Review: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

18467818An Untamed State

Roxanne Gay

368 pages

Published: May 2014 by Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic

Source: Publisher

Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.

            They held me captive for thirteen days.

            They wanted to break me.

            It was not personal.

            I was not broken.

            This is what I tell myself.

Mireille, a woman visiting her parents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is kidnapped in broad daylight, as her husband and young son looks on helplessly. Her kidnappers, a group of men, demand a ransom of one million dollars, an amount Mireille’s father can afford to pay. When her father refuses to give the kidnappers what they want, it’s Mireille whose life is a stake. For thirteen days, Mireille’s father refuses and the kidnappers do their best to break the young woman in every way possible, repeatedly raping and torturing her. An Untamed State is a book that seizes readers from its beginning and have them going through an abundance of emotions as they journey with Mireille through her ordeal and life after.

I was discussing An Untamed State with Shannon and we both agree that this book is so hard to put into words. There’s so much I could talk about but how?

Before the kidnapping, Mireille’s life was normal. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Mireille grew up in the Midwest before becoming an immigration lawyer in New York. Her father, Sebastien, made as much money as he could in construction before moving back to Haiti with his wife to have his own business. Now a very wealthy man living in a poor country, Sebastien feels as though the world is basically his oyster. Excuse the cliché.

So when Mireille is kidnapped and the ransom announced, Sebastien just knows that he’s going to get his daughter back without a fight. The kidnappers might even give her back for free. As days go by with the kidnappers refusing to budge for the million-dollar ransom, Mirielle’s husband and mother begs Sebastien to pay the ransom. Finally, he pays it.

Damage done, Mirielle will never be the same person again.

The first part of the book deals with Mirielle’s life during her life before and during the thirteen-day ordeal in the form of flashbacks. The second and last part deals with her life afterwards as she tries to heal both mentally and physically and find peace. I found the second part realistic and there were times that I had tears in my eyes.

While the subject matter is dark, readers are left with hope for this character at the book’s end. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Review: Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

brown cinnamon and gunpowderCinnamon and Gunpowder

Eli Brown

318 pages

Published in 2013 by FSG

Source: Public Library

She was lurid and terrible to see, the fallen Lucifer on the water, blind to the pelicans moving like gnats across her bow.  . .

It’s 1819 and highly renowned Chef Owen Wedgewood has been kidnapped and is now a prisoner on the pirate ship, The Flying Rose. The ship’s captain, Mad Hannah Mabbot strikes a deal with the terrified chef: cook a delicious one-of-a-kind meal every Sunday for the captain and she will let him live. Disappoint Mad Hannah and Owen will die. Surrounded by pirates and chased by a genius set on revenge, will Owen survive this crazy adventure?

I don’t think I’ve ever read a pirate story before reading Cinnamon and Gunpowder. I’ve never wanted to until reading Candace’s spotlight post on this book a few months ago. This story is not what I thought a pirate’s tale would be. It’s much more. Themes like slavery, ignorance, and the opium wars going on during this time period are tackled throughout the book, but this is still a light and humorous read and there’s plenty of talk about food.

Since Owen’s a chef, this novel is packed with realistic passages about food and spices. Being on a pirate ship, it’s hard to get the supplies Owen is used to but he often manages without every week. Reading all the descriptions of Owen’s methods and meals makes me wonder how the author was able to pull this off. I know he did plenty of research but did he cook these meals in advance? Whatever way Brown did it, he did a fantastic job.

Not only did the passages about food stand out, so did the characters. Owen is used to working for the rich so he has no idea about the suffering going on around him and in other countries. A judgmental “good Christian”, all Owen first sees the crew of The Flying Rose as a bunch of heathens committing sin and a bloodthirsty captain. But after traveling with the pirates and being caught in several conflicts, Owen’s eyes start to open and he realizes how wrong he’s been.

Mad Hannah Mabbot is now one of my favorite literary characters. She’s a kick-ass pirate who is set on revenge as she searches around the globe for a thief called Red Fox. She can be ruthless at times but also gentle and forgiving of Owen’s ignorance and the plight of those around her. She can get dirty with the rest of her crew but also loves elegant food and music.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling tale for fiction lovers of all kinds. My rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon

ribonGoing in Circles

Pamela Ribon

336 pages

Published in 2010 by Downtown Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Source: Public Library but you can bet your sweet ass that I’m buying a copy

Two weeks ago, I was trolling around Oprah’s website (I have no idea why) when I came across Pamela Ribon’s essay, “How Roller Derby Can Save Your Life”.

I didn’t join a roller derby league in order to survive my divorce. Looking back, I don’t know how I ever thought one had nothing to do with the other.

After reading those first lines, I had to keep reading. In the essay, Ribons talks about roller derby and how the contact sport got her focusing on other things besides the problems she was going through. When she described her latest novel, Going in Circles as “Eat, Pray, Shove”, I knew I needed to read it since I’ve always wanted to grab a pair of skates and learn how to play roller derby.

