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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: When She Woke




“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

synopsis from GoodReads:
Faith, love and sexuality have fallen prey to politics in this stunning creation of America in the near future, from the author whose international bestseller, Mudbound, so hauntingly recreated America’s past.


Hannah Payne’s life has been devoted to church and family, but after her arrest, she awakens to a nightmare: she lies on a table in a mirrored room, covered only by a paper gown, with cameras broadcasting her every move to millions at home, for whom observing new “chromes”—criminals whose skin color has been genetically altered to match the class of their crime— is a new and sinister form of reality TV. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder. The victim, says the state of Texas, was her unborn child, and Hannah is determined to protect the identity of the father, a public figure with whom she shared a fierce and forbidden love.

Inspired by The Scarlet Letter, When She Woke is a dark fable about a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate a dystopian, theocratic America of the not-too-distant future, where convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated, but “chromed” and released back into the population to survive as best they can. In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a journey of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the moral authority of a country that politicizes the personal.

Publishing October 4th 2011 by Algonquin Books.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum


I was intrigued with the premise of this memoir from the moment I heard about it - Molly Birnbaum, a chef-in-training about to start classes at the Culinary Institute of America was hit by a car and lost her sense of smell. How can you cook if you can't smell?

I think in my head I was expecting this to be more like a nonfiction Left Neglected, talking about an obscure brain injury from the insider's view. What was unexpected was how much research Ms. Birnbaum did and how that was sprinkled throughout the book. Some of the research seemed overly wonky, but as there's very little research at all on the sense of smell, naturally some works she'd read would have to be academic. She is now a journalist (not spoiling anything you can't learn from the author bio) so it makes sense that she thoroughly researched her condition, and as much as I love obscure facts, those were the bits I had to get through to get back to the memoir parts, which I did like more.

Also in this book the author seems very young. Yes, she is young - the car accident happened when she was 23 - but I wish a little bit of the early-20s entitlement had been scrubbed from the book by the editor first. Such as when working at her first job at a restaurant, she marvels that she can't sleep when she wants and just sit around a library all day. I wanted to say to her "no shit, and that would be the case with any job, it's not particular to restaurants." While flaws often make the narrator more sympathetic, in this case her naivete made her seem a little bit snobbish (and I say this as a privileged white kid who went to an excellent college myself. If I wrote a memoir at her age I hope to God my editor would have thoroughly excised all such references.) That said, it's a minor quibble of an otherwise enjoyable memoir.

You wouldn't think losing your sense of smell would be so impactful, but it truly is. Most people who lose it also lose a great deal of weight and even become malnourished and depressed. It's not just that food doesn't have a taste anymore - some foods up to 90% of the taste is actually in the smell - it tastes like sawdust. It tastes fairly bad. Can you imagine forcing yourself to eat a pile of sawdust? And then doing that again and again and again? My boyfriend says that food is just fuel and he'd have no problem with it but since he's currently reading a book all about bananas, his favorite food, I think he's full of it.

But for Molly, the real trauma is having to come up with a new plan, a new identity for herself, one that doesn't involve her becoming a chef or even cooking at home much. In that regard, I think this book is actually a perfect gift for a college senior, as many, many kids have to go through that recalibration in the first few years out of college for a variety of reasons - hopefully not many for as traumatic a cause. And Molly does push through and she does remake her life.

I read this book very fast, and it was hopeful and light, and made me very hungry and made me go around sniffing all sorts of things for days afterwards. After all, it isn't only food that smells. I love the smell right before it rains, and the smell of clean clothes (Tide and Bounce) and fresh-cut grass and the smell outside right now as it's turning to fall and the air smells of dry leaves and a little hint of smoke. Ahhh.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Reservoir


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson p. 89-90

"So the story has not gone away--the headline was larger announcing that 'the case' remains cloudy. There was no mention of suicide, but neither was there talk of foul play. Yet."

This book is interesting in that unlike in a typical mystery, we're pretty sure we know that she was murdered and by whom (I'm not really giving anything away as both of those were clear in chapter two), however, I think perhaps not all is as it appears, and the book's flaps imply there will be a big mystery revealed in the trial, so I am not so cocky to assume that the implications are 100% correct.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week, A List!


