Friday, September 30, 2011

September in Review

Well ladies and gents, somehow this is the last day in September, so I thought we would take a look at what we've been doing here on Literary Lindsey this month.

Books Reviewed: Ten

Books Reviewed with David: Three

Favorite Book of September: Pigeon English

What was your favorite book this month?

Review: State of Wonder

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett
Harper June 2011

Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher awaiting the return of her lab partner and friend Anders Eckman. He has gone to retrieve the reclusive, but brilliant, Dr. Annick Swenson who is creating a miracle fertility drug in the Amazon. When Marina receives a letter telling her that Anders is dead, she is devastated. She goes to break the news to Ander’s widow Karen, accompanied by Mr. Fox, the company’s president and her secret lover. Karen confides in Marina that she believes her husband is still alive. When Mr. Fox asks her to go and complete Ander’s mission to find Dr. Swenson and report on her progress, Marina agrees to go, if only to find out what really happened to her friend and give closure to his grieving widow.

A brief aside - I love Ann Patchett. She is one of my favorite authors…ever. I have read all of her fiction and was extremely excited when I learned that another book would be published this year. That being said, this was not my favorite of hers. While I enjoyed it, I couldn’t shake this feeling of distance from the characters and the action.

Ms. Patchett is a genius at the casual twist of story. You think you know what is happening and where the plot is going, but then a character happens to reveal that nothing is as you thought. Her characters are immensely rich – relatable, but unique and interesting. Patchett’s writing, as always, is lyrical. Her stories? I firmly believe that you could give Ann Patchett any setting and any character and she could write something beautiful.

There is a lot of battle here between the changing beliefs and ethics of the researchers in their search to find a drug that will allow women to have children well past the usual age of menopause. Marina and the reader find themselves reevaluating beliefs. What does Marina owe to the pharmaceutical company that she works for? What do they owe to the Lakashi people they are working among?

There is an aura of magic that follows Marina through the Amazon. To go from the sterile lab of her company in the snowbound state of Minnesota to the lush jungles with ritualistic cultures gives a sort of otherworldly feel to the novel.

In comparison with books at large, this is a great read – the characters are engaging, and the story will keep you flipping pages late into the night. But in comparison with other Patchett novels, it’s not the strongest. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Books Week: Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson
Harper Collins 1977

We need a place," she said, "just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it…It might be a whole secret country,’ she continued, "and you and I would be the rulers of it."
Her words stirred inside of him. He’d like to be a ruler of something. Even something that wasn't real.

Jesse Aarons knows that this is going to be the year – the year when he is the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He has been practicing all summer and is shocked when he loses to Leslie, the girl who has just moved in next door. She is different from the other kids that he knows. Leslie has read books like Hamlet, but there is no TV in their house. Her parents are wealthy writers who allow her to call them by their first names.

Despite her eccentricities, Jesse is drawn to her and the two become best friends. They travel into the woods behind Leslie’s home and create an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia. In the magical land, Jesse and Leslie reign as king and queen and learn to fight monsters both real and imaginary.

This is my second time reading this book. The first was in elementary school when I was a nerd girl trying to win the school reading program. You picked a book from the list provided, read it, and then took a quiz on the book. I remember reading this book and enjoying it, but being very annoyed by the computer teacher who insisted on asking me, “Did you cry? Did you cry?” the whole time I was trying to take the test. Sigh…the trials and tribulations of elementary school.

As I read the book this time around, I loved it all over again. I am reminded that Katherine Paterson wrote other books I loved in elementary school such as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Jacob Have I Loved. Paterson really captures childhood on the brink of adolescence. She writes insightfully about not understanding your parents or being understood by them, being frustrated by your siblings one day and their best friend the next, and the single minded devotion children give to things like drawing, running, and playing make believe. Bridge to Terabithia is a really beautiful book that captures the joy and the pain of childhood. 

So what's the big deal?
This book has been banned in several states, based on two issues. The author herself explains, "Initially, it was challenged because it deals with a boy who lives in rural Virginia, and he uses the word 'Lord' a lot, and it's not in prayer. Then there are more complicated reasons. The children build an imaginary kingdom, and there was the feeling that I was promoting the religion of secular humanism, and then New Age religion." 