In Going in Circles, Charlotte Goodman has just left her husband of several months. Hurt and still in disbelief, she tries to distance herself from the pain but it isn’t working. Everyone around Charlotte is asking her to make a decision. Is her going to stay with Matthew or divorce him? As time goes by, Charlotte still hasn’t made a decision and the people in her life are getting tired of her self-pity. When her coworker Francesca introduces Charlotte to roller derby, there’s finally an outlet for her to get out of her own head. Will she ever make the decision to stay in her marriage or finally become single again?

Going in Circles lived up to my expectations and surpassed them. Charlotte’s reaction to everything that’s going on around her is realistic and often hilarious. She’s scared, confused, and forced to wear a mouth guard because she’s been grinding her teeth so badly because of all the stress. She has to see a psychologist and is trying to be distraught enough for her health insurance to pay for therapy but not so much where she ends up institutionalized.

When Charlotte is introduced to roller derby, I started turning the pages even faster. The author explains the sport in detail but it’s never boring or drags down the story.  I love how Charlotte eventually finds herself through the sport.

This book is chick lit at its best. I found Going in Circles to be a perfect weekend read. I can’t wait to read Ribon’s previous books. My rating: 5 out of 5.

Book Review: Marbles by Ellen Forney

 

forneyMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me

A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

256 pages

Published in November 2012 by Gotham Books

Where did I get this?  Public Library

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me chronicles illustrator Ellen Forney’s years-long struggle to find balance with her bipolar disorder while maintaining her passion for art. Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen was diagnosed with biopolar 1 disorder. Highly manic at the time, she had tons of ideas on how to keep working creatively before her depression hits. When it does, things change. Through this chaotic time, Ellen seeks comfort from the fact that many gifted artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Sylvia Plath, and others have gone through similar mental challenges. She also explores the relationship between creativity and mental illness. Told with brutal honesty, Marbles is a book that will appeal to many people.

Marbles starts with Ellen getting a back tattoo. It was something she thought about and the many ideas for her tattoo are coming at her at once. She even kisses the tattoo artist (a stranger to her) after the tattoo is done. Readers see the mania of it. Throughout the book, the author brilliantly illustrates to readers what manic and depression looks and feels like. Readers watch as some of Ellen’s friends distance themselves because she’s so manic and others who help her when she’s depressed. Throughout this four-years struggle, it’s drawing, Ellen’s passion, that helps her.

If the name Ellen Forney sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because she’s the illustrator behind Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In Marbles, Ellen has a similar drawing style. The black and white drawing adds to Ellen’s writing without bogging down the story in any way.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Something that stayed with me about this book is Ellen’s journey as she tries different medications in various combinations. The side effects for these pills range from anything like hair loss, low blood platelet levels, tremors, memory loss, to skin breakouts. It takes weeks for these pills to work and if they don’t, the person has to start over with a different pill in a different combination. I also learned that most health insurance companies don’t cover prescriptions for these types of medications. Ellen breaks down the costs of her pills while she’s going through this. It was shocking to find out that a month’s worth of one pill could cost her almost $1000. That is ridiculous. So not only is there a pretty good chance that this prescription won’t work, but it’s also so expensive. I would think that insurance companies would know that if a person can’t take care of their mental and emotional health, they won’t be able to take care of their physical health. You can’t have one without the other. I felt frustration about this, right along with Ellen.

With the right pills, her passion of art, and the support of family and friends, Ellen finds balance in the end.

Marbles is a fantastic read. It’s a book that will appeal to people who’ve had their own mental struggles, older teens, lovers of the graphic format, and anyone who likes a good story. My rating: 5 out of 5. I need this in my personal library.

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

 cainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain

368 pages

Published in January 2013 by Broadway

Source: Bought it

If it wasn’t for a Twitter chat a few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to read Quiet just yet. Don’t get me wrong. It was already on my reading list but there are so many books to read and well, not enough time. It’s a good thing for me that Joy (Joy’s Book Blog) decided to host an online discussion about this book.

In Quiet, Susan Cain describes just what makes introverts who they are. She describes the difference between being introverted and being shy; being introverted is the preference for quiet environments while being shy is a fear of being humiliated or feeling disapproval in public. Using some of the latest psychological research, she also shows how stimulation and biology has a lot to do with whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with society’s focus on extroversion as an ideal and includes a quiz for readers to see where they stand on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. The second part deals with biology and how much of it influences our environmental preferences. Part three describes the Asian American experience in America while part four bring it altogether with work and relationship preferences.

As an introvert, it was nice to learn more about the differences between the two preferences. Cain writes about how “the culture of personality” in America has blossomed and changed what American society values. In the early 1900s, there was a shift from individuals having character to having an extroverted personality. We still discuss and praise people with character like Warren Buffet and George Clooney for the charity work they do but the people that stay on the tongue of society are people who talk first and think later. Not every extrovert acts this way though.

I also learned about the orchid hypothesis. Some kids are orchids and need a lot of time and attention while other children can bloom anywhere they’re planted. It made me realize that my oldest and youngest are definitely orchid kids. I knew that but I didn’t have a name for it. If you have a quiet child, I think the chapter you really should read is chapter 11 which is all about bringing out the best in introverted kids.

