Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
By James Dashner
Delacorte Press 2009
374 pages
Secret Santa gift from Briana of The Book Pixie 

Thomas wakes up in a lift with no memory of anything but his name. When the doors open, he walks into a Glade inhabited by a group of boys. They all came to this place the same way he did, one boy each month. None of them can remember what happened before this place. Each week, supplies are sent to them in the lift. Each boy has a task to do within the group. Some boys are runners – they explore the maze. No one has found a way out yet, since the walls shift each night and the corridors are inhabited by monsters called Grievers. The day after Thomas arrives, a girl comes up in the lift with a note that says “She’s the last one. Ever.” Things are about to change in the Glade.

I know a lot of people adore this novel, but I wasn’t one of them. Several things bothered me. The first was the pacing. The book is 374 pages. The reader gets about 200 pages of set-up. Mr. Dashner shows the system that the boys have established for their home and introduces the reader and Thomas to the inhabitants of the Glade. Although the boys suspect that something is strange about Thomas and about Teresa, the girl who arrives after him, nothing much happens within these pages. Right around page 200, things start happening so fast that it could make your head spin. The difference is difficult to adjust to – in fact, it’s as if you were reading two different books.

The characters fell somewhat flat for me as well. Thomas, as our protagonist, either can’t remember or doesn’t know much of anything. While he is your typical hero, standing up for the right and defending others, there isn’t really a spark that makes you claim him as your favorite literary character. The other characters do get some development, but they felt somewhat predictable. We meet characters like the leader, the bully, and the young boy looking for support/a father figure in Thomas.

My other issue was with the slang. The boys in the Glade have developed a few words of their own. We get words like shank and shuck to replace what would be negative or curse words in our culture. These words are used heavily but because they are the only ones that were changed from normal English, I felt like it was Dashner’s attempt to make his book more accessible because it contained no curse words.

Now that I have sounded off on my issues, I will say that the story is interesting. There is a lot of suspense built in this novel, particularly about what brought the boys to this place and what exists outside of it. Mr. Dashner does an excellent job of world building, although I wish he had done it for fewer pages. You can truly picture the Glade and the Maze in your head as you are reading. The Maze Runner is a intriguing story – I only wish that the characters and pacing had received more attention.

Since this is the first book in a trilogy, I want to know if you have read the sequel The Scorch Trials. What did you think of it? 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesdays with David: A Child's Garden of Verses

A Child's Garden of Verses
By Robert Louis Stevenson 
Illustrations by Ruth Mary Hallock
Barnes and Noble 2007
A gift from Aunt Katie

Child's Garden of Verses (Volland Collection)

The story: This is a collection of poems for children by Robert Louis Stevenson, the beloved author of classics such as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These poems are perfect for young children. They deal with things like the injustice of going to bed in the sunshine during summer and the fun of playing with your shadow.

Mama opines: I am trying to read some poetry once in a while with David and I am so thrilled that my friend Katie got this book for him. While its age sometimes requires me to explain some things (it's such a pity that we have neither a nurse nor a maid!), so far it has a pretty timeless feeling. Children have, for generations, pretended that their beds become boats at bedtime and sail them off to dreamland. We are enjoying this one and we will be on the lookout for more great poetry for kids.

Thoughts from David: I like it because I think it’s silly. Casting shadows on the wall is fun. I like the pictures.

David's favorite poem so far:

Fairy Bread
Come up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room, 
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell. 

What are you reading with your little one today? 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Oracle Night

Oracle Night
By Paul Auster
Henry Holt and Company December 2003
243 pages
From the library 

So I made the ultimate book blogger mistake. I read a book, I liked it, and I thought I would take a few days to ruminate before writing my review. Well, it's three weeks later, we are moving, and I must take this library book back today. Please forgive the potentially disjointed nature of this review...

The hero of this tale is one Sidney Orr, a writer who is recovering from being ill. His transition back into the real world involves him taking meandering strolls through New York City. He happens upon a shop in which he finds a beautiful blue notebook. Hoping it will inspire him to write again, he purchases it and takes it home. Once he begins writing, he finds himself compulsively filling the pages with the story of Nick Bowen. Bowen is an editor who travels on a whim across the country with a single manuscript in his possession - Oracle Night.