I have to admit that in both readings, I can't remember instances of cursing. I'm sure they are there, but they don't stand out to me as offensive - they just appear as the way a boy or his father would talk. I find the religious component a reach as well. It is true that Leslie does not attend church at all, and Jess and his family only go on Easter. It is true that Leslie and Jess pray to the spirits of Terabithia. I don't find this offensive to my Christian beliefs, and I have to imagine that it does not threaten the beliefs of any Christian, Jewish, or Muslim reader. This is just an instance of children playing - children exploring what they believe and where they fall in the balance between maker and made, king and subject. 

Banned book sources here and here

Thank you to Sheila at Book Journey for scheduling and collecting all of the review for Banned Book Week. Be sure to check in with her for all of the reviews this week and to get all of the clues!! You will need all of them to enter the giveaway on Saturday.

The clue for today is:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: I Will Carry You

I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy
By Angie Smith
B & H Books May 2010


Angie and Todd Smith were thrilled to discover they were expecting their third daughter. At an eighteen week ultrasound, they were devastated when their doctor told them that their baby was ‘incompatible with life.’ Her kidneys were not functioning, her heart was enlarged, and there was no amniotic fluid present. She did not appear to have a bladder, a stomach, or chambers separating her heart. Angie’s doctor advised that they terminate the pregnancy. If the baby lived to full term, she would likely only survive a few moments outside of her mother’s body.

Angie and Todd decided to give their daughter as much of a chance as she could have. “She was our daughter and we would fight for her.” They named their daughter Audrey. They decided to do everything possible with their third baby – they went to Disneyland, they spent time as a family, and Angie talked to her daughter and let her know that she was loved. This is the story of Audrey’s life, her death, and the journey that family took together.

To read this book, you are going to need tissues – lots and lots of tissues. I first heard Angie speak at the Women of Faith Conference in Philadelphia. I cried then and I cried several times reading this book – not polite tears streaming down my face, but torrents of water accompanied by sniffles.

Angie Smith is a beautiful writer and a brave human being. She returns to the darkest moments of her life so that she can share her grief and insight with her readers. This book is raw and honest. This writer is unafraid to admit that she does not have all of the answers, only trust in the one who does.

“The two of us have covered so much ground in this sacred dance we call pregnancy. I feel bonded to her in a way I never did with my others because I know this is all I have. And yet there is so much I can never give her.
I want her to know that I was funny.
That I would have come at three in the morning if she got scared and needed a ride.
That I would have loved to have heard the sound of her children floating through my house as I got older.
I wanted to try and fit a lifetime of love into a few short months, and as we approach the end of the road, it occurs to me that there isn’t enough time to tell her everything. And so now I have to trust a different side of God the Father. Will you tell her all about me and what I would have been to her? Will you show her glimpses of how we would have lived life together?”

Throughout the book, Angie parallels her journey with the biblical story of Mary and Martha. She begins to truly understand their story when they send for Jesus – “Lord, the one you love is sick.” The sisters knew that Jesus knew their brother, loved him, and could heal him. Likewise, Angie knew that Jesus already knew and loved her baby and she called out for Him to heal her daughter.

This is a beautiful book for someone who has lost a loved one, for parents, for those going through tough times. It’s really a book for everyone because dark days are a reality for us all –each of us have moments of doubt and grief. The story of baby Audrey and the ways in which she touched the hearts of her family and those around them will resonate with readers in a very profound way. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Monday, let's talk books

It's Monday - time for us to talk about the books we have read in the past week and the books we are looking forward to reading.  Thanks to Sheila at Book Journey for getting us off to a good start each week! 

This past week, I read:
A Good Hard Look
By Ann Napolitano

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson
(I read this one for Banned Book Week - check back here on Wednesday for my review and some fun stuff!)

This week, I posted:

Coming up this week on my to-be-read shelf:

Far To Go
By Alison Pick

Brave New World
By Aldous Huxley

Check back later in the week for reviews of I Will Carry You by Angie Smith and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett! And make sure you don't miss the banned book celebration here on Wednesday!