Last year I went through the Most Frequently Challenged Books list from the 1990s, so this year I'm going to post the list from the 2000s. Last year I had read 29 of the '90s books ( I have since read one more.) For the 2000s, I have read 24. Wow, I was expecting there for be a bigger difference between the two decades. I thought that during the '90s, when I was a teen, I'd have read more of the books, but not so (of course there is some overlap between the lists.) Check out the ALA's website for more info on Banned Book Week.

Books in Blue I've read.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Little Bird Of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent
Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

Up next:
The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book Review: Little Bird Of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates


I had never read a Joyce Carol Oates book before, but a friend was recently hassling me about that, and I figured I really ought to have read someone so prolific and respected, so I got this book and gave her a shot. I'm glad I did! This book would be perfect for a book club. It's got a lot of interesting topics that would be ripe for discussion, and some that would be controversial.

In the mid-1980s, Krista's father is accused of the murder of his mistress, Zoe, but never even arrested. Zoe's estranged husband is also accused, and his son Aaron, a couple of years ahead of Krista in school, also goes through his childhood with this cloud over his head. Krista loves her father and doesn't believe he could have done this, although it does become apparent that other people in town do think it's possible. Krista's mother kicks him out, get a restraining order, her brother Ben won't have anything to do with him, but when he shows up at Krista's high school, she goes with him willingly, even eagerly, which may well prove to be a big mistake. Meanwhile Aaron's dropped out of school and gotten mixed up with a bad crowd. He was already on a downhill slope when his mother moved out but after he found her body, his decline turned into more of a steep spiral. Aaron and Krista will cross paths at a couple of critical points in their lives, two teens burned by accusations and doubt and love.

The book isn't a murder mystery per se, but there is a murder immediately, and we don't know who did it until the end (and I did not like how that plot line was tied up although I was glad it wasn't left hanging.) I don't think the whole book except for the last three chapters being told in flashback was effective. I think it should have just been a book in the 1980s. The very end set 20 years later didn't do it for me at all. But that's easy to ignore as it's such a small part of the book (although it's always a bummer when you don't like the end.)

The book is atmospheric, and the time and place (upstate New York) were very deftly drawn with only a few strokes, but perfectly accurate (with the one quibble that as an adult Krista says she'd never heard of Metallica - that is impossible for someone who grew up in the 1980s especially in a semi-rural public school.) I could really see the outfits and the hairdos, even when they weren't described, because the scenes were set so well. We really got inside Krista's head, to understand her naivete, her wistful hopefulness, her loving devotion to her father, her trust to the end, her wanting to understand even if it meant risking everything. I thought that part of the book was terrific. Then just over halfway through, the narration switches from Krista's first-person, to third-person with Aaron as the focus. It was a bit jarring, and I didn't like when he called himself "Krull" (short for Kruller, his last name) as that seemed a bit farcical. His perspective didn't ring as true. Maybe it was the third-person or that his section was shorter or that I already had a strong idea of who he was through Krista's eyes, but it was hard to shift and I often just didn't buy it. I did get used to it, but I never liked that section much.

I definitely found this book flawed, but the writing was so great and the characters were so three-dimensional, and the situation was so compelling, that it was fairly easy to overlook most of them. To the point that I would recommend the book despite its flaws. Not a perfect book, but a world in which it was easy to become completely lost.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review: A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary


I love this book! Love love love! If you are a Beverly Cleary fan - and I know you are - you must read it too!

It isn't precisely a children's book although the font does make it accessible for younger readers (and at my library it is shelved in the children's non-fiction section although very oddly, not in biography.) However there are a couple of mentions of sex (just mentions though, where Beverly would say something like "and this would have been a time for my mother to talk about sex with me, but she did not,") so keep that in mind if you are recommending it to a younger reader. There is absolutely not racy.

Born in 1916, most of Beverly's young life was rough. Her family fell on hard times many years before the Depression. They had to sell the farm and her father had to get a job he hated working as a bank security guard. In the early 1930s he lost that job too. You could really see where Ramona and Her Father came from with Mr. Quimby losing his job and the family having to economize. In fact, you see these hints throughout the book. When Beverly said they stopped using toothpaste and used baking powder instead because it was cheaper, it reminded me of when Ramona squeezed out the entire tube of toothpaste in the sink and one reason why it was so horrible for her to have done that was that the toothpaste cost money. Beverly isn't picked to be in the school play so they let her be an alternate, like Ramona. When Beverly goes to her friend's house, she tap-dances on the front step instead of knocking, just like in Ellen Tebbits. I don't remember the other books very well (Henry Huggins and Socks and Otis Spofford) so I don't even know how many references I'm missing.