Cain, while praising the strengths of introverts also shows how both personalities can stretch to act more like the other. But she admits human beings are rubber bands and are able to stretch only so far. I found Quiet to be well-written and greatly researched. My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Here’s Susan Cain’s TedTalk called The Power of Introverts

Book Review: Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

fradinZora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Written by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

192 pages

Published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Source: Public Library

Zora: The Life of Zora Neale Hurtson follows the critically-acclaimed author and anthropologist from her birth in Notasulga, Alabama to her death in her sixties, penniless and almost forgotten. In between these years, the authors show readers what made Zora Neale Hurston special and just how much life she packed in her years.

I really enjoy reading memoirs and biographies about people who spent their lives doing what they loved. From the journals of Frida Kahlo to memoirs about Georgia O’Keefe, if a person followed their passion, I want to read a book about it. So reading a book about Zora Neale Hurston, the writer of the classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, was a no-brainer.

It’s said that Zora Neale Hurston packed more lives in her sixty-nine years of life than most people ever do. From her troubled childhood after the death of her mother to having to drop out of school many times to work, Zora rushed head-on. The authors pack so many details in the book to illustrate how rich Hurston’s life was. She lied about her age so many times for different reasons like getting a job to going to school for free. Being young, black, and smart, Zora ran into problem after problem but figured out ways around or through them. This book was written for middle-grade students and up, but I think anyone who reads this will find inspiration from Hurston’s life.

I loved learning about Hurston’s friendship with Langston Hughes, her inspiration for Their Eyes Were Watching God, and her life as an anthropologist traveling throughout the south for black folklore.  Even I could picture her standing on a sidewalk in Harlem, measuring strangers’ heads to prove racists wrong about the link between intelligence and the head size.

There are so many interesting tidbits to learn about Hurston but the problem is this book is so dry. The book is less than 200 pages but it took me over a week to read. Hurston’s life isn’t the problem but the author’s writing style. It became a chore to read this. If I, a reader who was already interested in the subject, had a hard time getting through this book, I can just imagine the experience a young reader going through this book will have. I don’t think they would finish it.

Hurston’s life was rich with adventures and this book proves that, but I’m reluctant to recommend it. If you’re already interested in Hurston’s life, I think you should give this book a try. For readers who don’t know much about the author, I suggest picking up something else about Hurston. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

duhiggThe Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg

400 pages

Published in 2012 by Random House

Source: Public Library

We all have habits. Some habits are good, like putting our keys in the same place every day, while other habits like overeating, are ones we wish we could get rid of. It’s the beginning of the year and many of us are trying to swear off our worst habits. After reading The Power of Habit, I’ve learned that deciding not to indulge in bad habits isn’t enough. While you need to do a lot more, there is hope.

When I initially picked up The Power of Habit, I thought it was a self-help book. Fortunately, it’s even better than that. Journalist Charles Duhigg brings together some of the most known and current psychological data to illustrate how easy it is to create habits but how hard it can be to change them or get rid of them altogether.

Duhigg reveals that every habit has a loop: cue, routine, and reward. For example, I have a habit of turning my computer first thing every morning. It’s not the morning routine that I want to have. I would rather do something productive in those hours while everyone is still asleep. Cues can be anything: a time of day, being around particular people, or even an emotion. My cue is that it’s morning. My routine is turning on my computer and checking my email. My reward: I guess knowing what’s going on online. According to the experts that Duhigg has consulted, if you change your routine, often you can change the habit. So I’ve been spending the past two weeks trying to change my routine. Instead of turning on my computer, I’ve been reading instead. I’m not at the point where my new routine is habit, but I love the feeling of having read x amount of pages without trying to cram in reading later on when my day is busy.

People aren’t the only ones with bad habits. Companies have institutional habits that can help or hinder profits. Starbucks, the Aluminum Company of America, and Rhode Island Hospital are among some of the examples given by the author on how institutional habits are often only changed in times of crisis. The disturbing thing to me was that in these times of crisis, some innocent person dies. But even companies can change and when they do, everyone wins.

Included in the book is a huge section of notes, in case you wanted to look something up in more detail and an appendix to help you change those bad habits. I learned a lot reading The Power of Habit and realized change is possible. My rating: five out of five stars.

Mini-reviews: The Year of the Beasts, A Greyhound of a Girl, and Her Mother’s Face

The Year of the Beasts

Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

192 pages

Published in May 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Source: Library

I decided to read The Year of the Beasts since I loved Castellucci’s earlier book, The Plain Janes. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the magic of that previous read. The Year of the Beasts is the story of Tessa, a teen girl, and her younger sister Lulu. It’s supposed to be a great summer with the carnival in town and the chance for Tessa to snag her longtime crush. But things don’t go awry (at least to Tessa) as her crush ends up with Lulu. Her sister’s happiness brings out the worst in Tessa even when things go her way. Will Tessa ever realize that sometimes it’s a blessing when you’re dreams don’t come true?

