Tuesday, August 24, 2010

They Almost Always Come Home - Cynthia Ruchti

As far as a random find, pulled off the shelf at our local public library, this book kept me interested and at times was very hard to put down. This book brings up challenging themes, such as controversy on divorce and the difficulties of an unhappy marriage.

Taking a very unique round-about path, this book starts off with a woman who is unhappy with her marriage, which has fallen apart after the death of their daughter, and has reached a point where she is considering leaving her husband. Then, her husband goes off on canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness and fails to return home as planned. Amid doubts that that he has simply left her before she could leave him, eventually evidence, like his stolen car, begins to mount that this was not the case.

Crafting a soul-searching, personal, and often mysterious novel, Ruchti does a great job making believable characters. Our main character, Libby, gets incredible support from her best friends and father-in-law, and all three decide to embark on a wilderness search to try and find her missing husband, Greg, as they feel the help they're getting from law enforcement is not enough. Comic relief is close by as two city girls attempt to co-exist in nature alongside a gruff-outdoor man with an enlarged prostate:)

These characters are extremely truthful both in thought and outward action as we come along side them on their journey. Ruchti does a wonderful job portraying the weakness and strengths which co-exist in all of us and shape who we are. I highly recommend this for a rainy-day book. It's an easy read which kept me engaged throughout and guessing up to the very end.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Devil's Arithmetic - Jane Yolen

This book is a longtime favorite of mine, which is worthy of a thorough re-read every few years or so. This story is magically crafted with incredible characters and a tasteful way of dealing with one of the darkest time in history: The Holocaust.

Through the portrayal of an easy-to-relate-to main character in Hannah/Chaya and a bit of "time travel", a personal experience of the horrors of the holocaust is brought to life. Yolen does an incredible job of introducing a very adult topic to a young audience. While she doesn't shy away from the violence and unspeakable situations of the concentration camps, the events are tastefully written and provide an age-appropriate challenge for kids to begin confronting some of the darker sides of human nature. Yet keep in mind that there is level of violence portrayed which must be considered appropriate on an individual basis, depending on the age and maturity of the child. I would not recommend this for most kids who are younger than 5th or 6th grade, though some younger kids may be ready to handle this content.

I highly recommend this book, for a teenager or adult. It is a wonderful choice for a classroom book to introduce the history of WWII and the holocaust or simply a easy read to begin a conversation with your child about an all-to-difficult-to-comprehend event in history.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coming Soon...

My next upcoming books will be....

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Unwilling Warrior by Andrea Boeshaar

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Sisters - Judy Blume

This book first caught my eye due to my surprise regarding the author. I loved reading Judy Blume books as a kid. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, & Just As Long As We're Together are a few which come to mind. Yet now, Blume has decided to branch out into the realm of adult literature.

In this book, Blume wrote delightful characters who became real so fast, they could practically walk off the page. The story follows Victoria Leonard and her friend Caitlin Somers, and delves into the friendship these two girls develop during shared summers on Martha's Vineyard, where Victoria is honored to be a guest to the Somer's Family.

The girls each come from substantially different family backgrounds and have very opposite personalities, and yet they find common ground through their shared experiences. Their friendship is realistic, with angry words, petty fights, boy troubles, betrayals, and other all-too-common aspects of friendships between teenage girls.

This book also follows the girls through the ups and downs even beyond high school, delightfully spinning the story of their disconnection during college and while Caitlin travels the world, and yet always shining through is the constant friendship which never seems to change. Yet the girls do change. They make different choices in life, follow different paths, which lead them apart for a while before eventually bringing them back together.

As a whole, I enjoyed this book. Blume jumps into an adult focus (definitely not for kids here!), weaving beautiful characters and unexpected twists, this is a fast and enjoyable read. I recommend it for a day at the beach or curling up on a rainy day!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Everything Give Thanks - Terry Barnes

This was a book I came across at the library, tucked unobtrusively between two bright fancy looking books. Comparatively, this novel drew me in little on first appearance, with muted colors and a simple pair of shoes on the cover. But the back intrigued me, and I decided to give it a shot.

This book is told from the teenage perspective of Matthew Collins, who is a high school cross-country runner in the early 1960's. He was raised Christian, and for a time, felt that going into preaching was his calling. Yet his feelings change dramatically after the death of his father, which shakes both his dedication to his running as well as his feelings for God.

