries to avoid them, but the son keeps seeking her out. 

Can Morrow betray the memory of her lost loved ones by even allowing a friendship with him? And which man should she marry? 

This one was just ok for me as far as historical romances go. I like that it was in a time period not particularly gone over-yes it's the American Revolution but it's in don't hear much about Kentucky when you think American Revolution because it was just a territory at the time, not a potential state. 

However, the characters seemed flat, and somewhat one dimensional and the religious aspect seemed somewhat forced to me.

The hero of the story, the controversial Red-Shirt is everything a young woman drools for. Strong, sensitive to a fault, loving, tender and yet very, very masculine. Those are fun characters to come across when you want fluff and that's exactly what this is. Fluff.   

So if interested in some nice summer reading where you don't have to think too much and want the "warm-fuzzies" this would most definitely be the book to turn to.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

YA Wednesday- First Test

First Test
by: Tamora Pierce

Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars

For ten years Tortall has allowed for girls to come forward to train to be a knight but Keladry of Mindelan otherwise called Kel is the first to step forward. With almost everyone set against her, from the training master to the other boys training with her, she must face down bullies, magical creatures and training masters to prove to Tortall that it is possible for a girl to keep up with the boys.

I am a sucker for a strong female character, and if there is one thing that Tamora Pierce has nailed it is this one. She isn't a shadow of Alana from the previous Tortall series, she is her own independent and believable creation. Kel has a fierce determination to fight injustice in all forms and this is what lends this little 11-year-old (goodness I have been reading a lot about those haven't I?) a wisdom which can reach to older ages. 

I would definitely recommend this to a younger crowd, somewhere between 13 and 16, at least for a first read. I came across this when I was in middle school and have reread the whole series a few times since then. All of the characters she creates have a nice depth and consistency with what I see in the world around me. My favorite of this series is Squire which is the third installment but as a whole the series is one of my favorite's of Pierce's.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Classic Tuesday

Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Genre: YA, Classic, Coming-of-age
Rating: 3.5 Stars

A story set in the 1860's onward that tells the story of the growing up of the March family. With four daughters as different as can be various adventures can't possibly be avoided.

Alcott as a person is a more complex character than her novels lead you to believe. The daughter of a transcendentalist (the American version of the British Romantic movement) her writings were greatly influenced by the need of morality in a country that seemed to be losing it. This is the most memorable and read of her novels though it isn't my favorite. 

It is just one step short of being a morality novel and the author preaches so much that you want to shut the book. Yes the story lines of the girls lives have a few scenes worth reading between the sermons but they are so few and far between that it is very difficult to get through. The one character who seems to have a shot at breaking the mold and being fiery in spirit of course is Jo. By the end of the story however she is just as humble and as much of a homebody as all the other daughters. 

This is a classic I know, but I wonder if it's fond memories in modern day readers stem from the multiple movies rather than the one book.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Mystery for Monday

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Alan Bradley

Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4 stars

I don't have as much experience with mystery novels compared to everything else but I was pleased with this find. To tell the truth it was the cover that really piqued my interest. I love books that have the cover printed on the the book itself rather than on a paper sleeve and when this one came to the bookshelves I instantly fell in love with it for that reason.

Summary from Goodreads:

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

The fact that an eleven year old girl is able to keep an adult audience entranced for the duration of a novel speaks volumes on her character. Flavia is a no-nonsense kind of girl with a passion for chemistry that is borderline mania. She has the tenacity and curiosity that is often found in younger people which is greatly to ones advantage when there are mysteries to be solved and murderers to catch. She speaks with a wit and directness that is refreshing and entertaining. In one moment you forget that she isn't adult and in the next we hear of her sibling battles and you are reminded that it is in fact a little girl who is solving this. 

As I earlier stated, mysteries aren't exactly on my reading radar, but Bradley's writing is wonderful and I have fallen in love with it. I most definitely be reading the next two that he has out and will continue to follow this new author.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book to Movie: The Help

The Help
By Katheryn Stockett

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars

I really have no idea where to begin on this one. It has been put on my "desert island list" and it's one that I have recommended to almost every one of my friends.

Summary found on Goodreads:
The Help details the lives of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi, right when the Civil Rights Movement began. There is Skeeter, a twenty-two-year-old aspiring writer who terribly misses her maid, Constantine. Aibileen is an experienced and knowledgeable black maid who is currently taking care of her seventeenth child, Mae Mobley, even though she realizes what's at stake for both of them. And Minny is a fierce, sassy cook who doesn't take nonsense from anyone, even when it risks her employment. This tumultuous trio takes the first step in sparking a movement that will ignite fire to the racism and hypocrisy of their small town.

There is a depth found in this novel that is hard to achieve. It still has the entertainment value that can occasionally have you laughing and yet is balanced by a parts that can break your heart. I fell in love with Abileen, Skeeter and Minny all in different ways. Abileen is the voice of reason -  the loving mentor who you can go to for anything. Skeeter is the plucky, slightly awkward young woman who comes into her own. And Minny? She takes the cake...or pie in this instance. Part of me thinks that she is the person we all want to be at some point in our lives, willing to tell everyone what we think of them be it good bad or ugly.

I have read about the 60's and segregation before but generally in a more inflammatory sense. Stockett though, while it's obvious where her sympathy lies, I felt that it wasn't told to rile readers up but rather to simply educate and entertain. It's a tricky balance to tell a story on this subject without sounding accusatory or didactic yet it was beautifully done. 

The writing style is something I fell in love with as well. Writing in accents, especially the ones required for this period can often be overdone and seem more like caricature rather than character. It was handled masterfully and contributed greatly to both the overall tone of the work and the plot as well. 


Keturah By: Lisa Tawn Bergren Genre: Christian Historical Romance Rating: 3.5 stars Summary:  In 1772 England, Lady Keturah Banning Tom...