Like I said before, this turned out to be a disappointing read. It may have been the fact that as a twenty-something, I’m not the intended audience for this. After a few chapters of reading about Tessa’s jealousy and anger toward Lulu, I was ready to either abandon the book or slap Tessa a few times and tell her to get over it. I spent most of the book tired of Tessa. Or maybe my disappointment comes from the fact that The Plain Janes left me with expectations that were too high. Castellucci and Powell take the story back and forth between that summer of change and its affect on everyone around. I do like that with this back and forth, the format changed. One chapter consisted of mostly words while the next was in graphic novel format. I thought it was a nice change that left readers wondering why Tessa’s hair is suddenly made of snakes. Too bad my curiosity wasn’t enough to change my feelings for the book. Recommended to middle-grade and teen readers only. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Greyhound of a Girl

Roddy Doyle

208 pages

Published in 2012 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books

Source: Publisher and public library

“She hated the hospital. She hated walking through it. She hated everything about it. Except for one thing. Her granny. She hated the hospital, but she loved her granny.”

Mary O’Hara wishes that her life would go back to what it once was. Her best friend has moved and her grandmother, Emer, is dying. One day on her way home, Mary meets a strange woman. The woman looks young but wears clothes from a different era. After a few more meetings, Mary finds out that this woman is the ghost of her great-grandmother, Tansey. Tansey is bidding her time until she’s able to take Emer to the afterlife. Until then, Tansey has a message for her dying daughter. . .

This story might sound a little creepy but it’s not. I found A Greyhound of a Girl to be a short and sweet read. Looking back at this book that I read just a week ago, I’m finding that I don’t have much to say about it. The strength of this book can be found in readers learning more about Tansey and the life she lived as a young woman who’s newly married and with young children before dying suddenly of the flu. As a mother, I could feel her dying worries for her children and their well-being. I also enjoyed reading about the midnight ride that Mary, her mother Scarlett, Emer, and Tansey take together from Dublin to the family’s old farm in the country. The problem with this story is that it’s not very memorable. I hate writing that but it’s true. Tansey’s life and the ride is what stand out in this tale of magic realism. One more thing that I want to note: while this book is for the middle grade crowd, Doyle has a book with a similar theme of family and love for younger kids.

Doyle’s picture book, Her Mother’s Face, was published four years before A Greyhound of a Girl and is much more memorable. Siobhᾲn is a young girl who misses her mother and it doesn’t help that her father refuses to talk about her. All of Siobhᾲn’s friends have moms but none understand the sadness that she feels. One day, a mysterious woman tells Siobhᾲn that if she wants to see her mom to look in the mirror. As she ages, she’ll see what her mother looked like at that age. Siobhᾲn’s heart gets a little lighter as she realizes that every time she looks in the mirror, her mother is right there. I first read this book years ago and found myself tearing up by the last page.

My rating for A Greyhound of a Girl: 3 out of 5 stars.

My rating for Her Mother’s Face: 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Tan to Tamarind

Tan to Tamarind: Poems about the color brown
Written by: Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Illustrated by: Jamel Akib
Publisher:  Children’s Book Press
Pub Date: January 2009
32 pages

When I first read this book, I knew this would be the perfect book to kick-start National Poetry Month. Tan to Tamarind is a celebration of brown skin in shades from tan to tamarind, ocher to beige. There’s a small afterword by the author, where she explains why she wrote this book,

When I was a little girl in North Carolina, I hated waiting for the school bus. Every day at the bus stop a group of older kids would call me names and make fun of my brown skin, saying brown was a dirty, ugly color. I longed to trade in my brown complexion for peachy-pink. . . As I got older, though, I began discovering lots of wonderful stories and poems about the color brown, written by and about proud brown people. When I read their words, I didn’t feel ugly or dirty anymore. . .”

I read this book to my children who felt the poetry was easy to read and listen to. The book features so many shades of brown and also people and words from a few different cultures to illustrate that brown is everywhere. Each poem is just a few stanzas long, perfect for kids with short attention spans and aren’t used to poetry. The illustrations by Akib features masala tea, adobe buildings, fall leaves, and more. The illustrations complimented the author’s message of beauty.

I found this book at my library and I’m grateful that my librarian ordered it. Tan to Tamarind is a book that has a place in my personal library. It’s worth buying. I’m also going to look out for more books by the publisher, Children’s Book Press.

From Tan to Tamarind:

Tan

Brown.
Milk-tea brown.
Spicy-sweet masala tea brown.

Tea leaves and cardamom,
ginger and clove.

Amma steeps them in hot-hot water,
adds lots of cream and sugar.

Sweet, milky brown.
Delicate, fragrant brown.

My milk-tea brown hands
hold a cup of spicy tan masala tea,
to sip on a golden-brown summer afternoon.

Other reviews:
PaperTigers

Changing the World without Giving Up Any Money

How To Be an Everyday Philanthropist: 330 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Home, Community, and World – At No Cost (2009)
Written by Nicole Bouchard Boles
214 pages

I’ve never traveled to Africa to help feed the hungry or soothe a baby orphaned by AIDS. I’ve never initiated a rally for the homeless or poor. I haven’t found a cure for cancer, a way to stop domestic abuse, or an alternative energy source that will save our planet. And last I checked, I wasn’t a millionaire. But through simple steps I take each day-actions that cost nothing more than a bit of my time-I’m joining with thousands of other people who are trying to make a difference and give what we can to those who need it most. It is through these actions that we become philanthropists-everyday philanthropists.

