Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Library Loot March 31st, 2010

Starting to gradually catch up to my large, looming stack, I requested 10 books at the library today for upcoming weeks. These, however, are what I found on the shelves today.

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

Seen on book blogs everywhere, no further description needed. Usually I read books in the order they were checked out so I'm not stuck with having overdue books. However, since there are still many people waiting for this one, I will be reading it immediately following the book I'm reading now.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia's mother is busy saving other people's lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice iinside Lia's head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way- thin, thinner, thinnest- maybe she'll disappear altogether. In her most emotionally wrenching lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, best-selling author Laurie Halse Anderson explore's one girl's chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex or anorexia.

In 1851 Bishop Latour and his friend Father Vaillant are dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, Latour spreads his faith the only way he knows- gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Over nearly forty years, the two friends leave converts and enemies, crosses and occasionally ecstasy in their wake. But it takes a death for them to make their mark on the landscape for ever... (A friend told me this was thier favorite Willa Cather book. Since I had never read her before I thought this would be a good one to start with.)

Being bad never tasted this good... With hundreds of recipes for mouthwatering candies, chocolates, pralines, cremes, fudges, toffee, holiday treats, and no-bake cookies, this step-by-step candy bible for beginners and accomplished candy-makers alike covers everything from the traditional to the exotic. (our family is notorious for their sweet tooth. Couldn't pass this one up!)

Now all devoted Fluffernuts can expand their repertoires with the most complete collection of Marshmallow Fluff dishes ever. The Marshmallow Fluff Cookbook offers over 110 delicious and easy recipes, and you'll be making homemade Chocolate Cheesecake, Never-Fail Fudge, and Fluffy Blackberry Sorbet in no time. Also included are brand new recipes like Fluff-filled Chocolate Madeleines and Mocha-Almond Fudge contributed by contemporary chefs and food experts who love Fluff. (Seriously? A whole recipe book devoted to Marshmallow Fluff? I had to check this out just to see what it was about. The ONLY thing I have ever used Fluff for was Peanut Butter Fudge, but there is a recipe for brownies in this book that looks pretty darn good!)

How about you? What is your favorite thing to use Marshmallow Fluff for? Enlighten me. Then tell me what you think of this week's loot!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Geurnsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows *Review*

I am enchanted. I want to grab my passport, hop a ship (yes, a ship,). and sail to the Channel Islands. I want to live in Guernsey.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society has become my favorite book so far this year. A very rare 5 star book.

The novel, written entirely in letters, starts out with Juliet conversing with her best friends Sophie and Sidney. Sidney is Sophie's brother and Juliet's editor who has sent her on a book tour.

Then a letter comes from Dawsey in Guernsey, a fan of Juliet and a fellow admirer of author Charles Lamb. Having something in common, they start to write each other quite often. In Dawsey's letters he writes about a society he is a member of- The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is intrigued and wants to know more. Dawsey convinces other members of The Society to write Juliet to tell her about how a group of people during the war came to become a book club of sorts. The Society's members not only inundate Juliet with letters they encourage her to come for a visit.

Feeling she has found new friends, and wanting to learn more about the Island, it's inhabitants, and its German Occupation during the war (could there be a book in it?), Juliet consents.

The characters in this novel were so well drawn I felt like I had known them for years. They felt like my friends. I found myself cheering them on, hurting for them when they were grieving, and laughing at their antics. I loved Dawsey, the quiet, reserved, gentle man whom Juliet first encounters; Kit, the wary 4-year-old; Elizabeth, Kit's mother who was so brave and full of love for everybody; and especially Isola, the quirky, neighborhood busybody who made me laugh throughout the novel.

I was saddened to come to the last page of this book and leave my friends behind but I was so glad I had finally decided to read it.