What are you reading this week?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry (my first audiobook!)

Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffeneger
Scribner September 2009

Thoughts on Audiobooks: This was my first audiobook! I really like the physical book in my hands, which is why you will not find me reading on a Nook, an IPad or any of its friends. That being said, I realized with a 45 minute commute, I was losing a significant amount of reading time. I initially was going to listen to this in the car, until I realized that I had no idea what was going to happen next and therefore, no idea what my 3 ½ year old was going to hear. So now we listen to audiobooks for him (Winnie the Pooh!) and I listened to this on my IPod as I cleaned or did other work.

Once I figured out how to make audiobooks work for me, I decided I liked the idea of listening to an my book. I have picked up a second, but I found that the transition from one to the next was harder than the transition I feel from one physical book to another. Maybe this is because there is no physical act of completion, no closing of the back cover. My only other complaint is not having the ability to stop and write down a favorite passage. These things aside, I am an audiobook convert.

Book Review: Valentina and Julia are twenty year old American twins whose lives revolve mostly around each other. They are shocked to learn that their estranged aunt, Elspeth Noblin, has left them her flat in London upon her death. According to her will, the girls must move to London by themselves and live together in the building next to Highgate Cemetery. Their parents are not allowed to set foot in Elspeth’s former home. After their arrival, the girls meet two men. Robert is Elspeth’s grieving boyfriend who lives downstairs. Martin has a severe case of OCD and his wife has recently left him - he lives upstairs. And there is one more presence to deal with in the flat – Elspeth’s ghost.

I had this preconceived notion that this would be a scary story. It does have a ghost and everyone lives next to and/or works in a cemetery. Yet this book was decidedly not scary. Elspeth is confused about ending up as a ghost unable to leave her own apartment and unseen by those now living there (at least at first).

The fascinating thing about this book is the relationships. A major theme throughout the novel is what it means to be a twin. Valentina struggles to break away from Julia. The girls do not know how to function on their own. Their mother and their aunt became bitterly estranged for unknown reasons and the girls cannot fathom living without their twin. Valentina and Julia each become involved with one of the men living in the apartment building. But neither man is completely free. Martin’s wife has left him because she can’t deal with his illness. But he still loves her and dreams of the day that he can cross his own threshold and go to her. Robert has the more interesting dilemma of discovering that the woman he has loved for years is still with him, but he cannot touch her. However, her niece is alive and tangible and very much like her aunt. This section of the book where the characters have to decide where one relationship ends and  another begins is the best part of the novel.

The end of the novel seems to crumble quickly. Niffeneger makes several daring choices and they just don’t work. The ending left me unsatisfied with the fate of every character and the last few chapters felt out of sync with the rest of the book. The actual ending seemed abrupt and inconclusive. I really liked a lot of this book, but the last quarter ruined it for me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesdays with David: My Great-Aunt Arizona and Miss Dorothy

When I was seven, my Great Grandma Grace died. After she passed, I was given one of her books. The picture book had been given to her when they renamed the local elementary school after her, in honor of a lifetime of teaching and loving children. It was this book:

My Great-Aunt Arizona
By Gloria Houston
Illustrations by Susan Condie Lamb
Harper Collins 1992

This book tells the true story of Ms. Houston's great aunt who always wanted to be a teacher. She went to college, got her degree and returned to her small town to teach in the one room school house. Arizona spent fifty-seven years teaching children. 

"She taught students about words and numbers and the faraway places they would visit someday. 'Have you been there?' the students asked. 'Only in my mind,' she answered. 'But someday you will go.'"

This book was a huge part of my childhood, because my Great Grandma Grace had been a huge part of my childhood. I knew what it was like to have someone like Arizona love you, even if she wasn't your teacher in a classroom. I have cherished this book for the 19 years, not realizing that the author and illustrator had done any other work together. I was browsing the new arrivals at the library and spotted a book out of the corner of my eye. Without remembering the names of the author or illustrator, I immediately knew that they were the same and I took the book home to share with David. 