The book is sweet and written simply. Ms. Cleary once said that many children wrote to tell her they loved her books so much because she left out all the description in favor of story, and she does the same here. Her writing will feel familiar and homey, and yet it's just as wonderful read for an adult as it would be for a teen. When her school librarian tells her that she should write children's books, just try to stop your heart from melting.

I am so excited to read the sequel! The first one ends just as she heads off to college. She had an icky boyfriend in high school and I am so thrilled he wasn't Mr. Cleary. Who I am excited to meet eventually!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent


I got this audiobook after reading Ms. Vincent's prior book, Self-Made Man. After months impersonating a man to infiltrate male-centric societies, Norah was so shaken by the experience, she checked herself into a mental hospital. While there, as an immersive journalist, her thoughts naturally went to: "This would make a good book!" And off she went...

She did not use that first experience in the book except to explain why she wrote it. So this book covers her experiences in 3 hospitals: an East Coast public hospital, a Midwest private hospital, and a West Coast private new-age spa-like hospital. As the prices went up, so did the services and the level of therapy. There was virtually none at the public hospital - Norah got 15 minutes of therapy per day there, which I found almost laughable. This place was also the one most focused on medicating patients. The Midwest hospital had a great psychiatrist who gave Norah daily off-campus passes and who didn't prescribe meds for her that she did not want. The third hospital had a lot of different kinds of therapy but most importantly, had a kindly, caring social worker who gave Norah insights she wasn't expecting.

I think that was the most interesting part of the book for me, and the most unexpected for Norah herself. She went into the project not wanting to lie, therefore she used her own name and her own medical records with their history of depression. However, she thought she was going to these hospitals purely for book research, and she wasn't expecting to get anything out of it. In the end, she got a lot (although not from the public hospital.) I found it interesting how even the most intelligent and educated among us can still be in serious denial about how much help we can use.

Initially I wasn't crazy about the narrator. I'm not sure why but her voice didn't match up to what I was expecting or it wasn't fitting with the emotions or something, but by the time I was halfway in, that wasn't a problem at all anymore. She'd grown on me. And one little negative about audiobooks in general: sometimes in paper books I will skim a little bit, such as over a section about how disgusting it was to eat with some of the highly medicated insane patients in the public hospital, but in an audiobook you can't, so I was thoroughly grossed out when if I'd been reading the print version I would have only been mildly grossed out as I would have glossed that section. I've listened to other books where the problem of not being able to skim came up but not in this way. It's interesting how listening to audiobooks really can be a very different experience from reading print.

I bought this audiobook from Audible.

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Reservoir


Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

"On March 14, 1885, a body is floating in the old Maxwell Reservoir, in a light snow, and then under a waxing moon."

Well, that's provocative!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Swerve




“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

synopsis from GoodReads:
A riveting tale of the great cultural "swerve" known as the Renaissance.

One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson. 16 pages full-color illustrations.

Publishing September 26th 2011 by W. W. Norton.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: The Reservoir


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson p. 23
It's a comfort to him having something that she owned and touched, though he wishes he had a piece of clothing or a lock of hair. The key will have to do, and since it's not necessarily an article belonging to a woman, there's no need to tell anyone of his discovery."

Hm, I'm guessing the key belongs (or might belong) to the dead woman who turned up in the reservoir. This guy seems a little creepy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Little Bird Of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent (audio)

Up next:
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson
Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery


In the 4th book in the Anne of Green Gables series, Anne is biding her time, waiting for her fiancee Gilbert who is in medical school. Not one to be idle, Anne has secured a position as principal of, and teaching the high school, for Summerside. She finds boarding in the adorable house of Windy Poplars on Spook's Lane with Aunt Kate, Aunt Chatty, and Rebecca Dew.

This book is back to more episodic chapters, with very few recurring characters aside from the abovementioned, more short-story-like, which is not my favorite. But there is an interesting stylistic change here, I'd guess fully half of the book is epistolic, consisting of letters to Gilbert, or excerpts from letters, as the romantic bits have been cut out (which I found quite amusing. Who cut them out? And why? Are we supposed to think Anne did it or Mrs. Montgomery?) But that doesn't happen often as Anne can only write romantic letters when her pen isn't scratchy or nubbly or pointy or anything like that.