If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and do so right away. I know you will love these wonderful people of Guernsey just as I did.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Angel's Crest by Leslie Schwartz *Review*

Ethan is a single father who has fought his alcoholic ex-wife for custody of his young son Nate, and won. Ethan is a good father who loves his son and takes care of him very well.
One chilly day while out driving, Ethan sees some deer entering the woods. Enchanted, he parks the truck, gets out of the cab and watches them. Soon, he's left his sleeping son to follow them a short ways down the trail. Soon, the short jaunt becomes a longer distance until he realizes he's been absorbed with watching the deer for too long and has wandered farther then he should have. He hurries back to the truck only to find it empty. Nate is gone.
The search for Nate begins. Townspeople, friends and strangers join the local authorities to find Nate. Nate is found. He is dead, the chilly temperatures to blame. Tired, Nate laid down and went to sleep, the bottoms of his footed pajamas worn through from walking.
I did not give away a spoiler. The reader is prepared for this. Now the book can begin. Because the book is not about Nate. It's about how lives in a small town can alter and take on new meaning when a tragedy like this occurs.
The characters in this story are unique and filled with enough pain of their own. We come to know Angie, whose daughter left her child on Angie's doorstep to raise. Glick, the man who was falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. Roxanne, whose father abandoned her, and Roxanne's lesbian lover Jane who had abandoned her won child. And Jack, a judge whose son Monty steals from him. Each character's problems are unique, and while they aren't resolved, they learn to live within their lives.
I got this copy from the library as an audio book. It seemed to take me an extraordinary amount of time to get through. At first I was disappointed in the story because I thought it would be more about the search for Nate and the trial that ensues, but that was not the case. The book was good but for me it did not work in audio format. The reader's voice did well on the female parts, but the children's voices all sounded like high-pitched old people and the men all sounded constipated. If interested, check out the novel, pass on the audio book.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Friday 56

*Grab the book nearest you. Right now.

*Turn to page 56.
*Find the 5th sentence.

*Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of Storytime with Tonya and Friends.

*Post a link along with your post back to Storytime with Tonya and Friends.

*Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
My excerpt today comes from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows:
Dearest Sidney,
I haven't heard from you in ages. Does your icy silence have anything to do with Mark Reynolds?
I have an idea for a new book. It's a novel about a beautiful yet sensitive author whose spirit is crushed by her domineering editor. Do you like it?
Love always,
Dear Sidney,
I was only joking.
I had to take a few liberties with this Friday 56 since these were the only words on the whole entire page!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler *Review*

Liam Pennywell is not the sort of man to argue...about anything.

He doesn't argue when his sister offers to bring him a pot of stew even though he hasn't eaten red meat for months, and he doesn't argue when he loses his teaching job to someone with less seniority. He just accepts.

But there's one thing that Liam can't accept, and that's having no memory of the brutal attack that left him bandaged and in a hospital bed.

Liam see this incident as a hole in his life. While others remark how he is lucky not to remember, Liam views the attack he can't remember as something that was taken from him that he wants to recover. He becomes obsessed with trying to figure out why bits and pieces aren't coming back to him. Shouldn't he remember a voice, a sound, a physical characteristic?

Then he meets Eunice Dunstead, a professional "rememberer" that he brings into his life to help jar his memory. Falling in love with this dumpy, overweight, bespectacled younger woman causes him to remember, but not in ways he would have thought.

This book was a welcome diversion from the heavier books of late. It was not a book I felt I had to concentrate too hard on. It just kind of flowed. I thought the characters were well developed- right down to his teenage daughter Kitty and her "praying mantis" pose that had me laughing as I had used that same "please, please, please" position on my parents when I was but a teen.

A good book, not action packed, but enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day After Night by Anita Diamont *Review*

Day After Night is based on a true story of an escape October 10th, 1945 of over 200 Jewish immigrants from Atlit, a detention center in Israel.
Anita Diamont spins the tale of 4 young women, each very different but now sharing a common experience. Shayndel is a Polish Zionist and is somewhat of a war hero who unconsciously reaches for the holstered gun on her shoulder that's no longer there. Leonie is a French beauty who used her looks in ways no girl should have to. Tedi is a Dutch girl who was hidden during most of the war and Zorah is a concentration camp survivor who is ashamed of the numbered tattoo on her arm and hides it every chance she gets. Each of these girls did what they had to in order to survive and each waits for the day when they will be free from the barbed wire that surrounds their lives.
With the help of the Palmach an escape is planned. Each of these girls has a vital role to play in getting everybody out as quickly and safely as possible. Once on the outside, they board buses to be taken to a kibbutz, a Jewish collective community, where the fences are used to keep others out instead of keeping the Jews in.
I was very interested in reading this since it was about an event I once again knew nothing about. I had read Anita Diamont's The Red Tent several years ago and loved it. I was hoping for the same reaction to this one. It was a very good book. It was well written and researched. However, I never felt like I connected with the characters. I was left wanting to know more about each of them, and I felt more time could have been spent deepening their friendship while inside Atlit. If you are going to read this one, read it for the war story or because you like books about true events, don't read it for a story of female friendship or you might be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Library Loot 3/23/2010