Many writers attempt to juggle  multiple plots. Few do so as seamlessly as Mr. Auster. I found myself so deeply involved in each story line that I completely forgot that the other one existed until its turn came around again. This book doesn't stop at just two stories: instead it weaves past and present, fiction and reality throughout in a way requires readers to constantly pay attention. 

Auster manages to do something else that I would find irritating under different circumstances. He uses copious footnotes and they are huge. Somehow, within this novel, it works. I don't know if this is a frequent sight in Auster's novels, since this is my first. I will say that the footnotes themselves are informative and often laugh out loud funny. 

This story does an excellent job of being a book about writing and publishing without being exclusive. Auster does not hit you over the head with his philosophy on writing or inspiration. Instead, he carefully weaves it throughout his many fascinating stories. Auster doesn't take himself too seriously - this novel is fun to read, and I have to imagine it was fun for him to write. That doesn't mean he shies away from the things that matter. His characters travel through this utterly bizarre dance of life, searching for inspiration, for meaning, and for love. As in life, they often find different answers than they expected and sometimes, no answer at all.

To summarize: I really liked Oracle Night. Paul Auster will probably show up on this blog again. I need to not procrastinate forever in writing my book reviews! 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's Monday and we are all moved in!

Hello from our new house! This weekend was the big move. We are tired people, to say the least. I am writing at this moment surrounded by boxes, but we are trying to be ok with taking the unpacking slowly. We are expecting some furniture and things to arrive in the next week, and honestly there is just no need to stress out. The husband doesn't officially start his new job until Friday, I will probably only work one day this week - we are blessed with the chance to take our time. 

Somehow, in all of the craziness, I managed to get some reading done this week. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I like to find bits of time. The ten minutes in bed before falling asleep, a few moments while waiting for David to find his shoes, while eating lunch - I use all of these times to get in a few pages. 

Read This Week:

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)
By James Dashner

Great House
By Nicole Krauss

Reading Now:
By Patricia T. O'Conner

Posts from this Past Week:

Up Next:
By Ryan David Jahn

What are you reading this week? 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: The Secret History

The Secret History
By Donna Tartt
Alfred A. Knopf 1992
524 pages
From the library

The Secret History is the story of Richard, who applies to Hampden College on a whim, determined to leave his small Californian town. He is invited into the exclusive circle of classics students taught by Professor Julian Morrow. His fellow students include twins Charles and Camilla, Henry, Francis, and Bunny. He soon discovers that his fellow students are not just drinking wine and discussing Plato. They have a dark secret and ask Richard to help them cover it up.

My main problem with this book was its length. It’s hard to have a lot of tension involving a murder in almost 600 pages. The entire plot of the murder seemed far-fetched to me. {Warning - spoilers ahead} A group of well-read, intelligent students attempt to reach a state of bliss a la Dionysus and they kill someone in the process? I knew a lot of crazy college kids who were committed to their particular topics of study, but I can't fathom any of them attempting something like this. 

Despite a lack of tension, the book is truly atmospheric. Tartt excels at creating the world of a small liberal arts college, the beauty of a walk in the woods, and the majesty of a country estate. There are also some really lovely moments where Richard realizes the impermanence and beauty of those moments in college when you find people who understand you and love you as you are. 

“But even that day, there on the porch, with Charles behind me and the smell of wood smoke in the air, it had the quality of a memory; there it was, before my eye, and yet too beautiful to believe.

It was getting dark; soon it would be time for dinner. I finished my drink in a swallow. The idea of living there, of not having to go back ever again to asphalt and shopping malls and modular furniture; of living there with Charles and Camilla and Henry and Francis and maybe even Bunny; of no one marrying or going home or getting a job in a town a thousand miles away or doing any of the traitorous things friends do after college; of everything remaining exactly as it was, that instant – the idea was so truly heavenly that I’m not sure I thought, even then, it could ever really happen, but I like to believe I did.”