To make matters worse, a new family moves in next door, and their son, Wade, is determined to make Matt his best friend. Wade has cerebral-palsy and the time Matt is forced to spend with him makes him the butt of many jokes from the people he once called friends.

Wade's character is delightfully written, complete with a stutter, an obsession with the Civil War general he was named for, and a knack for getting into trouble with school bullies. Through the reluctant friendship which develops between the boys over the school year, Matt begins to learn that while God may allow tragedy, He will never leave us alone.

This book is truthfully written, with no hiding from the harshness of how judgmental and mean kids can be towards each other. It also really deals well with the challenge the evils of the world really do pose for believers in God, the difficulty of justifying a loving God with tragedy and pain here on earth.

Overall, this was a good read. I really appreciated the truthfulness of the characters and the realness of the lives shaped and reshaped through out the novel. I'd recommend this for a quick summer read. It's not exactly a light read, but the characters are delightful and deal with a lot of real-life issues head on.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I opened this book with a bit of an expectation already, and not the best of one. I recently read a book written entirely in letters, and it was one of the only books I have ever not finished. As such, starting this book off was a bit of a challenge, since this novel, too, is a series of letters. Yet I did my best to put aside these preconceived ideas and view this book from a clean slate. It was not hard to do. Within the first few pages, I was already falling in love with the characters of Juliet, Sophie, and Sidney.

This book starts off in 1946, just as Europe is beginning to emerge from the shadows of the Second World War. The main character, Juliet Ashton, is an author who is searching for a topic for a new book. An unexpected letter from a complete stranger who lives on the island of Guernsey, a British Island located in the English Channel, is about to change her life. Through his letter, and the letters of the other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet gets far more than an idea for her next book.

 Now, just as a forewarning, from this point on, consider this a spoiler alert. I want this blog to be more than just a simple review blog. I want it to be a place to discuss favorite quotes, characters, and hopefully gain insight from others who have also read this book.

Though I started feeling hesitant, I really came to love the letters in this novel. By using letters as the format to tell this story, it was able to bring a more personal feeling to the relationships being formed hundreds of miles apart. Anyone who had a childhood pen pal can probably identify with this, but I know I eagerly awaited letters from my pen pals. Though we had only met once (and in some cases, not at all), after only a few letters, I felt as close to my pen pals as I did to friends from school or sports. Especially now, in the world of text messages, e-mails, and IM, the charm of an actual handwritten letter, sent by snail mail, only adds to the intrigue of this book.

Early on, I identified strongest with the character of Juliet. In her first letter to Dawsey, Juliet shared a statement about reading which caught my attention. She wrote that "one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny think will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's...all with no end in sight and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment" (pg.11). At this moment, Juliet became a dear friend, as this statement describes me perfectly! I also loved the fact that Juliet decided not to marry Rob simply because he packed up her books and moved them into the basement! It made me laugh out loud! And yes, I think she had her priorities straight - I know I'd do the same thing (ok...maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but the "right" guy would know better than to make this kind of mistake!).

Later on, I found  myself having more and more in common with Dawsey's character, as I grew to know him through his letter, his quiet steadiness, and his unassuming way of being the heart of the Literary Society. I could easily see myself curling up with a good book in the hay loft for hours on end as he once did!

As far as the other delightful characters in this story go, there are a few I'd like to mention. Markham V. Reynolds intrigued me early on with his mysterious gifts of flowers for Juliet. He always seemed to have an agenda, though, something he wanted to get from every action he took. He soon became a character I had no time for, as his need to control everything and his dominating manner quickly got on my nerves. Needless to say, I nearly cheered aloud when Juliet finally refused Mark's proposal for good.

The humor in this book was so often slipped in so delicately that it became more of an undercurrent running throughout the entire book. One of my favorite quotes of the entire book was found in one of John Booker's letters regarding Lord Tobias, his employer. "We were all to load the boat with his silver, his paintings, his bibelots, and, if enough room, Lady Tobias, and set sail for England at once." Classic! It took me a moment to realize what a gem this sentence was, but I was soon rolling with amusement!