I'm still being very restrained. I'm desperately trying to get caught up with my huge pile of TBR books sitting on my coffee table that my two sons keep teasing me about.

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the edges of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. (This is not my type of book at all, but hearing bloggers out there as well as my friend Sheila gush about it, I felt I had to give it a try. It just might be the first book I return to the library unfinished.)

An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution- a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve. First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for it's explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. (I felt it was time for a classic. I have never read this or seen the movie so when this one caught my eye on the shelf I figured it was high time I did)

In 1996 a rare book expert is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of a mysterious, beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain and recently saved from destruction during the shelling of Sarajevo's libraries. When Hannah Heath, a caustic Aussie loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in the book's ancient binding- an insect-wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair- she begins to unlock the mysteries of the book's eventful past and to uncover the dramatic stories of those who created it and those who risked everything to protect it. (I nominated this one at book club a year or two again and alas it didn't make the cut, but the story still intrigues me so I finally had to pick it up.)

Retired to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to be a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot. What is the meaning of the mysterious strings of German numbers the bird spews out- a top-secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts? Or do they hold a significance both more prosaic and far more sinister? Though the solution may be beyond even the reach of the once-famous sleuth, the true story of the boy and his parrot is subtly revealed in a wrenching resolution. (Sounds different enough to maybe be good!)

Well, that's it for this week. How were my choices? Which can you recommend, and which can you recommend I stay away from?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The English Major by Jim Harrison *Review*

A former English teacher turned farmer, Cliff, recently divorced from his wife of over 40 years and now homeless due to a shrewd move his real-estate ex-wife made has decided to tour the country on a journey to rename all 50 states and state birds.
Armed with a childhood jigsaw puzzle of the states, he leaves Michigan and begins his quest. His first stop is to meet up with a former student of his where he begins an affair that threatens his sanity and the health of his body at the hands of sex-crazed and cell phone addicted Marybelle.
When Marybelle's manipulations become to much for him he drops her off with her husband in Montana and heads to California for a visit with his son Robert. Along the way he learns a little about himself as well as the scenery of the states in the process.
After a few of the emotionally disturbing books I had been reading lately I thought this book sounded like an easy summer road trip. While it was easy enough to read and the language (country bumpkin hick adages) was fun, I did not feel connected at all with the story. I grew bored with the ramblings of Cliff and his sexual exploits. I came to view the author as a "dirty old man" since everything that Cliff did reminded him of sex. Even stopping at a place called Notch Bottom was enough to stir him sexually.
I was hoping Cliff would come to a conclusion about his new lot in life and be transformed but that didn't seem to happen. I was disappointed in the storyline and the lack of a life altering event.
Are there any Jim Harrison fans out there who disagree with me on this one? Please let me know.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Library Loot 3/16/2010

I still have so many out that I might have to renew, I kept my loot only to titles I had already requested a while ago.

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker- his classmate and crush- who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah's voice explains that there are thirteen reasons she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a first-hand witness to Hannah's pain, and learns the truth about himself- a truth he never wanted to face.

It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn's shimering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night. Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on bytragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli's mother Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marraige to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in the marraige has cost her more than her daughter's voice. Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disapperance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor. Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

A twenty-first century woman is stranded in first century Pompeii when a time travel experiment goes awry; she is sold to a wealthy family as a house slave. This provides her with an intimate, upstairs/downstairs perspective on household life in ancient times. At first she does menial work, but she improves her situation by telling stories and making prophecies. As her influence grows, she wins the love of her master and his daughter and provokes the vengeful jealousy of his wife. In this gentle fable about the power of stories to change people's lives, the heroine uses sources that include fairy tales and great works of literature to argue for women's rights and the humanity of slaves, and to inspire herself and others to be resourceful, courageous and independent.