As I read, I was interested in what was happening but never really invested in the characters. There are several moments when it is difficult to differentiate between Francis and Henry and all of the characters are far removed from reality. With the exception of Richard, who is our window into their world, each one of them truly believes they are superior because of their wealth and intelligence. 

This lack of empathy for the characters is problematic. I rather believe that when a character dies in a book, you are supposed to feel something. That was not the case here. This is advertised as a psychological story, exploring questions about what drives people to commit awful crimes and what effects actions like these have on their perpetrators. Instead, I found myself floored at the lack of reaction. It wasn't so much a reaction to what they had done, but rather the effect it might have on them should they be caught. Such callous selfishness is hard to take for so many pages.

I wanted to like this novel, but I was mostly bored. This is not to say that Donna Tartt is not a good writer. I would be inclined to pick up another of her books if it were a bit shorter and had characters who demanded a place in your heart.

I know that a lot of people really love The Secret History. So, I want to hear all about it. What makes you adore (or despise) this book? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: The Watery Part of the World

The Watery Part of the World
By Michael Parker
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill April 2011
261 pages
From the library

The Watery Part of the World is a fictional intersection of two real life events. In 1813, Aaron Burr’s beloved daughter Theodosia is lost at sea. In the 1960s, Yaupon Island has been reduced to just three residents who are a bit of a curiosity – sisters Maggie and Miss Whaley, who are white, and Woodrow, a black widower. Michael Parker imagines what might have happened if Theodosia had landed on the island and was the ancestor of the Whaley sisters.

In this novel, Mr. Parker attempts to juggle two timelines. One is more successful than the other. In the early 1800s, we meet Theodosia or Theo. She is sailing to be reunited with her father and bring him documents that will clear his name. En route, the ship is seized by pirates under the command of the brutal and enigmatic Daniel. He spares Theo’s life because he believes her to be touched by God, as she speaks to a portrait as if it were a person. The whole construct of this storyline is at times hard to understand and always difficult to believe. Daniel allows Theo to live on the land outside of his home, knowing full well that she is alive. He also holds mysterious sway over her savior, a man by the name of Whaley. While I loved the relationship between Theo and Whaley and thought that Parker did an excellent job showing the transition from a girl determined to return to her father to a woman who accepted her new circumstances, I never quite bought the idea of Daniel as the mysterious and cruel controller of their lives. I never understood the rationale behind it.

More than hundred years later, the reader discovers that there are only three people remaining on the island that was once Theo’s home. Two of her descendants, Maggie and Miss Whaley, remain on the island in an attempt to preserve the history of their home and of their great-great-grandmother Theo. Miss Whaley delights in regaling the anthropologist who come to visit with tales of long ago. Maggie yearns for something more, but doesn’t have the courage to leave the land she has always called home. Their only companion is a man named Woodrow, who cares for the women despite their failure to save his wife’s life. Their relationship is intricate and beautiful – just when you think you have determined which character is depending on the other, your perception is changed by another moment from the past. This section builds on Theo’s history and the way that white women and black men in the 1800s and 1900s could relate to each other and the ways in which their lives could not touch.

Mr. Parker is a lovely writer, and his imagery of the island and the surrounding ocean permeates the novel to the point where it seems like its own character. “This island was not words. It wasn’t feelings, for Pete’s sake. It was sand, wind, sea oat, wax myrtle, water bush, red cedar, live oak, yaupon. It was peat, marl, loam and slough, hammock, marsh, and dune after dune. It was sound on one side and sea on the other and a ribbon of sand between, running right out toward the Gulf Stream, the crust of a continent defying the overwash and daring a wind to take it away.”

The Watery Part of the World is an ambitious attempt by a skilled author. The greatest strength of this slim novel is that Parker does not hit you over the head with his point. Instead, he takes a deep, but subtle look at the ways in which men and women of different races and backgrounds need each other and hide from each other regardless of the time in which they are living. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday is for failing...

Hi friends. We didn't forget you today. David is suffering from a nasty cold and all of our books are living in boxes in anticipation of moving on Saturday. So no Wednesdays with David for you.

I do have a review ready to go for tomorrow, so make sure to come back and read all about The Watery Part  of the World.

Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, believed to be  lost at sea

"She thought of Theodosia, how she’d come to this island with a man so far from the type she’d been brought up to love. He taught her how to get by, how to love this island that in Theo’s day was at its grandest, though Theo lived long enough to see it start to dwindle down to what it was now: just the three of them. Her great-great-great-grandmother had spent all her life looking, trying to fill some hole – just like Maggie – and in the end she found her happiness right here on this island.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Giveaway winners revealed!

Hello readers and Happy Tuesday!

I am psyched to announce the winners of the Literary Lindsey giveaway.

The first book up for grabs was an ARC of:

Another Piece of My Heart
By Jane Green

The winner is: Tanya Patrice of Girl xoxo

The second book is:

The Parting (The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, #1)
The Parting
By Beverly Lewis

The winner is: Nicole K of The Awesome is Silent

Congratulations to the winners! Tanya, look for an email. Nicole, I can't find your email address! Email me at with your mailing address.Your books should be en route soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's Monday and I have a giveaway, people!

This has been a great week, friends. My husband graduated from seminary on Saturday and was ordained on Sunday. That means that he is a real pastor-like person now and he starts at his first church in June! Hooray!!

The hubby, his parents, and yours truly
Also, I have a giveaway! No one has entered yet, so your chances are excellent! I am giving two books away. Click here to enter. 

Read This Week:

The Secret History
By Donna Tartt

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected
By Kelle Hampton

Reading Now:
The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)
The Maze Runner
By James Dashner

Posts from this Past Week:
It's Monday
Wednesdays with David: Mirette on the High Wire
Reviews of Housekeeping and Jane Eyre
Giveaway! (Open until midnight tonight)

Coming Up:
Great House
Great House
By Nicole Krauss

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 18, 2012

I move, you get a book, everyone wins!

As I have mentioned, our happy little family will be moving at the end of this month. We have filled many, many boxes to the brim with our books and we are looking to lighten our load a little bit.

That's giveaway time!

Today, I have two books for the giving! I will be sending both books on their merry way in the middle of next week.

Book #1
Another Piece of My Heart (ARC) - the link goes to my review
By Jane Green

Book #2
The Parting - link goes to Goodreads
By Beverly Lewis
The Parting (The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, #1)

So, here's the deal. Leave me a comment telling me how many times you have moved plus the book you would prefer and your email address. I will pick two winners on Monday night and send an email their way. Hooray!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Jane Eyre Audiobook

Jane Eyre 
By Charlotte Bronte
Read by Emma Fielding
Naxos Audiobooks 2009

Jane Eyre [With CDROM]

I had the embarrassing distinction of being one of the last people on the face of the earth to get through the story of Jane Eyre. I sort of knew the concept, but this was the first time I heard the story from the beginning to the end…or so I thought. I was dismayed to read the tiny print sometime during the second disk that this was the abridged version. Sigh. I was more than halfway through, so I just went with it.

In case you live under a bigger rock than I do, Jane Eyre is the story of a young orphan. She lives with her cruel aunt and cousins until she gets the opportunity to attend and then teach at a boarding school. Searching for a change in her life, she takes a job as a governess. She loves teaching her young pupil and is intrigued by the girl’s mysterious guardian Mr. Rochester.

I don’t know how many of my issues with this book have to do with the unexpected abridgement. I felt like there wasn’t a narrative throughout. Her terrible childhood with her relatives had practically nothing to do with the rest of the book. Bronte could have taken it out entirely with little consequence. I was really interested in the crux of the story - her relationship with Mr. Rochester, the mystery of Thornfield Hall, and the ways that Jane changes as she grows up.

I enjoyed Jane as a protagonist. I admired her determination and her unwavering belief, even when honoring those beliefs could hurt her. Despite this, I always felt a distance from her. She continuously seemed like someone I was reading about in a book, not someone who I could actually meet and get to know.

I enjoyed listening to this, and I think that sometime down the road I will pick up the (entire) book and actually read it. I know that many people count Jane Eyre as one of their favorite novels, and it’s a great story that has endured for generations.