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile
By Gloria Houston
Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb
Harper Collins 2011

This is another true story, this time of Miss Dorothy who always dreamed of working in a library. When Dorothy and her husband settle in the mountains of North Carolina, there is no library. So she starts one, bringing books all over town in her green bookmobile. "...She was smiling the broad smile of a happy librarian, who enjoys nothing so much as sharing her books with her friends."

When I placed these two books on the sofa to read to David, I really wasn't sure he would sit through them. But he enjoyed both of them. The illustrations by Ms. Lamb are gorgeous paintings that place the carefree joys of childhood alongside the beauty of nature. And the stories? These beautiful true stories remind us to remember the people who inspire us - the teachers who helped us figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up or the librarian who showed us the new world that existed between two covers. These books would be a perfect gift for a special teacher or librarian in your life.

Thoughts from David regarding Miss Dorothy: “I like when she drives the bookmobile and when they made her a library. And I even like it when she gets stuck in the water.”
"Why are librarians important?" I asked him.  "Because they check out books," he replied. 
"Why is reading important?"  "Because reading teaches you things," he said."

Thoughts from David regarding Great-Aunt Arizona:  “I like when she goes to school with her brother and when she hugs the boy in her class and when she sits on the porch.”

Have a wonderful week of reading, friends! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Room

By Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown, and Company September 2010

I may be the last person on earth to read this book. If you are groaning while reading this because this is the 4,268th review of this book you have found on the blogosphere, I am very sorry. Bear with me – I promise to have some newer books and older, less popular books soon.

It’s Jack’s fifth birthday. Like many other children, his mother gives him a present and they have cake together to celebrate. Unlike other kids, Jack sleeps in a wardrobe. Jack has never been outside. Jack has only seen two people in his whole life. Jack and his mother live in Room – a storage shed in the backyard of the man who kidnapped his mother as a teenager. As Jack becomes more inquisitive, his mother decides that it is finally time to tell him the truth about their circumstances and plan a daring escape.

This book will blow your mind and break your heart. Emma Donoghue takes us into the mind of a little boy whose whole life exists in an 11 x 11 room with stunning specificity. Jack is our narrator and reading his revelations about ‘Room’ and the real existence of ‘Outside’ is stunning. “Before I didn’t even know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it. When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything.”

While it may seem difficult for an author to grasp what this experience would be like for a small child, I think Jack was the perfect choice for the narrator. His journey from ‘normal life’ in Room to understanding the bizarre nature of his situation to his (Spoiler Alert!) very difficult time acclimating to the ‘Outside’ rings very true.  After all, at its heart, this is the story of a mother’s fierce love for her child and a child’s devotion to his mom. “We know each other without looking, don’t we?”

Jack’s Ma does an extraordinary job of loving on her little boy in a strange and terrifying environment. As a mother who has endless resources at her disposal to teach and entertain my child, I was amazed at the creativity that Ma displays in using their limited supplies to help her child learn and grow. Their captor ‘Old Nick’ appears only rarely and I think this is a smart choice. There is no way to humanize a man who kidnaps a nineteen year old girl to rape her and then holds her, and their son, in a storage shed for seven years.

I don’t know that this is the kind of book that one can categorize as good. It’s often hard to read and the knowledge that Ms. Donoghue got her idea from real life events is horrifying. If like me, you somehow had not read this book yet, I urge you to pick it up as soon as you can. (If say, you’ve been on the library reserve list for a whole year, but every time your name comes up, you can’t seem to get to the library, and end up back at the end of the line….but maybe that’s just me.) This book will stay with you for a long time.

*Note - I was greatly remiss in forgetting to mention that yesterday's meme "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" was created and is sponsored by the amazing Sheila of Book Journey. I love the way that she brings book bloggers together and I am psyched to participate in her Banned Books Week coming up at the end of this month!  

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's Monday and fall is here!

Hi again, everybody!I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Ours was pretty lazy - we had a firepit last night and a picnic for lunch today. I may have just tackled my kitchen a few moments ago, since I was pretty sure the CDC was on its way over.
So here is this past week in books! Hooray!

