Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-up...

Even though studying for my grad school comprehensive exam and beginning my new job seemed to take over my life for the past six weeks, I did manage to complete my Spring Reading Thing 2011 list.  It helped to have a long car trip to Disney World where I finished three of my five choices.  I am, however, wayyyyyyy behind in my 100 Word Book Reviews, but plan to catch up on those soon.  Here's my wrap-up:

Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano
Liked it.  Didn't love it.  For some reason, this one took me forever to read.  Interesting and well written. 

After the Leaves Fall by Nicole Baart
Liked it.  Didn't love it.  I do think Baart is a good storyteller and I did appreciate the issues addressed in this story.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
Liked it.  Didn't love it.  Things just became too coincidental and predictable for me. 

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

Absolutely LOVED it!  What a special book!  My daughter and I both read it and it's on her summer reading list for 6th grade.  I can see why this book is getting lots of praise and awards.  Well deserved.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Really liked it.  A good mystery with southern flair.  Too much bad language for my liking, but not gratuitous.  A great story about choices, assumptions, and friendships. 

Thanks again to Katrina at Callapidder Days for hosting this reading challenge.  I'll be back for Fall Into Reading 2011.  Happy summer reading!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Reading Thing 2011

It's time for the annual Spring Reading Thing over at Callapidderdays.  From March 20th until June 20th, I hope to read the books I'll list below.  I'm being cautious because I work full time, my daughter plays spring softball about 100 times a week, and I'm in graduate school. 
If only I didn't need sleep..... 

This is a no pressure, self-paced, pick-your-own-books challenge.  I really enjoyed the 2010 reading challenges and I'm ready to dive into this one.  I just wish I could dive into the deep end, but priorities, priorities. 

Here's what I hope to tackle this spring:

Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano
(I do love historical fiction.) Review
In Elizabeth Street, Laurie Fabiano tells a remarkable, and previously unheard, story of the Italian immigrant experience at the start of the twentieth century. Culled from her own family history, Fabiano paints an entrancing portrait of Giovanna Costa, who, reeling from personal tragedies, tries to make a new life in a new world. Shot through with the smells and sights of Scilla, Italy, and New York’s burgeoning Little Italy, this intoxicating story follows Giovanna as she finds companionship, celebrates the birth of a baby girl, takes pride in a growing business, and feels a sense of belonging on a family outing to Coney Island.  However, these modest successes are rewarded with the attention of the notorious Black Hand, a gang of brutal extortionists led by Lupo the Wolf. As the stakes grow higher and higher, readers share with Giovanna her desperate struggle to remain outside the fray, and then to fight for—and finally to save—that which is important above all other: family.

After the Leaves Fall by Nicole Baart
(A freebie on Kindle a while back.)
From Publishers Weekly
In her promising debut novel, Baart writes compellingly about a young girl's struggle with loss, love, identity and faith. Julia Bakker knows what loss is. Her mother abandoned her, her beloved father died, and her childhood love has gone to college and found another. As a teen, she lives with her saintly grandmother, who urges her to go to church camp, but Julia finds only quick answers and thrilling conversions there. Disillusioned, Julia decides it is up to her, not anyone else-even some impossible, far-flung God-to reinvent herself. The truth was, I didn't know who I was, and I was afraid of being defined by who I wasn't. By what I didn't have.... By remembering with predictable, cyclic accuracy all I had lost. After chronicling her early years, the story follows Julia as she enrolls in college to study engineering and become someone who is too smart to attach, too independent to want to, and so secure as to be untouchable. Soon, Julia is repeating her mother's mistakes. The love of her rock-solid Christian grandmother and a newfound (and not completely well-explained) reliance on God help fortify her for the difficult path ahead. Sparkling prose makes this new novel a welcome addition to inspirational fiction.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
(I keep seeing this on must-read-lists.)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Gudenkauf's scintillating second suspense novel (after The Weight of Silence) opens with the release of 21-year-old Allison Glenn from prison, where she has served five years for an unspecified but particularly horrible crime. Allison is reluctant to enter a halfway house in her hometown of Linden Falls, Iowa, where "even a heroin-addicted prostitute arrested for armed robbery and murder would get more compassion than I ever will." Allison, her family's former golden girl, secures a job at a local bookstore, but her efforts to resume some sort of normal life are undermined by her well-to-do parents' indifference, her sister's hatred, and the stigma of her conviction. Meanwhile, one little boy holds the key to the tragedy that led to Allison's imprisonment. The author slowly and expertly reveals the truth in a tale so chillingly real, it could have come from the latest headlines.