Alright readers, tell me about your feelings for Jane. Do you love her, despise her, find her overrated? Do you read this every year because it’s your favorite book? Are my problems because I listened to a third-rate abridgment? I want to hear all about it! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Mirette on the High Wire

Mirette on the High Wire
By Emily Arnold McCully
Scholastic 1992
From our bookshelves

Sorry we are a little late posting this today. I'm not feeling so great today. I was the one taking a nap at rest time instead of David!

The story: Mirette lives in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. She helps her mother run a boardinghouse that is home to actors, musicians, and circus stars. A mysterious stranger comes to stay at the house and Mirette discovers that he is the famed Bellini, a tightrope walker. But Bellini does not walk anymore - he is afraid. Can teaching Mirette to walk on the tightrope help Bellini find the courage to do the same?

Mama opines: This book is actually mine! Do you all remember book fairs in elementary school? I bought this book at the fair my kindergarten year. I loved this story as a girl - the colorful illustrations, the idea of living among artists in Paris, and Mirette's courage and determination. The fact that it's a Caldecott Medal recipient doesn't hurt either. 

Thoughts from David:  I like when the stranger comes.  I think that they have a great time in the book and because I love the part where they tight walk.
Favorite part: When she crosses the rope and my really favorite part is the end when they are tight walkers together. 

Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson
Picador 1980
219 pages
From the library

Ruth and her sister Lucille live in the dreary town of Fingerbone. Their lives are upended by the appearance and disappearance of the women of their family – their mother, grandmother, great-aunts, and finally, their peculiar Aunt Sylvie. As the two girls grow up, they find themselves following different paths. Lucille tries desperately to be accepted within the constructs of their small community, while Ruth finds that the Fingerbone cannot contain her wandering spirit or wounded heart.

This was my first novel by Marianne Robinson, and I found myself savoring it. This is not a book that can be read quickly. The writing is very perceptive, but in a lovely, quiet way. Robinson begins by examining family. Ruth and Lucille are constantly abandoned by the very people who should stay in their lives – their mother, their grandparents, and their great aunts. The only one who will remain is their aunt, whose unusual habits and personality could threaten to tear apart the little family they have left.

“And I was left alone, in the gentle afternoon, indifferent to my clothes and comfortable in my skin, unimproved and without the prospect of improvement. It seemed to me then that Lucille would busy herself forever, nudging, pushing, coaxing, as if she could supply the will I lacked, to pull myself into some seemly shape and slip across the wide frontiers into that other world, where it seemed to me then I could never wish to go. For it seemed to me that nothing I had lost, or might lose, could be found there, or, to put it another way, it seemed that something I had lost might be found in Sylvie’s house.”

This novel reaches down into the depths of grief and examines the way that it stays alive for years after loss. The sadness these characters feel is constantly reflected in their surroundings, particularly in the lake where Ruth’s grandfather died in a train crash and her mother drove off of the bridge. The family cannot escape their ghosts, since a reminder is always in view. Robinson does a beautiful job of really creating this atmosphere – the water’s potential to heal and destroy, the claustrophobia of a small town, and the way memory can be more powerful than the present.

Housekeeping is a gorgeous novel; it’s small and quiet and will sit in your soul for a long time after you read it. It’s a perfect choice to read on that rainy day when you are feeling a bit melancholy and need an author who truly understands how that feels and what that means. I have a feeling that I will frequently return to the writing of Marilynne Robinson and hope that this book and her others will find a home on my bookshelf.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's Monday and life is crazy!

Hey there, bookish people. How are you doing? It's been a crazy week around here. We are in the midst of packing and getting ready to move in two weeks; and then we had a wedding, Mother's Day, and celebrating five birthdays. A happy Mother's Day to all of you beautiful mamas! 

So with all of that going on, not too much reading is getting done right now. 

Still Reading:
By Donna Tartt
This one is moving rather slowly. I'm about halfway done, but I'm really feeling the length of this one.