Introduction

I love browsing through my library’s shelves. Taking my time to go through most of the aisles, looking at the latest books my library has, walking from section to section finding books I wouldn’t otherwise have found on my own. A few weeks ago I went to the library and stayed as long as I wanted finding a ton of non-fiction reads, including How To Be an Everyday Philanthropist.

Nicole Bouchard Boles gives readers over three hundred ways to contribute to society. The author divides the book into chapter eleven chapters with each chapter devoted to a different way to give. Chapter 1, “Use Your Body”, list ways readers can use their body to help others such as giving blood, participating in baby-snuggling programs in local hospitals, learning CPR and more.

A great thing about this book is that there is something for everyone and every activity takes up only a short amount of time. It doesn’t take long to knit a hat for the homeless or infants, donate your unwanted clothes to a charity, or recycle  paper. This book has taught me that by changing the way I buy products, throw away trash, or use my time, I can help someone every day.

A few of the things I’m interested in participating in are:

  • Seed Savers. Seed Savers is a non-profit organization that shares heirloom seeds.  By saving, sharing, and growing heirloom seeds, gardeners are helping to preserve the biological diversity. On the organization’s site, I found many plants I would love to grow.
  • Blog Action Day. Blog Action day is an annual event that’s hosted by Change.org to raise awareness about a specific issue. Last year’s issue was climate change. Every year on October 15th bloggers around the world post their thoughts on the issue, sharing why the issue is so important and what people can do about.
  • Donating $50 to the Orphan Foundation of America. The organization has a program that gives birthday and holiday presents to foster kids who may not otherwise get presents.

Included at the back of the book is also a list of books that talk more in-depth about the issues the author has highlighted.

How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist is a great addition to any library.

The Year the Swallows Came Early

fitzmaurice

The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009)
Kathryn Fitzmaurice
290 pages
Middle school fiction
2009 Cybils nominee

Summary

All Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson has ever wanted was to go to culinary school when she grows up. In the meantime, she spends her days learning new recipes, cooking for her parents, and sharing her dreams with her dad. But when her dad is arrested for spending the money in Groovy’s trust fund, her dreams are shattered.

I must’ve been in that room for a long time. I couldn’t say for sure because there’s no way to track time while trying to understand something completely different about a person you thought was someone else. Especially after years of me saying to people, Oh no, my daddy’s not like that. My daddy’s this, or my daddy’s that.

I’d gone around my whole life believing what he’d told me, like what he’d said was just how things were. Mama had said he’d taken the money, that he’d lost it on a bet, but it wasn’t until I saw his handwriting in the book that it seemed real to me. It wasn’t until I saw for myself all his different ways of trying to win money that I knew how much he’d been lying to me and Mama. (pg. 170)

Groovy isn’t the only one who has to deal with a troubled parent. Her best friend, Frankie, has to deal with the sudden reappearance of his mother who left more than a year ago. There are so many questions that need to be answered and so many things about their lives that’s changing. The only thing that is staying the same for the two kids is the yearly arrival of the sparrows to their small town of San Juan Capistrano, California.

My Thoughts

This was a great coming-of-age story about forgiveness, change, and love. Both Frankie and Groovy have to reflect and decide whether or not they’re going to forgive their parents or harbor that anger and let it change who they are and who they can be in the future. After her father’s arrest Groovy goes from being called “Groovy” to Eleanor when she realizes that she’s no longer the same person. Frankie tries to hold on to his anger instead of forgiving his mother for her disappearance.

Groovy is a great character, one of my favorites this year. She’s honest and insightful about the people around her. You couldn’t help but want to know more about her from the book’s great opening paragraph,

We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

Sea Change by Aimee Friedman

friedmanSea Change (2009)
Aimee Friedman
320 pages
Young Adult
Rating: Re-read

Summary

Miranda Merchant is ready to spend her summer interning at a museum in New York. But when her maternal grandmother Isadora dies, Miranda has to push her plans back and she and her mother travels to Silkie Island to take of Isadora’s estate. While there Miranda finds a strange book at the Mariner, her grandmother’s summer home. The book tells of the legend of the merman who once lived off the coast of the island. These mermen look normal but it’s when they’re fully in the water that you can see their true form.

While on the island Miranda meets Leo, a gorgeous and mysterious native who seems to be everything Miranda needs. But something tells Miranda that Leo is hiding a secret. Does it have to do with the merman legend?

Thoughts

What a great story! I was originally planning on waiting for the read-a-thon to read Sea Change. Last night I glanced through the book and ended up spending the next two hours reading. Miranda is a great character. She’s an intelligent and shy teenager who’s not really into dating and boys. She just tries to stay focused on her passion,which is science, and keep out of trouble. It’s when she meets Leo and also T.J. another boy, that she starts to understand what chemistry between two people feels like.

Friedman’s description of Silkie Island is so believable. I felt as if I was there. You can picture the setting so well, whether it was the Mariner or Fisherman’s Village.

If you’re participating in the upcoming read-a-thon and looking for a short but well-written story, look no further than Sea Change, a light tale about teenage love.

Book Review: Crazy Beautiful

Crazy Beautiful (2009)
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
193 pages
Young Adult
Rating: Re-read

Instead of just giving you the regular book review format, I’m giving you five reasons why Crazy Beautiful is a great book and why I think you should give it a try.