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
(I plan to read this at the same time my eleven-year-old daughter does.)
From Booklist
Ten-year-old Caitlyn hates recess, with all its noise and chaos, and her kind, patient counselor, Mrs. Brook, helps her to understand the reasons behind her discomfort, while offering advice about how to cope with her Asberger’s Syndrome, make friends, and deal with her grief over her older brother’s death in a recent school shooting. She eschews group projects in class, claiming that she doesn’t need to learn how to get along with others, but solitude is neither good for her or her grieving father, and when Caitlyn hears the term closure, she turns to her one trusty friend, her dictionary, and sets out on a mission to find it for both of them. Along the way, Caitlyn makes many missteps, but eventually she does achieve the long-sought closure with great finesse, which is another of her favorite vocabulary words. Allusions to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the portrayal of a whole community’s healing process, and the sharp insights into Caitlyn’s behavior enhance this fine addition to the recent group of books with narrators with autism and Asbergers.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
(There's nothing like a good, Southern, crime novel to head into summer.) Review
Edgar Award-winning author Tom Franklin returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.
More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

100 Word Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I cannot recall how or when I ended up with this book.  Well, since it is on my Kindle, I obviously purchased it at some point (probably when my Kindle was new and it was oh-so-fun to download's actually still really fun to download books...way too fun).  I'm sure suggested it to me based on my buying history, which is why I'm a bit confused:  this book is like nothing I've read in a long while.  Too long a while.  So, once again, knows me better than I know myself.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is a rare find.  I found it completely delightful and entertaining.  I didn't think books like this were written anymore!  I'm so glad Alan Bradley, as a new novelist at seventy years of age, decided to write it.  I'm also delighted that there are two other books in the Flavia de Luce series.  I will definitely read them soon.  By the way, one of the best things about this book is Bradley's mastery of the English language.  I must have used my Kindle dictionary thirty times throughout this book, so get your Webster's ready if you don't have an e-reader with a built in dictionary.  It made me long for Americans to speak like the characters in this book...with a British accent, of course.  This old-fashioned murder mystery is wonderful and would make a great book club read.  Be sure to pick it up (or load it down). 
Here's my 100 word review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

A sleepy English village...
An eleven-year-old sleuth, obsessed with chemistry...particularly poisons...

A reclusive, widowed father...lonely and haunted...
A loyal jack-of-all-trades...

A dead bird...a one-of-a-kind stamp...a blackmail attempt...a body in the cucumber patch...and a bicycle named Gladys...

Flavia de Luce is precocious, fearless, intelligent, independent, and just a bit mean-spirited. 
Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and Nancy Drew rolled into one.

A throwback mystery without gore, over-the-top violence, sex, and rough language.
The humor is palpable...and very British.

Absolutely refreshing and completely charming.



Saturday, February 19, 2011

100 Word Review: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a middle-grade (5th-8th) novel set in New York City in the late 1970s (ahhhhh....those were the days).  This novel may be aimed at middle-grade readers, but adults will love it.  It is as much mystery as it is science fiction, but it really doesn't matter what genre you want to assign it:  it's just plain great.  I have told my eleven year old daughter that she will be reading this book soon...right after she reads A Wrinkle in Time (my first and favorite sci-fi novel).  No, you don't have to have read Wrinkle to enjoy this book, but if you have read Wrinkle, When You Reach Me is even more enjoyable.  It makes me want to read Wrinkle 1979.  I also think they should bring back the $20,000 Pyramid.  I loved that show. 

Here's my 100 word review of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

A 6th grade "latch-key kid"...
She's read A Wrinkle in Time dozens of times...
Her mom is going to be a contestant on $20,000 Pyramid...
Her best friend doesn't want to be friends anymore...

Now she has to pass by the crazy laughing man alone on her walk to and from school...
And, someone has been leaving hidden futuristic notes for her...


Richly drawn characters...Beautifully woven story...Age-accurate voices...

Is time travel possible?
I, as the reader, was transported back to 1979, so I guess it is.

Well deserved Newberry winner.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

100 Word Review: Those Who Save Us

This is certainly not your typical WWII book.  I really didn't know what I was getting into, but this is a real page turner.  I had seen Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum on numerous book club lists and "best of" lists and decided to give it a try.  Little did I know:  this is one of those books that changes the reader.  Blum makes you ask, "What would I have done?" many times throughout this heartwrenching story.  How many millions of women were in the shoes of Anna during WWII?  Their stories are mostly lost now, but Jenna Blum has managed to give many of them a voice.  I don't think I could recommend this book to just anyone, although I think just about anyone would benefit from reading it.  The portrayal of the brutality of the Nazis is hard to swallow and very graphic in parts.  But, it's the truth and so much of this book is about trying to find the truth...even if it's horrific.  No matter how many times I read an account of the Holocaust, it never gets easier to know what man can do, and has done, to man.  I wish I believed that stories like this would someday not need to be told.  But, as George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  We must never allow that to happen, so I, for one, will keep reading stories like this one.