That's it! One of these books I have seen on multiple blogs, one was recommended by a friend and fellow bookie Lori, and the other I saw somewhere out there on the blogosphere but don't remember where. Have you read any of these books? Let me know your opinion!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Petals From the Sky by Mingmei Yip *Review* & Giveaway!

When twenty-year-old Meng Ning declares that she wants to be a Buddhist nun, her mother is aghast. In her eyes, a nun's life means only deprivation- "no freedom, no love, no meat." But to Meng Ning, it means the chance to control her own destiny, and to live in an oasis of music, art, and poetry far from her parent's unhappy union.
With an enigmatic nun known as Yi Kong, "Depending on Emptiness," as her mentor, Meng Ning spends the next ten years studying abroad, disdaining men, and preparing to enter the nunnery. Then, a fire breaks out at her Buddhist retreat, and Meng Ning is carried to safety by Michael Fuller, a young American doctor. The unprecedented physical contact stirs her curiosity. And as their tentative friendship grows intimate, Meng Ning realizes she must choose between the sensual and the spiritual life.
On the evening after her thirteenth birthday, Meng Ning is accidentally bumped into and she falls into a deep garbage well. Onlookers call for help and family and neighbors gather around at the top of the well yelling words of encouragement to her until help can arrive. Frightened, she prays to Guan Yin the Goddess of Mercy to protect her. Feeling something graze her head she finds someone has thrown down to her a pendant of Guan Yin and as she clutches it she looks up in time to see the bald head of a Buddhist nun as she leaves. This event is what precipitates her decision to live a spirital life as a nun.
During a spiritual retreat when a fire breaks out in the monastery, Meng Ning meets Michael a neurologist in America. They spend some time together, have a whirlwind affair and fall in love. By the end of the retreat, Michael proposes. Meng Nin, still unsure of her future declines the marraige proposal. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her mentor Yi Kong who has always taught her that men are evil and not to be trusted.
Meng Ning agrees to travel to America to stay with Michael to learn more about him. She is very confused with the feelings she begins to have for not only Michael, but another man she meets. Where are these feelings, so long buried coming from? Could Yi Kong be wrong about men? What of her vow to be a Buddhist nun?
I enjoyed reading about the Buddhist way fo life which I knew nothing about. I loved the conflict of the heart that Meng Ning goes through although I did find Michaels reactions to things that happen along the way to be a little creepy where Meng Ning thinks they are a beautiful testment of his love for her. I learned a lot about Chinese art and learning something new is always a good thing. While I would only give this book a rating of 3 out of 5 stars, it was a high 3 rating. Well worth the time I spent on it.
Want to know how you can win??
You must be a follower of my blog to enter. Let me know if you already follow and how.
+1 additional entry for commenting about what interests you about this book.
+1 additional entry for blogging or tweeting about this giveaway
WOW! Three chances to win! (open to US only, giveaway ends March 31st). Good luck!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Push by Sapphire Book & Movie *Review*

Push is the story of Claireece Precious Jones. Precious has been sexually abused by both her father and her mother from a very young age and is now pregnant with the second baby by her father.

Expelled from school for being pregnant, Precious finds herself enrolled in an alternative education class called Each One Teach One. Her teacher Blue Rain pushes her to write, learn, and realize her potential.

I picked this book up at the library the evening before the movie Precious came out on DVD. I cannot see a movie based on a book until I have read the book. I'm glad I read this first. The book, though short, was not a fast read. I figured at a little over 200 pages I would have it done in less then 2 hours but it took me longer then that due to the fact that it is written as Precious talks. Words like "muhver" and "fahver" were words that made me stop mid sentence so my brain could translate before moving on. I found the book to be sickening and heartbreaking.