Reasons why I love Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted:

1. Great characterization. The main characters, Lucius and Aurora, are a blast to read about. After losing his arms in an explosion of his own doing, Lucius and his family moves to a new town for a fresh start. Aurora Belle is also getting a new start in the same town with her father after losing her mother to cancer. The instant they see each other it feels as if they’ve always known each other. The problem: Lucius is deemed crazy by everyone except Aurora and her father while Aurora becomes the new addition to the popular crowd.

2. It’s about seeing the good in people, knowing who you are and being that person instead of what’s easier for others to deal with.

3. The story is so addictive that I read this book in one sitting. It’s not often that a book makes you drop everything you need to do and read it. The reader almost instantly starts to care about the characters. You want to know as much as possible about them.

4. The book is sparse, giving the reader only the details needed for the action to keep going.

5. This book has made Lauren Baratz-Logstead one of my newest favorite authors. I will definitely be checking out her other books.

Have you read this yet? If so, please let me know so I can link to you.

Jellaby by Kean Soo

Jellaby (2008)
by Kean Soo
145 pages
Rating: Reread

Why I picked this up:

I’ve read great reviews about Kean Soo’s Jellaby on many blogs and when I happened to see it at my local library, I grabbed it to bring it home.

Summary:

Portia Bennett is a young girl who’s still reeling from the disappearance of her dad a year before. One night she hears a noise outside her bedroom windows and investigates. She finds a monster whom she later names Jellaby and brings him home. She’s sure that Jellaby is lost and the only clue she has to where he’s really from is a picture of a door in a nearby city. With the help of a new friend, Jason, the three decide to go alone to this mysterious door.

My thoughts:

What a great book! Kean Soo is such a talented artist and writer. One of the characters, Jason, is a latchkey kid whose parents are never seen or heard from throughout the story. On one page when Portia and Jellaby are going home after leaving Jason’s house and you see the loneliness he feels from being left alone so often. This isn’t just a story about a monster but also about the grief that Portia still feels after her father’s disappearance, Jason’s loneliness, and the mystery of Jellaby’s origins. This is definitely a book I will be rereading.

Essay Review: What Good Is a Story?

kingsolver

“What Good is a Story?”
from the essay collection, Small Wonder (2002)
written by Barbara Kingsolver

I have always wondered why short stories aren’t popular in modern America. We are such busy folks, you’d think we’d jump at the chance to have our literary wisdom served in doses that fit between taking the trash to the curb and waiting for the carpool. We should favor the short story and adore the poem. But we don’t. Short-story collections rarely sell half as well as novels; they are never blockbusters. They are hardly ever even block-denters. . .

This is the start of “What Good Is a Story?”, an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, detailing the three months she spent in 2000 as a guest editor for The Best American Short Stories series. Kingsolver had to read  125 short stories before she could pick the twenty best ones. In her essay, Kingsolver explains those hectic three months, why she loves short stories, and what reading means to her.

On reading during this hectic time,

. . . all of us have to work reading into our busy lives. The best tales can stand up to the challenge-and if anything can, it should be the genre of short fiction. . . If we lived in silent white rooms with no emergencies. . .we probably wouldn’t need fiction to help us explain the inexplicable, the storms at sea and deaths of too-young friends.

On choosing the stories that she did,

With a pile of stories on my lap I sat with this question, early on, and tried to divine for myself why was it that I loved a piece of fiction when I did, and the answer came to me quite clearly; I love it for what it tells me about life. I love fiction, strangely enough, for how true it is. If it can tell me something I didn’t already know, or maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or never  before had sock me so divinely in the solar plexus, that was a story worth the read.

I don’t know about you, but that is very true for me. I don’t want to read anything predictable or something that I already know. Many of the books I’ve read lately have uncovered to me lives I don’t usually think about. Reading this essay reminded why I picked up this book the very first time. I enjoy Kingsolver’s writing. It’s accessible and tells me something that I knew but couldn’t put into words myself about reading.

I won’t give you any more quotes but if you’ve enjoyed any of Kingsolver’s other works, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this amazing collection of essays. Or if you haven’t read Kingsolver before but enjoy a mixture of the personal and the political, this book may be for you.

Other books you may enjoy:
A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning & Life by Nancy Peacock

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine

lurieThe Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (2008)
April Lurie
224 pages
Young Adult

Dear Chris,

After reading this book, I searched through the Nerds Heart YA group posts to see who’s the genius behind nominating this book for the tournament. And it’s you! I couldn’t believe it. Well, yeah, I could. I mean you’re constantly adding books to my TBR pile all the time. But it was you! You’re my hero!

If you hadn’t nominated this book for the tournament I doubt I would have picked it up. I was too busy zoning out studying that I missed your post about it. I’m starting to realize how great many of the books that have been nominated for the tournament are. The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine is a book I want to put in the hands of every blogger I know.

Dylan Fontaine is a guy in the middle of the chaos that he calls life. His mom left the family for another man, his father works all the time as an obstetrician, and his older brother, Randy, is a weed-head who refuses to use an ounce of the talent he has. It’s Dylan who tries to keep everything going by cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep his brother out of trouble. On top of all that Dylan is in love with his best friend, Angie, but is scared to tell her how he feels.