Initially, she has issues with the reigning family of the town, the Pringles, who thought a Pringle counsin should have gotten the job that Anne has. She has trouble with her Pringle students and with the school board and simply locals in town snubbing her or countering things she needs to do for the school, and I had thought this issue would be the recurring book-long plot, but it was resolved in pretty short order, after about 50 pages, and after that the Pringles adored Anne just like most everyone else. And I do like Anne too, but I'm starting to feel like she's a little too perfect. She's never too chatty when someone doesn't want to be, but she's overly effusive most of the rest of the time so that seems almost out of character, and she's patient when patience is called for, and impatient at other times. It's not that her character is inconsistent, but for such a young woman (she's 22-25 in this book), she rarely loses her temper or does anything impudent or reckless, and yet she's not at all reclusive or shy or afraid of anything.

I actually liked the character of Katherine Brooke. It is unusual in the Anne books to find a character so disagreeable. Naturally, she had a change of heart, but I was relieved that it wasn't complete. She still hated children and decided to switch careers, and she didn't immediately hook up with a guy. And my favorite character was probably Dusty Miller.

So while there were parts I wasn't thrilled with, I still loved the book and am looking forward to the last few books in the series.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: A Girl From Yamhill


Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary

"Mother and I stand on the weathered and warped back steps looking up at my father, who sits, tall and handsome in work clothes, astride a chestnut horse."

I am LOVING this memoir by Beverly Cleary. It's fantastic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Waiting On” Wednesday: Elizabeth and Hazel




"Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:


Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

description from Goodreads:
The names Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery may not be well known, but the image of them from September 1957 surely is: a black high school girl, dressed in white, walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, and a white girl standing directly behind her, face twisted in hate, screaming racial epithets. This famous photograph captures the full anguish of desegregation—in Little Rock and throughout the South—and an epic moment in the civil rights movement.

In this gripping book, David Margolick tells the remarkable story of two separate lives unexpectedly braided together. He explores how the haunting picture of Elizabeth and Hazel came to be taken, its significance in the wider world, and why, for the next half-century, neither woman has ever escaped from its long shadow. He recounts Elizabeth’s struggle to overcome the trauma of her hate-filled school experience, and Hazel’s long efforts to atone for a fateful, horrible mistake. The book follows the painful journey of the two as they progress from apology to forgiveness to reconciliation and, amazingly, to friendship. This friendship foundered, then collapsed—perhaps inevitably—over the same fissures and misunderstandings that continue to permeate American race relations more than half a century after the unforgettable photograph at Little Rock. And yet, as Margolick explains, a bond between Elizabeth and Hazel, silent but complex, endures.

Publishing September 27th 2011 by Yale University Press.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: A Girl from Yamhill


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary p. 172

"When school started in September, girls discovered that boys, awful n the sixth grade, had become terrible in the seventh grade. They said bad words, some of which we did not understand."

This makes me think of the scene where Ramona is really upset and declares that she's going to say "a bad word" and she yells "Guts!" and her parents and Beezus all laugh and she's then even more upset because that was the baddest word she knew. Throughout this book I am seeing glimpses of Ramona and Ellen and other beloved Cleary characters.

Monday, September 12, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
The River by Gary Paulsen

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
Little Bird Of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent (audio)

Up next:
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: The River by Gary Paulsen


So I read book 2 in the Hatchet series, which I initially skipped in favor of Book 3 (it's okay if you read them in that order.) It is good, but it is also very short, almost too short.

Brian is asked by some military men if he will go back into the woods, with them, for them to learn from him how he did what he did to survive in Hatchet. He agrees, and the trip is set for Brian and Derek, the psychologist to return to a similar lake in the Northern wilds of Canada. But when they arrive, Brian doesn't want the tent and the radio and the flashlights and all the other gear he didn't have on his initial trip (in fact, they don't even bring a hatchet as it's unlikely anyone else would have the good fortune he did to happen to be carrying one.) While he does compromise on the radio - and Derek's research materials - he gets his way and the experiment is on. But shortly it goes terribly wrong and Brian has to make a risky journey down the river to save Derek.

It's interesting that just when things go wrong, is when Brian says, there's no tension. Ironically, that was true in the narrative as well so it's almost ironic for the main character to point that out. I didn't mind the organizing and planning parts (although the girlfriend seemed kind of pointless). But it felt a little unbalanced. There was little to no action at all for the first 2/3, and then nonstop action racing through to the last page. Also, it felt overly short - I'd have liked the author to spend more time with Brian on the raft, so we would also really feel his exhaustion and anxiety. It was good, but it could have been more. But a typical 12-year-old boy is unlikely to pick up on that at all. He might simply say he wished the exciting bit on the raft were longer, but it'll be enough for him.