Posts from this Past Week:
Reviews of The Slap and Love You More

Up Next: 
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir
By Kelle Hampton

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)
The Maze Runner
By James Dashner

So, what are you reading this week? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Love You More

Love You More
By Lisa Gardner
Bantam March 2011
351 pages
Borrowed from that lovely building full of books

Love You More: A Detective D. D. Warren Novel

Detective D.D. Warren is looking forward to a quiet weekend when she receives a phone call from her former boyfriend and fellow detective Bobby Dodge. A state police trooper claims to have shot and killed her husband in self-defense. But as the investigation proceeds, things aren’t adding up. Tessa’s story doesn’t ring true to D.D. Why would a police officer allow her husband to abuse her? Why did she reach for her gun instead of her baton or taser? And why does Tessa seemingly refuse to help them find the couple’s six year old daughter?

This was an excellent mystery, with plenty of twists and turns. I saw this book all over the internet, and decided to give it a whirl despite the fact that it was the fifth in a series. The good news is that it stands by itself. Gardner gives you just enough background about D.D., Bobby, and their relationship, so that you feel informed, but won’t be bored if you are a devoted reader of the series. I am not a big mystery reader, but I was hooked from the beginning and had the pleasure of a day off on my birthday to get comfy and read Love You More from cover to cover.

The chapters alternate between the viewpoints of D.D., the detective in charge of the case, and Tessa, who is alternately criminal and victim. Love You More succeeds in being both a taut thriller and a meditation on what it means to be a mother. Tessa has placed her love for her daughter above all else. D.D. is about to find out the lengths and depths a mother will go to for her child.

I appreciated that Gardner wrote two strong female protagonists. It’s so refreshing to see a battle of wits between two women. D.D. knows the delicate dance that Tessa must perform as the sole female cop among her male colleagues, but doesn’t allow this to excuse Tessa’s decisions. In the same way, Tessa know what she has to do regardless of the effect it will have on D.D.’s investigation. She hopes that the detective will be able to help her, but she can’t afford to wait for D.D. to figure it out.

Gardner does an excellent job of slowly bringing the reader into the loop. You have to work for each lead, just as D.D. does. The twists and turns and strong, fascinating characters will keep you turning pages long into the night. I will definitely be going back and reading the other adventures of Detective D. D. Warren. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Listening to Half Blood Blues

Hello there, readers! How are your weeks going?

You may remember that I reviewed Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan a few weeks ago. The novel is short-listed for the Orange Prize, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, and the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Half Blood Blues tells the story of a group of jazz musicians dealing with racial tensions and the Nazi invasion in Berlin and Paris.

I know some of you ambitious people are trying to read through the prize lists this year. If you are working through the Orange shortlist or the Booker finalists, you may want to break it up by adding an audiobook to your library pile. The audiobook for Half Blood Blues is narrated by Kyle Riley.

I am psyched to give you a sneak peak of the audio, courtesy of Esther Bochner of Macmillan.Click on the link below and decide if Half Blood Blues will be the next track on your Ipod.

Of those books nominated for the Orange shortlist, I have only read Half Blood Blues and State of Wonder. You can check out nomadreader for reviews of all of the books on the shortlist. The winner will be announced on May 30.

P.S. Happy Birthday to my handsome hubby who will be graduating from seminary in a week! Hooray!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Frog and Toad Are Friends

Frog and Toad Are Friends
By Arnold Lobel
Harper and Row 1970
From our bookshelves

The Story: This book contains five Frog and Toad stories. These are stories of friendship, told simply with easy to read words. In Spring, Frog changes the calendar in Toad's house so that Toad will come enjoy spring with him and he will not be lonely anymore. In The Story, Toad tries to think of a story to tell a sick Frog with unexpected results. And in The Letter, Frog sends a letter to his friend who is sad that he never gets any mail. Each story is a sweet celebration of friendship and will bring smiles to the faces of children and their parents.

Mama opines: This is one of my favorite books to read to David. There is something comforting about reading a story that has been beloved for generations. I hope that the sweet gestures that Frog and Toad make for each other will encourage David to be a good friend. I also love that the text is easy to read, so he picks up quite a few of the words (articles have never been read so enthusiastically!). 

Thoughts from David: Because I like the parts where Frog and Toad swim in the lake. I don’t like the part when Toad didn't get a letter. But Frog gave Toad a letter and Toad was happy. They are good friends and that’s all I want to write about it.
Favorite part: I like the part when Toad comes out in his bathing suit. 