The next morning I stopped at Red Box and rented the movie Precious. After book club that evening I popped it into the home theater system to watch it. I had wondered throughout the day how the book was going to be adapted to a movie. Incest is a very touchy, taboo, subject that would be hard to film. The movie did gloss over it to much. It was only hinted at with the image of a tatooed arm and a few spoken words. In fact, a sexual abuse scene with her mother that happens in the movie you wouldn't even realize what had taken place had you not read the book. While I'm glad these scenes weren't graphically portrayed, they were so central to the book and to what makes Precious who she is that I wondered if they should have been a little more out there.

The book Push is written from the what goes on inside of Precious' mind, and thoughts and feelings are very hard to translate to film. I was very disappointed in the film version, and am surprised by the acclaim it has received. There was truthfully only one scene in the movie where I thought the emotion was spot on. (The scene where Precious is wondering "why me?" Where she says she is "tired." Where she sobs "you don't know what I've been through.")

The book- 4 stars. The movie- a disappointing 2.

For those of you who have read Push and watched Precious, what are your thoughts on the two? Where you blown away by the book, by the movie or both? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Twelve by William Gladstone *Review*

How many of you have read this novel by William Gladstone?

The Twelve is an extraordinary and unforgettable novel about a most unusual and unsuspecting hero. As a child, Max lives in a world of colors and numbers, not speaking until the age of six. As an adult Max ventures on a journey of destiny to discover the secret behind the ancient Mayan prophecy about the "end of time," foretold to occur December 21, 2012. At fifteen years old, Max has a near-death experience during which he has a vision that reveals the names of twelve unique individuals. Max's voyage of discovery begins, as he strives to uncover the identities and roles of the twelve individuals he will meet during his journey toward truth. All of The Twelve seem connected, and all of them are important to what will happen at the exact moment the world as we know it will end.

If you have read this book, please let me know what you thought of it. I have never read a book like this before and I was wondering if this is the authors writing style on all of his books. I found it to read almost like a non fiction book with the narrative style, but I also found it to be so random it was almost like reading Mad Libs, you know, those games where you input a noun or adjective and they put your words into a story that turns out to be quite humorous?

In this novel Max has a near death experience that reveals to him 12 names, except he can't remember them. He goes through life and many years later is introduced to someone whom he recognizes as the first of the names. Sometimes he meets two of the names in quick succession and other times he goes 8 years or more before encountering one of them. They seem to have nothing in common. He can't figure out a link between them he just knows they are important to him in some way.

Through the years Max has many jobs/careers. Some of these names offer him a job or a postion on the board even though he has little or no experience. He travels the world and coincidentally meets the rest of the names he had been revealed to in the past. I won't tell you what their link is. For that you will have to read the book to find out. I hate giving away to much of the book whether I liked it or not.

And I didn't, by the way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Library Loot 3/10/2010

I am proud of myself that I showed remarkable restraint this week and only checked out a few instead of my normal 8-10. Good for me! I'm learning!

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

One Sunday when she is ten years old, Velva Jean Hart is saved . But being saved is not anything like she expected; soon her loving mother dies and her father leaves her for one of his "adventures." But before she dies, Velva Jean's mother urges her to "live out there in the great wide world," and Velva Jean intends to do just that. She dreams of becoming a big-time singer in Nashville until she falls in love with Harley Bright, a handsome juvenile delinquent turned revival preacher. As their tumultuous love story unfolds, Velva Jean must choose between keeping her hard-won home and pursuing her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry.

Renee is short, ugly and plump. Her only genuine attachment is to her cat, Leo. She is everything society expects from a concierge at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood.. But Renee has a secret: she is a ferocious autodidact who furtively devours art, philosophy, music and Japanese culture. With humor she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants- her inferiors in every way except material wealth. Then there's Paloma, a super-smart twelve-year-old who lives on the fifth floor. Talented, precocious, and startlingly lucid, she has decided to end her own life on the day of her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue hiding her extraordinary intelligence behind a mask of mediocrity. Paloma and Renee discover their kindred souls when a new tenant arrives, a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu. He befriends Paloma and is able to see through Renee's timeworn disguise to the mysterious event that has haunted her since childhood.