Chris, this book is a page-turner. I sat in my living room the other day and ignored everything to read it. Sex, drug arrests, running from the police, fights. . . this book had everything but boy-on-boy kissing. (Too bad.) All those things aren’t there just to keep the story interesting, they help Dylan figure out who he is. Who is Dylan Fontaine in the middle of all these roles he play to keep from living his own life?

I read your review, Chris, and I agree with you that there is so much to this book that to describe it, is to go on forever about it. Lurie did a fantastic job capturing the essence of adolescence while making readers care about every character in the book.

With Kelly judging the match up of  The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine against Leftovers by Sarah Weiss, I cannot wait until June 21st to find out which book makes it to the next round. Thanks for recommending this book.

-V

Other reviews by some great bloggers

Chris (of course)

Becky

The Ghost’s Child

hartnettThe Ghost’s Child (2008)
Sonya Hartnett
176 pages
Young Adult Fiction

Matilda, an elderly woman, comes home one afternoon to find a young boy sitting in her living room waiting for her. She has no idea who he is or what he wants. As they sit down for tea, the boy asks Matilda about the picture of her as a young girl on  her boat.

Matilda tells the story of her childhood and growing up as a young girl named Maddy. She was the daughter of a materialistic mother and a father who had to divide himself into two different people: the “Iron-man”, an important and wealthy member of the community who only wants to make money and “Daddy”, a man who loves his daughter and only wants her to be happy.

Matilda describes her childhood self as

an over-lookable child, doubtful and reluctant in her dealings with others, mousey as a mouse. She was easily hurt, deceived and dispirited.

After a year-long journey with her father all over the world to experience life for the first time, Maddy comes back changed and more sure of herself.

Soon she falls in love with a mysterious boy named Feather. They fall in love and though Feather wants to make Maddy happy, one day he disappears to the horizon and a place called The Island of Stillness. Unable to let Feather go, Matty learns to sail and goes off on an adventure to ask Feather for the answer to the only question she has. . .

I really enjoyed reading this book. The Ghost’s Child is a book that has to be read slowly. The book isn’t really plot-driven but focuses more on character-building: Matilda as an old woman and as a young girl named Maddy. One of my favorite things about this book was the language. There were so many passages that I marked to read again later.

I love this passage by Matilda on love:

The world changes when something in it is loved. Words become feeble. Colors glow. Every moment vibrates with possible importance. And the heart that loves wonders how it live, in the past, without loving-and it will live now, now that it loves.

What I didn’t like were the few times that were unbelievable. Maddy as a child was a little too mature. She understood too much about life though she hadn’t experience life yet. Here’s a passage from Maddy as a child:

In the black of night, however, she was wrung with fear. She did not want to be uncaring, and uncared-for. She did not want to spend her whole life taking steps in the darkest, the coldest, the most lonely direction. Yet how, she wondered, does one craft sturdy happiness out of something as important, as complicated, as unrepeatable and as easily damaged as a life?

A beautiful passage but from a child? The Ghost’s Child has few faults and all can easily be overlooked. This is a great fable about the lessons of love and letting go, beauty, and having the courage to live life as you see fit.

Highly recommended.

500 Great Books by Women

bauermesiter

500 Great Books by Women (1994)
edited by Erica Bauermeister, Jesse Larsen, and Holly Smith
426 pages

I don’t review reference books here on 1330v, but I love this book and wanted fellow bookworms to know about. If you liked Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, you will love 500 Great Books by Women.

Edited by Erica Bauermeister, Jesse Larsen, and Holly Smith and compiled with the help of thirty contributors, 500 Great Books gives the reader a collection of short reviews of lesser-known books of all genres written by women writers from different races, ages, sexual orientations, and countries. Many of the featured books were first published in a language other than English.

The reviews are divided by theme such as Growing Old, Choices, Families, Ethics, Observations, and many more. I used post-its to mark all the books I wanted to read and I ran out of post-its! My book now looks like a rainbow.

Many of the books featured here I have not heard of and less than twenty of them I’ve read. The editors included many well-known writers like Angela Carter, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, and Barbara Kingsolver but you are not going to find every book they wrote in this collection. Instead every writer only gets one book featured to leave room for other writers. I thought the idea was thoughtful and fair.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is that there’s no table of contents though you can find out what books is featured by going to a theme’s page. Included in the back of the book are many indexes such as by title, subject, country, and others.

I loved the beginning of the book’s preface,

We read to learn, to feel, to stretch beyond our own lives, to escape, and to understand. A book has the power to reach back toward us and let us know we are not alone. Up from a flat page of type comes joy or anger or sadness, a sentence that soars, or an image that surprised like a photograph long forgotten. For a few hundred pages we can feel new rhythms, see new images, learn about ourselves, and become someone else.

The contributors and editors did an amazing job with this book. With so many books published every year in the United States let alone other countries, 500 Great Books is not meant to be comprehensive but to recommend to the reader some of great books the editors have read. Highly recommended.

Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill

weatherillWild Magic (2007)
Cat Weatherill
280 pages
Middle School Fiction

What led you to pick up this book?