We hope a snuggle and a good book will cheer up this rainy day. Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Slap

The Slap
By Christos Tsiolkas
Penguin 2008
482 pages
From the library

The Slap: A Novel

The Slap is the story of a group of friends whose lives are altered by a single summer barbeque. Hector and Aisha hold a party for their friends and family. When little Hugo’s temper gets out of hand, Hector’s cousin Harry slaps the child. Gary and Rosie, Hugo’s furious parents, charge him with assault. The relationships between friends, family, and spouses are forever altered.

This novel is divided into eight chapters, and each one is told from the point of view of a different character. This was an unexpectedly successful approach. While I was initially worried that it would be confusing and sudden, author Christos Tsiolkas gave each character a good story arc so that the reader felt a sense of closure when each character’s chapter was done. Tsiolkas brings a variety of characters to life on these pages, from an elderly man confronting his mortality to teenagers having their first serious relationships.

That being said, the word to best describe this novel is gratuitous. To me, it seemed extremely unrealistic for so many people to casually do drugs and have affairs so often. I know that people do drugs. When a group of teenagers shoot up before a concert, I moved right along. When one of the fathers is doing speed in the bathroom during the barbeque, I found it a bit less authentic. And of course, I know it to be true that people have sex, both within a marriage and with people they barely know. However, to have almost every character with both their spouse and then a lover within fifty pages just seemed like overkill. It seemed inauthentic and forced.

The biggest problem in this novel is the complete lack of maturity in any of the adult characters. Aisha eventually has a major revelation about her husband. “He was a child. He was a child every time he did not get his own way.” This seems to be true for practically every character we meet in this book. None of them have any concept of how adult relationships work, of putting your child's or partner’s needs over your own, of compromising with others, or of having a civil response when things do not go their way. Again, while I could certainly understand this in some characters, witnessing this childishness in all of the so-called adult characters became annoying rather quickly.

The Slap is a well-written book. Mr. Tsiolkas deftly brings you inside the minds of many different characters, each dealing with problems large and small. Some, such as teenage Richie and elderly Manolis, will truly make you feel for them and their situations. Unfortunately the majority of characters are whiny, self-centered, and obsessed with sex. This novel takes a very hard look at the dark realities of relationships, the things that change them forever, and the ways that they endure. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's Monday...Watcha reading?

Hey everyone. How are you? Life is a little crazy around our house lately. We are moving in a few weeks, and that tends to make things a little more interesting. Somehow, I am rather ahead in reading...but way behind in reviews. I must get on that, somewhere amid the packing and working and chasing after a certain four year old. Wish me luck! 

Read This Week:

By Marilynne Robinson

The Watery Part of the World
Reading Now: 
By Donna Tartt 

Up Next:
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir
Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected
By Kelle Hampton

What are you reading this week? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
By Catherynne M. Valente
Feiwel and Friends May 2011 
247 pages
From the library 

September is a 12 year old girl who is bored with her life in Omaha. She is often home alone since her father is off at war and her mother is working in a factory. One day, the Green Wind blows into her window and invites her to Fairyland. She soon meets three witches who entrust her with a quest – to retrieve their stolen spoon from the evil Marquess.

This slight novel pays homage to so many stories that you know and love – The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Winkle in Time, to name a few. But paying homage is not the same as copying; author Catheryne Valente has created a universe and characters that are all her own. Some parts of this story are familiar, like an evil despot who lords over the kingdom. However, there are some truly innovative and fascinating characters, such as the Wyverary whose mother was a wyvern and father was a library and a small blue boy named Saturday who can grant your wish (but only if you defeat him first). The characters are further brought to life by small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter by artist Ana Juan.

Although I enjoyed this book and applaud the author’s creation of a new Fairyland, I missed the feeling of racing through a story. It took some effort to read this book, which I did not expect from a YA fairytale. I think much of it has to do with pacing. There is no in-between in this novel. The characters are either moving at a furious pace or standing absolutely still. Because the reader is learning about this new world and its inhabitants as the book moves along, such fast-paced action can be hard to follow.