Here's my 100 word review of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

A new perspective on the Holocaust through the fear-filled eyes of German citizens.

Powerful storytelling of Nazi brutality and a mother's sacrifice of everthing she has to save her daughter.

Devastating emotional choices with generational consequences.


An existence centered on desperation...degradation...humiliation...manipulation...
A mother's protect her daughter and attempt to forget the past.
A daughter's search for the truth.
When no one will tell us the truth, our mind will fill in the blanks for us. 
The actual truth could be easier to bear than the truth we create. 


Friday, February 4, 2011

100 Word Review: These is My Words

Why did I not know about this book before now?  How did I miss this little jewel for so long?  I love historical fiction, so you think I would have had this on my TBR list a long time ago.  It was published in 1998 (which only seems like a couple of years ago to me), but I had never heard of it until suggested it for me recently.  Thank you, Amazon!  You were right again!  This is a wonderful book for many reasons, but mostly because of the clear and empowering voice of Sarah, the "narrator".  I will definitely read the next two books in the series.  Hopefully my short review will convince you to pick up These is My Words by Nancy Turner.  I'll guarantee you won't want to put it down once the story gets rolling along (in a covered wagon, of course).
Here's my 100 word review of These is My Words

A 19th century tale of the frontier, the importance of family, genuine love, and heartwrenching loss.
An emotional twenty year journey told through Sarah's journal entries.

Colorful, unforgettable characters...
An enduring love story...


Through Sarah, author Nancy Turner wraps words around the real emotions surrounding marriage, motherhood, family, and friendship that sear into readers.

A wonderful emphasis on the importance of, and desire for, education.

This story made me smile, gasp, and literally sob; but mostly, it warmed my heart and made me remember to appreciate each day.

An absolute treasure.



Monday, January 31, 2011

100 Word Review: Unbroken

This is one of those books you can't help but tell people about.  I mean anyone...your dental hygienist...your bank teller...the guy in line behind you at Walmart.  Several people told me about it, so I moved it to the top of my to-be-read list.  I'm sooooo glad I did.  Unbroken is an incredible true story told beautifully by Laura Hillenbrand (of Seabiscuit fame).  I can't believe no one beat her to it!  How could this story have gone untold for so long?  Move this book immediately to the top of your stack.  You won't be able to put it down and you'll talk about it with everyone who will listen (and even those who won't).  It will become one of your goals in life to convince as many people as possible to read this book.  As far as my 100 word review goes, this is the toughest one I've done.  I could write hundreds of words about this book, so I really had to work hard to trim it down.  Bottom it!

Here's my 100 word review of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.


Man versus Nature...
Man versus Man...
Man versus Himself...

Ravenous men with broken bodies and unbroken spirits; desperately clinging to any shred of hope.

A lesson in courage...resourcefulness...honor...dignity...and the unequivocal power of forgiveness.

If this were a work of fiction, it would be criticized as too unbelievable a story.

These men are a part of what is called America's "Greatest Generation". 
They're cut from a different cloth.

Louis Zamperini and the others are true heroes. 
I thank Laura Hillenbrand for telling their story. 
I've been blessed by it.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

100 Word Review: Juliet

After finishing Sworn to Silence last month, I was looking for a much "lighter" read to start the new year.  I certainly found it in Anne Fortier's Juliet.  If you are a Shakespeare fan, then this is the book for you...or maybe not.  Anne Fortier holds a doctorate in history, so there are lots of very interesting factual tie-ins with Romeo and Juliet.  In fact, the premise of this story is a young woman searching for her connection to the real Juliet.  I guess you could call it a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but it misses the mark so often, I don't want to align it with the play too much.  It did make me want to reread Shakespeare's classic....someday. 

Here's my 100 word review of Juliet by Anne Fortier.

Two feuding families...
The Bard and his "timeless" play...
A love destined by hundreds of years of ancestry...

Rich Italian history...
A 14th century mystery...

Crumbling Italian ruins...
What impossible treasures do they hide?

Fortier combined a classic love story with a modern day "DaVinci Code" type plot.
The love gets completely lost in the overly complicated and confusing mystery.

At times, the book is really entertaining, but it dragged in several parts. 
The long list of characters were not well developed and often seemed shallow and silly.

It did make me want to go to Italy, but who doesn't?