Archive for the Category ◊ Books ◊

01 Jul 2008 The Devil’s Arithmetic-Jane Yolen
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I’ve actually read this book before and forgot until I actually started reading.  Eric asked me if I was enjoying my book and I told him point blank that it wasn’t the sort of book you enjoyed.

And it’s not.

Amazon.com lists it as being for ages 9 to 12, but I think more sensitive 9 and 10 year olds might find the book to be just too much.

The Devil’s Arithmetic is the story of Hannah, a rather privileged Jewish girl who is “over” the whole passover thing.  Her relatives, with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their forearms, seem distant and weird and she’s annoyed with the entire group of passover activities.  Out of desperation (and maybe a little selfishness) Hannah dumps her into glass of wine into the cup for Elijah, her grandfather chooses her to ceremoniously open the front door to let him in and she is instantly transported to Poland in 1942, right before the Jews in that area were rounded up and sent off to the camps.

Hannah, known as Chaya in 1942, realizes quickly what their fate is to be and she attempts to warn people.  Obviously they don’t listen because really who could have conceived of the idea of what was going to happen before it did?  Hannah ends up crowded into a freight car where old women and babies and children die and then she enters the camp, frightened, but determined.  There she meets the determined Ryvka who has decided that she will NOT die and does all she can to teach Hannah the ways of the camp.

Hannah returns, eventually, to present times with a new found understanding for the plight of her ancestors.  She’s a changed person.

Who wouldn’t be.

The book was achingly difficult to read.  I didn’t cry, but I literally felt myself recoiling as I read about the dead little girl, still sucking her thing, dead from the exhaustion and starvation and trauma.  I know those things happened and they just…..mortify me.  Horribly.  The book reads quickly, for an adult, and I was finished with it in the space of an evening, between swimming and dinner and cuddle time, but the impression it makes is haunting and i have no doubt my mind won’t be returning to this book for some time.

30 Jun 2008 Whistling in the Dark-Lesley Kagen
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This was a book group selection for the
book group I (attempt) to lead for my Mom’s group. While it was a
quick read I’m not totally sure what I think about it.

The story is about two (well really
three, but sister three is totally one-dimensional so she’s pretty
hard to care about) sisters, Sally and Troo, and their summer in
Milwaukee in 1959. Of course it’s not quite that straight forwards.
Their mother, Helen, is in the hospital (she had her gall bladder
removed, then suffered from a staph infection) and their Step-Father,
Hall, is an asshole of the first degree. Their older sister, a
teenager, charged with caring for them, has gone head over heels boy
crazy and worse still, there is a child murderer/molester on the
loose in their neighborhood.

I don’t recall the ages of the girls,
if they were mentioned or not. They’re older than 3rd
grade, but not to puberty yet which puts them between 9 and 12 or so.
Troo, the youngest, seems to be everyone favorite. She’s kind of
selfish and definitely is suppressing some bottled rage over the car
accident that killed her father.  Sally, while sweet, is rather spineless in her support of her sister, who is foul mouthed and short tempered.

But overall, I felt like the book was…..almost a stereotype of the fifties.  White bread American meets the occasional illicit thing (gay Priest, sex, pregnancy before marriage, etc).  I think what was so difficult for me was that it was a slice of life story that didn’t seem a lot like a slice of life.  Some things were wholly predictible (Nell getting pregnant, Rausmassen being Sally’s Dad, Sally’s mom being in love with Ruasmassed, Mr. Gary being Gay) and some things felt kind of WTF.  The fact that Rausmassen managed to get rid of the neighborhood trouble makers only after Sally had trouble with them.  I mean, why?  Hadn’t he noticed that they were bad eggs all along and if he could have arranged that, why didn’t he?  Why did he leave them running around the neighborhood, wrecking havoc?

I don’t know.  Wanted to like it, but just couldn’t get there.  Didn’t HATE it, so that’s a step in the right direction.

This is book nine.

15 Jun 2008 “A Brief History of the Dead” by Kevin Brockmeier
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2008 appears to be the summer of buying
the book. Normally, I buy a few books here and there and rely on the
library to keep me book satiated. This summer, however, between
good finds at yard sales, the scholastic warehouse sale and a going
out of business sale we stumbled upon while we were out of town, the
to read pile around this house is growing by leaps and bounds.

I didn’t blog about two books I’ve read
rather recently, one a biography of Mary Boykin Chestnut the other
“Phillip Hall Likes me, I Reckon,
Maybe.”, a 1975 Newberry honor book. Neither of them seemed like
something I would write about here. The biography on Mary Boykin
Chestnut was very good (and I highly recommend it if you’re
interested in Southern life during the Civil War from a woman’s
perspective), but there really isn’t much to tell or summarize that
isn’t fairly common knowledge.