This leads me to another favorite character, Isola. I loved her humor, her unique mindset, and her claustrophobic bird Zenobia. She was such a loyal and non-judgmental character, which rang true especially when Sidney shared with her that he was gay (I for one was not expecting this turn - part of me was still waiting for a love triangle to emerge between Dawsey, Sidney, and Juliet!). She offered comic relief when things got too serious and a lot of entertainment with her study of head bumps. Her undercover detective work and problem solving near the end of the book capped her off wonderfully, and it was impossible not to love her!

Parts of this book really tugged at my heart strings. One aspect in particular was the letters which addressed the children from Guernsey who were evacuated to England for the duration of the war. My heart broke for these little children, sent away without fully understanding where they were going and why they had to leave the parents behind. And even more so, I felt the impossibility of the situation for the parents, who had to decide if they should send their children away and worry for five years about if they were any safer in England.

The death of Elizabeth was a heartbreaking as loosing any of the other characters I came to love through the letters shared in this book, though we never got the chance to hear from Elizabeth first hand. Yet all the others shared their memories of her so poignantly that her presence and personality was felt nonetheless. The news of her death resulted in the introduction of another character. I never felt much of a connection to Remy, but I think that the role she played in this novel was very interesting. As the Literary Society's last link to Elizabeth, it almost seemed like they felt they had no other option than to invite Remy into their homes and lives. There was an undercurrent of expectation that they needed to save Remy much like they were unable to save Elizabeth. The potential for a love interest for Dawsey was also a bit interesting, but I never doubted Dawsey's attraction to Juliet. I found it fascinating to watch the development as the characters slowly realized that they couldn't be the ones to save Remy, and as she too, realized that Guernsey was not going to provide the answers and the peace she so desperately needed to find. I would love to hear what others thought about Remy's character and the role she played in the lives for the Literary Society members.

One aspect of this novel which I found most interesting was with regards to the role of Peter, the man in the wheelchair who was arrested with Elizabeth for sheltering the young Todt worker. I found it unique that the Germans ended up releasing him from prison because they didn't know what to do with a prisoner in a wheelchair. This seemed to contradict much of what the Germans did all across Europe during WWII. The weak and disabled were often the first to be "disposed" of, not give preferential treatment. What thoughts did any others who have read this book have with regards to this situation?

Overall, this book was an enjoyment to read. It was one of the best books I have read in a while. As I turned the last page, I was so sad to be done. I will miss spending time watching Kit grow up, learning about life on the island of Guernsey, and most of all, sharing my love for literature with a group of people who found solace in books during a horrific time in history.


PS: I can't promise I'll always write this much in a review (in fact, I know I won't always have this much time!) so expect shorter review and discussion to come with future books....

Possible upcoming books
- The Devil's Arithmetic - Jane Yolen
- Summer Sisters - Judy Blume
- In Everything Give Thanks - Terry Barns
- The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir - Kao Kalia Yang (This author is coming to the Brookdale, MN library on July 20th!)
- The Sweet By and By - Todd Johnson
- The Help - Kathryn Stockett
- The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo - Stieg Larsson
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Beginning...

For anyone who knows my sister, she's an avid blogger, and has long been after me to join the club. Her blogs, Finding Joy in My Kitchen and Our Changing Reflection, are a lot to aspire to. Her details and dedication are incredible, and I love having another way to keep up with what's going on in her life. I love to write, so it shouldn't be a problem for me, but thus far, I've never really found anything I felt strongly enough about to put the time and energy into consistently writing. But this summer, I decided on the perfect topic.

There is one thing I have never had trouble spending time on - reading or talking about books, of which I can never get enough. As a kid, I wasn't ever grounded from the TV...but being grounded from books was often necessary to force me to clean my room or set the table. I was the kid who snuck flashlights into bed in order to read under the covers, or went to the library to get a book or two and came home with ten instead (and yes...I would read them all!!)

This summer, after graduating from college, my former roommates and I decided that we were going to commit to meeting weekly, and along the way, we decided that once a month, our meeting would be used to discuss a book - our very own literary society.

As a fitting choice, KT suggested our first book be The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.

In my next post, I will share a number of aspects of this novel which we discussed at our first meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and getting to know the delightful characters. I would love to hear from others who have read this book, or hope to encourage others to give this one a try!

- L