It was interesting at the beginning, to hear about the repercussions from The Time. How Brian is now a gourmet cook, how he listens to the birds, how he went to the mall and forced himself to endure the noise and the crowds in order to reacclimate himself to everyday life. Those few months forever changed his life, and he'll never really reacclimate, you can tell. But not in a bad way. He isn't now scarred and maladjusted - he just values different things and notices different things that typical teenagers, and I think he'll make thoughtful and considered decisions about everything for the rest of his life. He's never going to be carefree and thoughtless again, and while some might mourn the end of innocence and childhood, I think he's learned a valuable lesson that today's kids often don't learn until adulthood, if even then. Mature and confidant and appreciative, Brian is an excellent role model.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I checked this book out of the library.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Little Bird Of Heaven



Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Little Bird Of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates

"The yearning in my heart! This was a long time ago."

The main character is telling the story in retrospect, presumably from now as an adult. But in the story it's 1987 and she's 15. She's going through a rough time, her parents divorcing due to her father's indifelity and accusation of the murder of his mistress. This would be rough for anyone to go through, but for a teenager in a small town, it's pretty terrible.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Grief of Others




“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

synopsis from GoodReads:
In the tradition of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, a gripping, generous, and provocative novel chronicling the grief that follows the death of a newborn—and leads to a family's emotional reawakening.

It begins with loss. John and Ricky Ryrie are stricken by the death of their third child, only fifty-seven hours after his birth. Struggling to regain a semblance of normalcy, they find themselves pretending not only that little has changed, but that nothing was wrong before this baby came so briefly into their lives. Yet in the aftermath of his death, long suppressed uncertainties about their relationship come roiling to the surface. A dreadful secret emerges concerning what Ricky knew about her pregnancy and concealed from everyone, even John. And the couple's two older children, grappling with the tensions around them, begin to act out in exquisitely, perhaps courageously, idiosyncratic ways. Ultimately, though, the grief that was initially so isolating brings the four family members to connect powerfully with the sadness and burdens of others—to the grief that is part of every human life and that carries within it the ability to draw us together. And in the end, Ricky and John's marriage is stronger for the transformation their grief has allowed.

Moving, psychologically acute, and gorgeously written, The Grief of Others is Leah Hager Cohen at the height of her talent in what is sure to be her breakout book, one that forces readers to ask themselves: What would I have done? The Grief of Others exposes the paradox that facing tragedy together can in fact awaken us to our better selves and take us from fear to a place of hope and optimism.

Publishing September 15th 2011 by Riverhead.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson


I agree, it's a little strange for someone with no children to read a book about the anxiety a parent goes through with their child's college application process, but I've always found colleges fascinating, and I nearly became a high school guidance counselor, precisely so I could help teens with this task. I also have 4 cousins in this mode currently, with one just headed off last week to college. I had recommended this book to my cousin who has a daughter who is a high school senior and another junior, and I thought I should probably read it if I'm going to recommend it.

It's fun and light and a short, fast read. I do strongly recommend it for the parents of high schoolers, although others who are simply interested should enjoy it as well. It doesn't give a ton of advice, except some really basics: let your kid do the work him/herself, don't hover too much, try to calm down, understand that as torturous and baffling as this process is, it's what we've got so we need to deal with it. One of the only bits of practical advice was so useful that it merits being called out. Mr. Ferguson got conflicting information about his son's teacher recommendations, and wasn't sure if he should be handing teachers a packet with a resume, sample answers, detailed additional information, a gift, and so on, or not. He felt the gift before the recommendation felt more like a bribe than a thank-you (I agree), but the rest seemed practical, if overbearing. So should you do it or not? He asked around some more, he went onto a website that was super-unhelpful in so many ways (defined Too Much Advice), debated with his son and wife, and in the end his son simply asked his teachers if they'd like more information. Wow. What a simple solution to such an anxiety-provoking question. And I think that advice is what parents need to keep in mind in this process. Don't overthink it. (And for the record, the teachers said no.)