As dusk approaches in a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home from play. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent wood. When the police arrive, they find only one child, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same wood, he and Detective Cassie Maddox- his partner and closest friend- find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before and that of his own shadowy past.

Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, has up until now been invisible: invisible to her father who rapes her and the mother who batters her and to the authorities who dismiss her as one more of Harlem's casualties. But when Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, meets a determined and highly radical teacher, we follow her on a journey of education and enlightenment as Precious learns not only how to write about her life, but how to make it her own for the first time.

This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy names Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski *Review*

I once made a list of 50 things I wanted to do before I died. Some were very easy, some more difficult, some requiring a substantial financial investment. What happened to it? I don't know. It might be tucked away someplace or I might have tossed it in the trash. One thing I can bet on. The things I would put on my list today would differ greatly from the ones I had put on 20 years ago. That's why I like that the list in this book had only 20 items on it with a "due date."

After a car accident in which her passenger, Marissa dies, June Parker finds herself in possession of a list. Marissa has written: "20 Things to Do by My 25th Birthday." The tasks range from inspiring (run a 5K) to daring (go braless) to near-impossible (change someone's life). To asuage her guilt, June races to achieve each goal herself before the deadline, learning more about her own life than she ever bargained for.

June Parker races to cross off the item's on Marissa's list. Some come easily to her and she struggles with others. I like that June tries to do each item in the spirit in which it was originally written and puts a great deal of thought into why Marissa would want to achieve them. In doing so she brings Marissa to life for the reader since we never got a chance to meet her while she was alive. This was a light book, and some of the coincidences that happen to her that make it very easy to achieve a few of the items that wouldn't normally come so easy to someone else, just emphasizes it's lightness. But this book was fun.

Jill Smolinski writes with a great bit of humor. I found myself cackling to myself on the couch for which I would get a sideways look from my husband or son as they were intently watching a TV drama. I also like the fact that when a love interest is introduced the book turns flirty instead of filthy. Her style is so easy to read I finished the book in a single day which is hard for me to do. The book is not long but I usually only have 5 minutes here and there to fit a book in.

Our book club will be reviewing this next week and I am anxious to see what some of my fellow Bookies have on their lifelist. Stay tuned for more on this book!

Since I don't want to give too much away to the Bookies reading this post I will only clue you in to one of the items on my list. I have always wanted to learn to play the piano.

What's on your life list of things you want to do before you die?

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Friday 56

Rules:*Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find the 5th sentence.
*Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
*Post a link along with your post back to Storytime with Tonya and Friends.
*Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
Today's 56 comes from In the Woods by Tana French:
The archaeologists from Dublin- Damien, Sean and a handful of others- had all been home on Monday and Tuesday nights; the rest had been in their rented house, a couple of miles from the dig. Hunt, who of course turned out to be pretty lucid on anything archaelogical, had been home in Lucan with his wife. He confirmed the large reporter's theory that the stone where Katy had been dumped was a Bronze age sacrificial altar.
Okay. I haven't started reading this yet but it happened to be closest to me. Now I'm really intrigued! I might have to rethink which book I'm going to pick up next!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beneath the Lion's *Review* Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

This memorable, heartbreaking story opens in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, 1974, on the eve of a revolution. Yonas kneels in his mother's prayer room, pleading to his god for an end to the violence that has wracked his family and country. His father, Hailu, a prominent doctor, has been ordered to report to jail after helping a victim of state-sanctioned torture die. And Dawit, Hailu's youngest son, has joined an underground resistance movement- a choice that will lead to more upheaval and bloodshed across a ravaged Ethiopia. Beneath the Lion's Gaze tells a gripping story of family, of the bonds of love and friendship set in a time and place that has not been explored in fiction before. It is a story about the lengths human beings will go in pursuit of freedom and the human price of a national revolution.
I have never read a book set in Ethiopia before or a book by an Ethipioan author. I was first struck by how easy it was to read. It felt, initially, very "American". There have been times when I have read books by a foreign author that were hard for me to read due to the different language or culture used. Sometimes they just don't flow like what I'm used to.
The book started out with a family already going through hardship. Hailu's wife Selam, Dawit and Yonas' mother is dying. She was the glue holding the family together. She was their constant and they loved her deeply. She dies right before the revolution begins, and the family dynamic changes. Their father is jailed for his role in the death of a student who was tortured extensively and in so much pain she didn't care if she lived anymore. Dawit is angry at his brother Yonas for letting his father turn himself in to to authorities instead of insisting his father fight for his freedom. Dawit holds so much anger in his heart. His mother is gone, his father now too and his brother should have acted like more of a man. One of the ways he chooses to release this anger is by joining a group of revolutionaries.
When reading books dealing with war, revolutions, differing types of government; I always feel so blessed to live where I do. I can't imagine having to go through the pain of children being recruited to be soldiers- most of them never coming home alive. When a child goes missing the parents can't even turn to the police to help because of the corruption within the force.
While I would rate this book a so-so read, it did open my eyes up to a new country I had not "traveled" to before and the trials of the revolution in 1974. And because I did enjoy the author's writing style, I would definitely read something by her again.
I have read so many dark and depressing books lately that my next book has to be lighter and fluffier. I need a little bit of laughter next.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tales of the Dead; Ancient China by Stewart Ross *Review*