I read:

I Will Carry You
By Angie Smith

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett
(I'm going to count this, even though I still have about 20 pages left...guilty face. I promise I will finish today!)

This week, I posted:
Reviews for Rescue and Turn of Mind 
Wednesdays with David, wherein I pontificate on books and gender (have I mentioned I like big words and I miss college?)

This upcoming week, I will be reading:

The Actor and the Housewife (audiobook)
By Shannon Hale

A Good Hard Look
By Ann Napolitano

Far To Go
By Allison Pick

Keep your eyes out for reviews of Room by Emma Donoghue and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, which are on their way this week!

What are you reading?? Let me know in the comments! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Turn of Mind

Turn of Mind
By Alice LaPlante
Atlantic Monthly Press July 2011


Dr. Jennifer White is a renowned orthopedic surgeon. She is a recent widow and the mother of two children who are now adults. She is also suffering from dementia and sometimes she remembers none of these things. Jennifer’s neighbor and best friend Amanda had been murdered and four of her fingers have been surgically removed. The police suspect Jennifer. She cannot even remember ever meeting her friend on some days; much less remember whether she was the perpetrator of this brutal crime. As her mind deteriorates and her children fight over her course of care, Jennifer tries to remember exactly what happened on the night Amanda was killed.

As soon as I heard the premise of this book, I added it to my to-be-read list. I find this concept a fascinating one and I think Ms. LaPlante did an excellent job of presenting a mind in decline. On some days, Jennifer is perfectly lucid. As the book progresses, there are days she cannot remember who she is or how to do basic tasks. The presentation of this horrible disease is really heartbreaking.

That being said, it’s hard to really connect with the character of Jennifer. She can barely remember who she is, which makes it difficult for the reader to figure it out. I was very interested in some of the other characters, namely Amanda and the detective who investigates her murder. We do not really get to know either character though, because one is dead and the other Jennifer hardly remembers from visit to visit.

The first hundred pages were hard to get into, but once I really committed to it, the book was a quick read. The premise is fascinating and the idea of a woman really having no idea whether or not she had murdered her best friend was compelling. Unfortunately, once the actual details of the murder are discovered, I was left feeling let down. The circumstances surrounding the crime just did not ring true.

It seems as if I have written a lot of negative things, but this was not a terrible book. I found the mystery plot line to be flawed, but the insight into literally losing your mind is stunning and tragic. 

Wednesdays with David: Boys and Girls and Reading

I know, I know. You all thought that today Lindsey was going to feature a cute children's book and David's cute face and that is not what you found. (I will include David's cute face at the end, though!)

I read an article a few weeks ago that I have been mulling over in my mind. I had a lengthy conversation/debate with my husband, I looked up a few related articles, and I did a little research.

Charles London wrote an article for the Huffington Post at the end of August entitled "There Are No Boy Books." You can find the article here. He writes that he is considered a writer for boys because his books, while they include one female protagonist, also have a male protagonist, guns, fart jokes and giant squid. He goes on to say that "I'm troubled by this idea of 'boy books,' because it reinforces -- and perhaps recreates -- assumptions about boys and girls and the things they should like, while giving short shrift to the real issue at the heart of literacy building: reader experience." Mr. London concludes by saying that the essence of a good book should be a good story and that we do a disservice to our children by categorizing literature as "girl books" or "boy books." 

A similar article (at least in subject matter, if not in tone) was written by Robert Lipsyte in the New York Times only a week earlier.Mr. Lipsyte argues that, because teaching, publishing and writing are now enterprises run by women, there is nothing being produced that is appealing to young male readers. He appears to make the argument that while there were both men and women authors in the past whose books appealed to both genders, there are no books being written now (with the exception of his and a few others) that boys will want to read.

I then found a blog post in response to Mr. Lipsyte's article which I found to be on-target. Saundra Mitchell, a YA Author, writes "The problem that needs to be fixed is not kick all the girls out of YA, it’s teach boys that stories featuring female protagonists or written by female authors also apply to them.Boys fall in love. Boys want to be important. Boys have hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions. What boys also have is a sexist society in which they are belittled for “liking girl stuff.” Male is neutral, female is specific."