A funny note: it wasn't until the very end - by which I mean the acknowledgements AFTER the end of the book itself - that I noticed I'd never learned the name of Mr. Ferguson's son. He really pulled that off quite well. I appreciate him wanting to maintain his son's anonymity, although it was very, very easy for me to figure out what Big State University really is (the University of Virginia for those of you who, like me, hate loose ends).

Overall, I think this book is indispensable for any worried parents. It will reassure you that your worries are not alone, that your children aren't unusually lazy, that the process is get-through-able, and yes this is all completely insane (and no, you can't do anything about that.) And it will get you off your kid's back for a few hours.

I bought this book at a Border's GOOB sale.

Teaser Tuesdays: Little Bird of Heaven


Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates p. 70

"How strange it seemed to us, who'd known Zoe Kruller from both Honeystone's Dairy and from the Chautauqua Park music-nights, that a woman so friendly, so pretty and glamorous would be strangled in her bed, murdered. How wrong it seemed to us that you could be the girl-singer for Black River Breakdown and applauded and whistled at and made to sing encores, yet someone could still hate you enough to beat, strangle you in your bed."

Zoe was murdered, and we don't know by whom. We know a couple of people who allegedly didn't do it - although the townsfolk aren't so sure how innocent they are. One of course is Zoe's husband and the other is her lover. If neither of them did it, who did? I'm not actually sure if this book is a mystery or not - it is told from the perspective of the daughter of Zoe's lover.

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter
Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The River by Gary Paulsen
Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent (audio)

Up next:
Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim
My Name Is Mary Sutter: A Novel by Robin Oliveira

A New Trend? City-Folk-Turn-Farmer Memoirs


I like natural trends. Not trends like what's currently going on in YA with vampires in particular and the supernatural in general. Editors and agents are looking for "the next Stephanie Meyer", or they're looking for post-apocalyptic teen novels a la The Hunger Games. These aren't really trends, because they're forced. People are hitching their wagons to successful books and crossing their fingers. These books certainly sell, and there are likely to be some gems among them, but I prefer trends that happen more organically, without anyone noticing until there are already a dozen books out there. Those are the book truly speaking to the zeitgeist.

And here's a new one I've spotted: farm memoirs. And not just any farm memoirs, but formerly-urban people who've turned to farming, often because they've fallen in love with a farmer (although usually that farmer is also an ex-urbanite.) I know people have mentioned this trend, as in "it's another farm memoir", but I haven't seen anyone looking for the next farm memoir, or talking about what a successful sub-genre it is, or discussing why these books are what we seem to want to read right now. A combo of the bad economy and the foodie movement would be the obvious answers, but I think in addition, it's a generational thing. We've gotten to the point where stable young-ish adults in their 30s and 40s (those with the financial wherewithal to embark on such an endeavor), have very romantic and nostalgic views of farming life, since we are so far removed from it. We haven't experienced the trials of our grandparents and parents who may have had to sort carrots for 12+ hours a day in wintery Pennsylvania without heat, or who almost died when they fell off and rolled under the combine, or who remember the filth and backbreaking work 365 days a year, only to barely scrape by. I visited the family farm three years ago (my family owned it for more than 300 years, but went bankrupt in the late 1960s/early 1970s, losing the entire property. All these pictures are of the farm.) My father had a lot of stories to tell but if you really listen to the stories - not just to the parts about how delicious the food was - it wasn't the least bit enticing for any of us. It sounded like a difficult, painful, tedious life.

That said, I always like to read about other people doing things I would never want to do myself. Therefore, I have a few of these on my shelf, a couple under my belt, and have run across several more. So I thought I'd do a round up of them here, in case you like this sort of thing as I do:

The Orchard: A Memoir by Theresa Weir
A street-smart city girl must adapt to a new life on an apple farm after she falls in love with Adrian Curtis, the golden boy of a prominent local family whose lives and orchards seem to be cursed. Married after only three months, young Theresa finds life with Adrian on the farm far more difficult and dangerous than she expected.

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him.

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Suddenly, Josh—a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career—and Brent are weekend farmers, surrounded by nature's bounty and soon, a fledgling business, born of a gift of handmade goat-milk soap, blossoms into a brand, Beekman 1802.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter
Novella Carpenter loves cities-the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Eventually she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop.