The best part of the book is the omnipotent narration, which gives us gems like these: “The trouble was, September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act? If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end. But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies. Of course, we would like to tell her which. But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

This intersection of childhood and adult perception is the crux of the best fairytales. Part of September’s adventure is growing up, making decisions, and making sacrifices as she grows to care for the creatures of Fairyland. Her journey helps her grow from the selfishness of childhood to the awareness of an adult who is concerned for others. Of course, in spite of her growth, September is still a young girl. This gives the narrator the task of filling in the things that September does not yet know about Fairyland or  herself in a witty and perceptive manner.

Although Valente has written several other books, this novel was the first time I had heard of her. The Girl Who…began as installments on her website, but will now be the first book in a series. A sequel entitled The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There will be released in October. Ms. Valente has created a vivid and imaginative world that readers old and young will enjoy visiting. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts
By Ann Voskamp
Zondervan 2010
227 pages
From my bookshelves

Ann Voskamp is a mother living with her husband on their farm in Canada. As she went about her daily routines, she noticed a lack of joy in her life and the everyday presence of fear.  She realized that the root of joy was in eucharisto, in giving thanks through all circumstances. She began a personal challenge to record 1001 gifts, carrying a small notebook with her to write down each blessing. One Thousand Gifts is Voskamp’s record of her journey and the ways in which counting blessings brought her closer to God and changed her life forever.

I received this book as a gift, but let it sit on my shelf for months. I really regret this in retrospect because as soon as I finished this incredible book, I wanted to start it all over again. Voskamp is an incredible writer – her style is distinctive and lyrical. You have to let yourself go with the words, since she does not particularly respect grammar and tends to write in stream of consciousness. But her observations of the everyday routine amid painful loss and exultant joy are stunning.

“I’m reluctant to untether from the moon. The world I live in is loud and blaring and toilets plug and I get speeding tickets and the dog gets sick all over the back step and I forget everything and these six kids lean hard into me all day to reach and raise and lead and I fail hard and there are real souls that are at stake and how long do I really have to figure out how to live full of grace, full of joy – before these six beautiful children fly the coop and my mothering days fold up quiet? How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral? Could I go back to my life and pray with eyes wide open?”

Voskamp begins with the seemingly simple concept of giving thanks. She proposes a counting of gifts, noting the sunshine in the morning, her child’s smile, or an unexpected kindness. However, she realizes that making the list is not as simple as it seems. Her own stories of losing faith amid devastating loss are shared throughout the pages, along with her search for God in the minutiae of trying to keep up with six children, a house, and a farm. She confronts the deep fears that we all share - that God’s promises will fail us or that we will be unable to give thanks in times of trouble.

Ann Voskamp’s book has the potential to radically change the way you view everyday life and the ways in which you seek God’s presence. This is a book you will want to savor, but will instead find yourself racing through the pages in a search for further insight. One Thousand Gifts is a book I can see myself picking up again and again, searching for new insight and new glimpses of beauty. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesdays with David: Just One More Swim

Just One More Swim
By Caroline Pitcher and Jenny Jones
Parragon 2008
From our shelves

The story: Two little bears emerge from a long winter's sleep. Their mother guides them to the ocean and they stop, mesmerized and frightened. Big Bear gently guides her cubs closer and closer to the water until they discover their love of swimming.

Mama opines: This is a sweet story of a mother helping her children to learn something new in their own time. She does not demand that they start swimming; she simply shows them the way until she is sure that they are ready. This would be a great book to read if you have a little one who is unsure about swimming or is starting any new adventure.

Thoughts from David: Well,  I really love what the bears do. It’s cooler than cool.
Favorite part: When the bears say “Just one more swim!”

Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April Wrap-Up

Books Reviewed: 8
Pages Read: 2,402
Paper Books/Audio books: 7/1
Fiction/Non-Fiction: 6/2
Female authors/Male authors: 7/1
My books/library books: 2/6
Lindsey's favorite of the month: Q by Evan Mandery

Books reviewed with David: 4
David's favorite of the month: Why Do Volcanoes Erupt?

What was your favorite read in April??