When I heard this was a re-telling of the Pied Piper fairy tale, I wanted to read it badly. I’ve been on a fairy tale kick for a while now. It took about six months for me to get this book from the library so when it finally arrived I was surprised.

From the jacket flap

The Pied Piper had his reasons for enchanting the children of Hamelin and stealing them away—ones rooted in a deep history of wild magic. Mari and her brother Jakob are among the children who followed the piper’s song, and they are now trapped in a beautiful but cruel world inhabited by a horrid Beast.

What I liked most

Everything. Mari and Jakob are great characters to follow. The book’s summary is actually wrong. Mari followed the Pied Piper but Jakob couldn’t because he had a bad leg. Jakob was so determined to get to his sister that he sat at the magical door of a mountain every night for days, waiting for it to open. The effects of Elvendale, the magical city inside the mountain on Jakob almost had me in tears, it was so touching.

In Wild Magic readers find out what happened to the children of Hamelin Hill and also get the background story on the Pied Piper.

Though this book stayed on my shelf for weeks once I opened it, I read it in a matter of hours. I was drawn into this story of three great characters, a beast, and a deadly forest. Even the minor characters were interesting. I definitely recommend this book.

Here’s a description of the children leaving Hamelin Town with the Pied Piper,

He dared to be different. Into a sad, drab world of gray and black he had come, burning bright in turquoise and jade. Dazzling as a dragonfly. He had played a pipe and the rats had followed, dancing till they drowned in the quick brown water of the river. They had to follow him. They couldn’t resist his music. And Marianna couldn’t resist it now. It was glorious. She wanted to dance. She wanted to dream. She wanted to follow the Piper.

And Marianna wasn’t alone. The streets were packed with children. Every boy, every girl in Hamelin Town seemed to be there, and they were all dancing.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

simner Bones of Faerie (2009)
Janni Lee Simner
247 pages
Young adult/Dystopian fiction
Well-Read Ladies pick for May


Summary

A devastating war between human and Faerie leaves both sides changed forever. Liza, a young girl, has only heard of the Before which is so different from the aftermath. Humans live in small villages instead of cities. Modern technology is a thing of the past. Even nature is now an enemy where trees can attack at will and plants are not to be trusted. The one lesson that Liza has learned from her cruel father is to never let anything magical in. Your life depends on it.

But when Liza’s mother gives birth one night, the child is different. Born with hair as clear as glass, Liza’s father knows the baby is part Faerie and abandons it on a hillside to die. Soon after Liza’s mother disappears and Liza is left alone with her father to fend for herself. When Liza realizes that she has the power to see into the past and future, she too flees in search of her mother and a safe place to live.

My thoughts

I think Bones of Faerie is a pretty good book. The aftermath of the war between the two races was believable. Teh author constantly illustrated the effects of the war: people had to pump their water and grow plants that could possibly kill them if they wanted to live. Liza’s display of strength and her relationship with Matthew, a boy from her neighborhood, was also entertaining.

What I didn’t like was that readers were never given a reason for the war, just a quick explanation that the two sides didn’t get along. I wanted to know the details behind the war and what lead up to it. I wanted a feel for both sides like you do with Hunger Games.

I still think it’s a good read. The story captures your attention and doesn’t let you go until the end.

Other reviews:
Becky

Emily’s Piano by Charlotte Gingras

gingasEmily’s Piano (2005)
By Charlotte Gingras
Translated from the French by Susan Ouriou
Illustrations by Stephane Jorisch
60 pages

Middle school fiction

Grown-ups think I don’t understand anything. They’re wrong. I watch soap operas just like everyone else. What’s more, I have hypersensitive ears and piercing eyes. Even my sense of smell is much better than most people’s. I’d make a great bloodhound.

Summary

Emily’s family life is not the best. Her father rarely comes home at night and her mother spends her days crying. One day the family has to move from their grand house to a much smaller apartment. Most of their things are sold including the family’s old black piano.

Emily thinks that if she can just get her mother’s piano back, it would make her mother feel so much better. She goes  on walks all around the city, looking for the piano. Will she find it and bring her mother happiness?

Thoughts

I enjoyed reading this book. The author never tells you Emily’s age but I imagine her to be a  tween, ten or eleven years old. Everyone from her parents to her much older sisters are too busy with their own lives to pay her any attention.

As an adult and a parent it was sad to see that no one in that family was focused on Emily. Though Emily herself is a little sad about her parents’ divorce, she’s still going on with her life, taking care of herself while understanding her mother’s grief.

Here’s two more great quotes from the book,

There’s no hope of a truce in this family now. We criticize each other, we tell each other’s secrets. Sometimes we scream insults.

Emily’s conversation with her father,

He says children can’t know how complicated and strange grown-ups’ lives are, even to them. How sometimes life is like a canoe trip down a dangerous river when the canoe tips down and sinks. How sometimes a person has to run away, or how . . .

What about me? Do grown-ups know what they’re doing to me?

Though this  is a short book, readers travel with Emily on a journey through sadness and emotional maturing that has a beautiful ending.

Congratulations to Sarah for winning the Karma Wilson giveaway!