I am under no illusions that this is an issue with a simple solution, or even a simple argument. However, as a mother of a little boy and someone who reads perhaps more books than the average person on the street, I find this to ring true.When I signed my son up for a giveaway featuring the popular Ladybug Girl books, he was the only boy on the list. I started to think about the books that I had read in high school. Many of them were written by males about boys/men - The Lord of the Flies, A Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby. The gender of their authors and characters had no affect on my appreciation for them (except for Catcher....I really hate The Catcher in the Rye. However, this has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with whining). My sister, who is a sophomore in high school was required to read Huckleberry Finn and The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time over the summer. Both of those books have male authors and male protagonists. There seems to be, in fact, a strong presence of male authors and characters at least within the walls of schools. 

I find most women open to reading books by male or female authors that feature male and female characters. However, when I speak with men who read, I find that many of them prefer books written by men about men. This led to the aforementioned discussion with my darling hubby, who argued that a man writes best about men, and women about women because they are writing from a place of knowledge.  I disagree - I think a great story by a great author will always be great, regardless of gender.

My conclusion is this: As a parent, I have the privilege to shape my son. I get to pick what he reads, at least until he goes to kindergarten. So I pay attention. We read a lot of books about trucks and trains, dinosaurs and pirates. But we also read Junie B. Jones and Madeline, Ladybug Girl and Amelia Bedelia. His favorite Disney characters right now are Peter Pan and Ariel, the Little Mermaid. I can develop a reader who will pick up a book not because of the gender of the writer or the gender of the main character, but because of an amazing story that will transport his mind and impact his heart. 

So what do you think, my lovely readers? Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a librarian, a college student, a 12 year old girl,or an 85 year old man, I want to know what you think. Comment away! And because I can't leave you on Wednesday without it, happy reading from this cute little guy!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Rescue

By Anita Shreve
Little, Brown, and Company November 2010

After 21 year old rookie paramedic Peter Webster rescues Sheila from a car wreck, he can’t stop thinking about her. The fact that her accident was caused by drunk driving should have given him pause, but he falls in love anyway. Their relationship moves faster than Peter anticipated once Sheila reveals she is pregnant. Responsible, love-struck Webster proposes and the two embark on the journey of parenthood together.

When things are good, the three of them live an idyllic life. But Sheila’s love for her family isn’t enough to keep her from drinking. When she puts their daughter’s life in danger, Peter sends Sheila away. He doesn’t hear from her again and raises their daughter Rowan alone. As Rowan nears her high school graduation, she begins to spin out of control, resembling her mother - angry and drunk. Out of options, Webster tries to find Sheila with the hope that she can save their daughter.

Rescue has a great flow to it and is really easy to read. I think this is due to a lot of the book consisting of dialogue. I actually read it in a day. Ms. Shreve has managed to tackle the really difficult topic of alcoholism and write about it effortlessly.  You can’t help but feel bad for Webster who loves Sheila and tries so hard, even though you know she will break his heart sooner or later. “Sheila was silent. Webster feared a curtain was slowly descending…When she turned to him, she had that half smile that he’d learn to distrust. Webster could create moments, but he couldn’t string enough of them together to make a life.”

The characters are well-written. For me, this book hovered around becoming too sweet and predictable but never actually crossed that line. Webster is a very, very good person but he stays believable. The story is set in a small town, but it’s not obnoxious and clich├ęd, as is so often the case. Some of the strongest moments in this book are those between Webster and his parents.

Shreve is able to write strong relationships without them being cheesy. She may be telling a familiar story, but she writes with compassion and grace. Rescue is a lovely book about the things that rip families apart and the lengths we will go to keep them together. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Monday again....

Good morning, friends. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. I had the opportunity to go to the Women of Faith conference in Philadelphia and it was amazing. Because of that and a busy week otherwise, I scrambled to finish my second book this week. The library wouldn't let me renew it again - nothing like a little pressure to help you finish a task!