It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life by Keith Stewart
Already in his early forties and not entirely content with his lot, Keith Stewart traded life in New York’s corporate grind for an upstate farm. Starting as a one-man operation, short on experience and with modest expectations, Stewart soon found that the agrarian life, despite its numerous challenges, suited him well.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Family, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman
Melissa Coleman delivers a luminous, evocative childhood memoir exploring the hope - and struggle behind her family's search for a sustainable lifestyle. Coleman’s searing chronicle tells the true story of her upbringing on communes and sustainable farms along the rugged Maine coastline in the 1970’s, embedded within a moving, personal quest for truth that her experiences produced.

See You in a Hundred Years:Discover One Young Family's Search for a Simpler Life . . . Four Seasons of Living in the Year 1900 by Logan Ward
Logan Ward and his wife, Heather, were prototypical New Yorkers circa 2000: their lives steeped in ambition, work, and stress. Feeling their souls grow numb, wanting their toddler son to see the stars at night, the Wards made a plan. They would return to their native South, find a farm, and for one year live exactly as people did in 1900 Virginia: without a car or electricity–and with only the food they could grow themselves.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels -- A Love Story by Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond tells the true story of her storybook romance that led her from the Los Angeles glitter to a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma, and into the arms of her real-life Marlboro Man.

Have you too noticed this trend? Do you like to read these back-to-the-farm books too? Do they inspire you to plant a garden or go to the farmer's market? Do you like these books more for the romance of moving somewhere impulsively for love, than for the farming aspect? Do you think this is crazy and these people should all just eat a bagel on the subway and get over it?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold


Last year my mother gave me some old books from my childhood, and also, inadvertently, some books like this one that apparently were from my sisters' childhood as I never had read them before. I knew this was a Newbery winner, so I decided to keep it and give it a try.

Miguel is living in New Mexico, in a family of shepherds. Every summer, to give their pastures a break and to give the sheep a break from the heat, the men in the family drive the sheep up to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Miguel is twelve, and thinks he is old enough to go too, but his father disagrees. Miguel tries many times to convince him, coming up with plans and taking advantages of opportunities, such as finding a small bunch of sheep who had wandered away from his brother, to no avail.

(Spoiler alert!) He prays to the patron saint of his town, and his wish is granted. He gets to go with the men up the mountain, because his brother, Gabriel, has been drafted. Miguel feels incredible guilt that his wish has caused this. So he talks to his brother and finds out that Gabriel thinks he was the one who caused this, with his own wish to see the ocean. The brothers decide that people shouldn't wish for anything, because you never get anything in life without giving something up. Everything has a price. And the brother is okay with going (after all, he'll get to see the ocean). And Miguel gets to go up the mountain and it is wonderful.

The book is sweet and has a great message, and the relationships in the family are very caring and yet funny. But I dispute Miguel's age. I've never known a 12-year-old to act like this. He is almost absurdly innocent, has zero interest in girls, believe in wishes, and has an extremely child-like view of the world that to me, would feel much more appropriate on a 10-year-old. I think if you gave this book to a 12-year-old, he would scoff at the "babyish" behavior of Miguel.

That said, I think a 10-year-old would like this book. It's optimistic, Miguel works very hard, he wants to help his family, he has little adventures, and is a good kid. I'd recommend it, but for a younger child.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book was given to me by my mother.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Crazy U


Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson

"College admissions in America is a big spawling subject, but this is not, you'll notice, a big sprawling book."






Book Review: Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter


I know it's a bit early to read this book, but as a woman who reads beach books in winter and depressing winter books in summer, why not Christmas in August?

John Baxter is an Australian living in L.A. working as a screenwriter when his marriage breaks up. On a whim he contacts a French woman, Marie-Dominique, who he had met many years ago when she was still a teenager. They spend an amazing two weeks together and when it's time for her to leave, he goes with her, never to return. They eventually have a daughter and marry. Food is his entree into Marie-Dominique's family, particularly at the beginning when he speaks no French, but food is a language all Parisians understand fluently.

A series of essays of a sort, musings and remembrances, the book is covering a particular recent Christmas when Mr. Baxter is preparing the family meal (which he has done every year after the first year), from preparing the menu to shopping to marinading, he covers most of a month obsessed with this meal. But he isn't trying to make it into a bit, overblown production - it's simple, homey, and comforting, just like Christmas dinner should be. A quick, light read peppered throughout with period line drawings and cartoons, this book would make a great gift, or be the perfect read to put you in a holiday mood (all the more perfect for being short, as December is a month when reading time is short.) Sweet, thoughtful, and charming, at John Baxter's Immoveable Feast is where I wish I would be on December 25.

I bought this book from my local independent bookstore.