Plucked from his peaceful life in a village near the Great Wall, 11-year-old Shen suddenly finds himself the favorite musician at the court of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi. Shen;s music is the only thing that can calm the emperor, but he is unknowingly drawn into a plot to kill his master.
As a graphic novel, this did not have much novel to it. The story was very short and had no depth to it. Where this book did impress me though was in the facts it presented throughout. The actual graphic novel wound it's way along the sides and the bottom of the pages leaving the entire middle of the book open for the amazingly detailed illustrations, cutaways and facts about things like Empires, The Great Wall, Food, Arts, Trade, The Terra-Cotta Army, Dress, Religion and more. In versions featuring Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome as well, I will be heading back to the library to check out more of this fantastic series.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Library Loot 3/2/2009

My son is ready to take away my library card! I went a little nuts at the library again this week.

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at ReadingAdventures, Library Loot is a fun weekly meme that allows others to peek in your bookbag to see what you came home from the Library with this week. Here's what's in my bag:

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she'd never met, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis. As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, she is drawn into the world of this man and his friends, all members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a unique book club formed in a unique, spur-of-the-moment way: as an alibi to protect its members from arrest by the Germans.

When he discovered that he had only six months to live, thirty-year-old Kevin Bates picked up his pen and wrote The Manual- advice for his five-year-old daughter, Lois, to live by, laugh at, and follow from twelve until thirty. Seven years later, when Lois is given The Manual, she can barely bring herself to read her father's words, the pain of his loss is still so raw. Yet soon Kevin's advice is guiding her through every stage of life from teen angst to career arcs, to knowing when she's at long last met "the one." While The Manual can never be a substitute for having Kevin back, the words left behind become Lois's steady support through all life's ups and downs, and prove invaluable to unlocking the key to happiness.

Jan and Antonia Zabinski were Polish Christian zookeepers horrified by Nazi racism, who managed to save over three hundred people. Yet their story has fallen between the seams of history. Drawing on Antonia's diary and other historical sources the author recreates Antonia's life as "the zookeeper's wife," responsible for her own family, the zoo animals, and their "Guests"- resistance activists and refugee Jews, many of whom Jan had smuggled from the Warsaw Ghetto. Ironically, the empty zoo cages helped to hide scores of doomed people, who were code-named after the animals whose cages they occupied.

We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again- the story starts there...

Twelve-year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is one of the mysteries that Ren has been trying to solve his entire life- as well as who his parents are and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony's Orphanage for boys. When a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren's long-lost brother, his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and gives Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? As Ren is introduced to a life of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves, he begins to suspect that Benjamin holds the key not only to his future but to his past as well.

The narrow street where Harry Bernstein grew up was seemingly unremarkable except for the "invisible wall" that ran down its center, dividing Jewish families on one side from Christian families on the other. On the eve of World War I, Harry's family struggles to make ends meet. His father earns little money at the Jewish tailoring shop and brings home even less. Harry's mother, devoted to her children survives on her dreams: that new shoes might secure Harry's admission to a fancy school; that her daughter might marry the local rabbi; that the entire family might one day be whisked off to the paradise of America. Then Harry's older sister, Lily, does the unthinkable: she falls in love with Arthur, a Christian boy from across the street. When Harry unwittingly discovers their secret affair, he must choose between the morals he's been taught all his life, his loyalty to his selfless mother, and what he knows to be true in his own heart.