Without further ado, here are the books I read this week:
Turn of Mind
By Alice LaPlante
By Emma Donoghue

This past week, I posted a regular Monday post, a Wednesdays with David, and reviews of The Boy in the Suitcase and Pigeon English

This week, I plan to read:

State of Wonder
By Ann Patchett

A Good Hard Look
By Ann Napolitano

Reviews of these books should be posted in the next week or so:



What are you reading this week? Please leave me a comment and let me know - I love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Review: The Boy in the Suitcase

The Boy in the Suitcase
By Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Soho Crime November 2011

Nina Borg is a Red Cross nurse, but her passion is finding refuge for those no one else will help –illegal immigrants and victims of sex trafficking. When an old friend begs for her help, Nina can’t say no. She is prepared for something outrageous from Karin. But she is not prepared for the storage locker at the train station to contain a suitcase with a naked little boy in it.

Nina’s mind immediately jumps to sex trafficking and her motherly instincts kick in. She takes the boy and runs, desperate to find Karin and find out what is going on. As her husband and her own children wonder where she is, Nina searches for answers to who this boy is, where he came from, and who is chasing them.

I don’t read a ton of mysteries, but I enjoyed reading this one. The chapters are very short, which naturally leads you to just want to read one (or four) more. The mystery component is very good. I really had no idea what was happening until the end, which in my mind is the goal of a mystery writer.

The best part of this book, however, was the excellent characterization of Nina and her husband Morten. Their relationship was so interesting and authentic. He is understandably frustrated by his wife’s disappearances every time someone shows up in need. Nina herself struggles with her desire to help others over her own family.  She finds it hard to balance the passion she feels for the victims she encounters with her desire to be a good mother and wife. I think that there are a lot of good mysteries and mystery series, but the most important component is a really compelling protagonist.

There were only two things I had trouble with while reading The Boy in the Suitcase. Because the chapters are so short, the first few chapters are hard to keep track of since each one introduces a new character or characters. The only plot device that didn't work for me was the attempts of the authors to humanize the villain. I’m all for well-rounded characters and I think all of the other characters in this book are excellent. But in the case of this one character, it felt as if the two parts of their personality didn’t fit together.

All in all, I really liked The Boy in the Suitcase. Through the Soho Books website, I found out that this book is the first in a series.  I hope that the remainder will be published here in the US so that I can read about the rest of Nina’s adventures.

To the guys and gals of the FTC: I received this advance copy from a giveaway by Goodreads and Soho Books. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesdays with David: I'm not sleepy!"

Wednesday is almost done, lovely readers and the week is halfway through! I promise I didn't forget - here is your Wednesday with David!!

The book: I'm not sleepy!
The author/illustrator: Jonathan Allen
Publisher: Hyperion Books 2010
Suggested Age Range: 4 - 8

I'm not sleepy is a perfect book for bedtime. It's early in the morning(they're owls)  and everyone thinks Baby Owl looks sleepy. He retorts "I'm not sleepy!," becoming more agitated as each animal suggests that he should head off to bed. His papa owl finally convinces him to come inside for a bedtime story and Baby Owl is asleep before the first word can be read. 
This is a perfect bedtime book. What parent hasn't had to deal with the excuses about why a little one is yawning?  I usually try to end bedtime reading with a book where the character goes to bed. We can only hope that the children will follow baby bird into slumber...please?
The illustrations were really sweet in this book. They almost felt warm and fuzzy. I also found out that Baby Owl is the star of several other books. David and I will have to check out the rest of the series.

Thoughts from David: I like when he says,”I’m not sleepy!” but he is. I love the daddy owl because he’s nice and when he reads a story, the owl falls asleep. And then the daddy says good night.”

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: Pigeon English

Pigeon English
By Stephen Kelman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt July 2011

Pigeon English is the story of Harri, an eleven year old boy who has recently moved from Ghana to London with his mother and sister. He leaves behind in Africa his father, grandmother, and baby sister Agnes, who hope to join them in England within a year. Harri is constantly amazed by the things he experiences – new sneakers, the beauty and complexity of words, the tenderness of a first love. But his world is not only filled with wonder, it is also filled with danger. He lives in the midst of gang warfare and unintentionally puts a target on his own back.

When a boy is murdered in his neighborhood, Harri and his friend Dean decide to investigate.  Harri wants to bring justice to the boy because “…it’s a personal mission. The dead boy even told the rogues to leave me alone one time when they were hooting me for wearing ankle-freezers (that’s when the legs of your trousers are too short). I didn’t even ask him, he just helped me for no reason. I wanted him to be my friend after that but he got killed before it came true. That’s why I have to help him now, he was my friend even if he didn’t know about it. He was my first friend who got killed and it hurts too much to forget.” Using binoculars Harri won at a festival and tape to take fingerprints, the boys set out to find out which of the strange and dangerous people they know is a murderer.

As I started reading, I didn’t think I was going to like this book. Harri's unique style of speaking takes some getting used to, but I think it mostly stemmed from my discomfort with the idea of gang violence and inner city life. Harri is a wonderful character and an exuberant child, but even he occasionally participates in ugly things. As a parent, I think I imagine my own son as an eleven year old but don’t want to consider that his experiences could even remotely resemble those of Harri.

As I continued to read, I was captivated by Harri’s exuberance and love for the people and things around him. The contrast between a wonderful little boy and the very violent, grown-up world in which he lives is striking. Instead of my initial feelings of discomfort about inner city neighborhoods riddled with gang violence, I now feel renewed compassion for those innocents caught in the crossfire and wonder what we can do as a society to prevent children from growing up in situations like this.

One of the most beautiful parts of the book was the love that Harri had for his family. Even as he is contemplating taking part in gang initiation, he thinks of his family still in Ghana. He glories in his father’s love and approval and marvels at his baby sister Agnes’ improved speech each time he talks with her on the phone. One of the sweetest passages occurs when Agnes is very sick. Harri bargains with God for the life of his sister. “If Agnes dies I’ll just swap places with her. She can have my life. I’ll give it to her and I’ll die instead. I wouldn’t mind because I’ve already lived for a long time. Agnes has only lived for one year and some. I hope God lets me.”

The youth and joy of Harri is balanced by the presence of a pigeon that he befriends.  At first, the pigeon is just a bird that Harri tries to feed, but as the book progresses, we discover that the bird is a sort of guardian for the boy. Although the bird can't speak to Harri, he comments on Harri’s life  and tries to protect him from the world in which he lives. It seems a somewhat farfetched concept, but the bird speaks (thinks?) so beautifully that it works. “The rain keeps falling, the sea keeps rising, you keep going. You keep going out of spite or with magnificent defiance, you keep going through steely instinct or by cotton-wool consensus, you keep going because you’re made that way. You keep going, and we love you for it.”

Mr. Kralman has written a beautiful debut novel. It can be hard to read, but its implications are too important to ignore. Harri Opuku has joined the roster of young protagonists who teach adult readers important lessons about life, death, faith, and love.

Note: This novel was short-listed this morning (!) for the Man Booker Prize, which recognizes achievement in fiction in the United Kingdom. For more information on this award, visit the award website here

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Monday, it's Labor Day - what are you reading??

Good morning, fellow bibliophiles! I hope you had a lovely weekend. I've been doing a lot of reading, but not so much review writing/posting, so you can look forward to a lot of reviews posted to the blog this week. 

This past week, I read:

Pigeon English
By Stephen Kelman

The Boy in the Suitcase
By Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

By Anita Shreve

All of those should have reviews up this week. Also keep an eye out for a review for The Tiger's Wife, which is a long time coming. Did anyone else read that one and have a really hard time writing about it?

This past week, I did a "It's Monday, what are you reading?" post and a "Wednesdays with David," as well as posting a review of The God of Small Things.

This week, I hope to read:

Turn of Mind
By Alice LaPlante

By Emma Donoghue (Finally! Am I the last one in the world to read this one?)

A Good Hard Look
By Ann Napolitano

We're off to enjoy one last pool day at my Grammy's. :) What are you reading this Labor Day??