Abandoning her worldly life, traveling to a remote Wisconsin town in the dead of winter, trusting her future to a man she never met- such was Catherine Land's new beginning. But there was an ending in sight as well, an ending that would redeem the treachery ahead, justify the sacrifice, and allow her to start over yet again. That was her plan. For Ralph Truitt, the wealthy businessman who advertised for a "reliable wife," this was also to be a new beginning. Years of solitude, denial and remorse would be erased, and Catherine Land, whoever she might be, would be the vessel of his desires, the keeper of his secrets, the means to recover what was lost. That was his plan. A Reliable Wife is the story of two people, each plagued by a heart filled with anger and guilt, each with a destiny in mind. But neither anticipates what develops between them- the pent-up longings that Catherine discovers in this enigmatic man and the depth of her own emotional response; the joy Ralph experiences in giving Catherine the luxuries she has never known, his growing need for her, and a desire that he thought was long buried. (this one sounded really good but after reading two reviews both saying they hated this book, it has been put to the bottom of my reading pile. I still will read it, I'm just no longer as excited about it)

Plucked from his peaceful life in a village near the Great Wall, 11-year-old Shen suddenly finds himself the favorite musician at the court of China's first emperor, Qui Shihuangdi. Shen's music is the only thing that can calm the emperor, but he is unknowingly drawn into a plot to kill his master. Shen's precious musical instrument, his zither, holds the key to the life of the emperor. But when the moment for action comes, will he be ready? Tales of the Dead: Ancient China allows the people of the past to speak again. Every page is packed with amazing illustrations, astonishing facts, and detailed cutaways- everything you need to qualify as a true expert on Ancient China. (A graphic novel)

Looks like I have a lot of war books this week. Interesting as I don't particularly like books about wars!

What books did I check out this week that make you want to say "Angie- don't read that one!" and which books would you give me a thumbs up on? Let me know if you read them and what you thought.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg *Review*

I will start out by confessing I am not an animal lover. I know many of you are now gasping in horror wondering what kind of person I could possible be. Growing up I had a pet cat. He was a stray that came and went as he wanted and was never allowed in the house. So, I never grew up with an animal or created a bond with one. Even though I am unable to relate with how an animal can become as much a member of the family as one of the children I can understand how they can become such a good friend.

Alex & Me is not the type of book I would normally want to read, much less request at my local library. But when I read about this incredible bird I had to know more.

On September 6th, 2007 an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at the age of thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you." Over the thirty years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous- two pioneers who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet over the years Alex proved many things. Alex and Irene stayed together through thick and thin- despite sneers from experts, extraordinary financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one university to the other. The story of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and an unforgettable human-animal bond.

I knew parrots could speak, although I guess I assumed it was more mimicking then actual language. I also knew they could perform simple commands. What I did not know was how intelligent their little "bird brain" was. Alex astonished me on nearly every page of this book. He was able to recognize color, letters and numbers. He was able to "show" remorse when he made someone angry by saying he was sorry. He would turn his back in rebuff if he felt he was not getting his due respect. He had started to add and sound out words "nnn...uh...tuh" for the word nut. He was smarter then most 5 year old children! Unfortunately for Irene and the science community he died too soon. Alex was a liitle over 30 when he died, twenty years earlier then the average life span of an African Gray parrot. Who knows what more Alex could have accomplished? I sincerely hope the research continues into this area of animal intelligence.

I always thought my son's dog Holly was smart. One time while outside I walked over to a flower garden to begin working it. I couldn't find my hand held cultivator in the spot I normally kept it. "Now where did I put my hand rake?" I mumbled to myself. Holly ran around the house and came back with it in her mouth. I chuckled at her intelligence which I now know was not on par with Alex's but she impressed me nonetheless.

Do you have a pet that's incredibly smart? What trick can he/she do?