Philip
Hall was also a good book, but definitely written for the younger
crowd with not much content to really talk about. Amazon.com notes
that it’s a good read for the 9-12 crowd, but honestly, I think that
if your child is a reasonable reader, it could read at a much younger
age and I’ve passed it onto Emily who will make quick work out of it.

So,
that leaves me with “A Brief History of the Dead” by Kevin
Brockheimer, purchased during my book buying glut of 2008 (which may
or may not continue, stay tuned). Really, the book seems akin to
Stephen King’s “The Stand” but not as brutal or frightening,
though not wholly without the depressing overtones of King’s famous
tome.

The
book begins in the city of the undead. The city has no name and
people come to live in it between the time of their own death and
death of the last person whose memory they inhabit. The city is
huge, impossible to actually map, which makes perfect sense if you
consider that every person living must pass through there for an
indeterminate amount of time.

At
some point in time, there is a mass exodus both into and out of the
city. Hordes of people arrive and leave in the blink of an eye. It
is determined that a pandemic has been unleashed on the earth. As
days and weeks go by the numbers in the city dwindle until only one,
Luka Sims, seems left to tell the tale. In desperation Luka sets
out into the city to see if anyone has survived the plague that
befell the earth and he soon finds more survivors. They soon find
that all the people there are linked by one person, Laura Byrd, who
is stranded in Antarctica as the part of a polar expedition to
determine whether or not Coca Cola would be better if made with
melting polar ice.

It
really isn’t the end of the world portion that drew me to this story
at all (and whether or not Laura survives or finds any other living
inhabitants of earth will have to remain secret until you read the
book itself) but more the view of someone else’s thoughts on the
possibility of what an afterlife COULD be. It’s the reason why I
loved “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” so much. Not because
it was a particularly GOOD, but I loved the flight of fancy of
someone else considering what Heaven or the after life COULD be.
This book filled a very similar roll for me.
  What could be happening?  what could be out there?  What do other people think?

For those keeping track, this is my 8th read of the year.  

26 May 2008 Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen
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Can I just say that I’m giddy after finishing up this book.  It’s truly fantastic and it inspires me to read the other Austen books I have in my collection.

I’m not going to do a plot synposis.  They’re available all over the internets and done better than I will do.

I read this book in college, at about 20 and I have to say my perception of the book is just different now. I found Mr. Darcy to be a much more sympathetic character and I was more perceptive of his attention to Elizabeth when in my prior reading, I was far more angry at his initial refusal of Elizabeth at the ball and, like Elizabeth, carried that prejudice far into the book itself.  Also, I found both Mr and Mrs Bennet to be almost totally intolerable and the other sisters to be horrid.  I think i over looked that in the past, finding Mrs. Bennet a bit too much, but overall okay, but now I really see them as insufferable busy bodies on the part of Mrs. Bennet and totally elitist on the part of Mr. B.

But overall, this book was just a WOW book.  I really did love it in my early 20’s.  Truly, but with age I was really able to see a different perspective and I enjoyed the book that much more.  I think that 1) I’m going to re-read The Great Gatsby which I read in my early 20’s as well to see how I feel about that book now 2) I’m going to explore some of the Pride and Prejudice sequels penned by different authors who just couldn’t get enough.

06 May 2008 The Year of Magical Thinking-Joan Didion
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I started this book in 2005 on the suggestion that it was a wonderful book.  It was in the midst of my panic thing, and I couldn’t fathom reading a book that dealt so closely with a loss that I was so afraid of.  I returned it to the library.  As yesterday drew close, I decided that I had to read it again.  To find out what sort of magical thinking occurred after a loss and if I could relate.

The book relates the year following the death of her husband, John.  He has a massive coronary event in their apartment jsut before New Years while their only child Quintana lies near death, her body ravaged by septic shock in a New York hospital.

So, what’s so magical?

Well, it’s a non-fiction book, so don’t expect fairies or unicorns or anything like that.  I could relate to the book on so many levels; the fear of getting rid of things just in case, you know, that person came back.  The looking backwards, just one year, to a time when that person was still there (and counting down in your head to when you looked back one year, that person was gone).

I just found the book something I could relate to.  I could understand being jolted forward into memories you both wanted and were afraid to have.  The book, though, was written so matter-of-factly  It elevated you above the raw emotion and allowed you to look, factually, at grief.  Without being all self-helpy and stuff.  Which I don’t like.

I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as a casual read, though.  So bear that in mind.

29 Mar 2008 The Book of Lost Things-John Connolly
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First off, let me say that this book is RIGHT up my alley.  I love the inclusion of Fairy Tales into books, but finding ones that aren’t too over the top as fantasies can be difficult.  This book fit the bill.

Before World War II, in London, David’s mother dies slowly and awfully (I”m guessing cancer.)  In time, his father remarries and they have a baby son, Georgie, who David resents deeply.  They move into David’s stepmother’s rambling old family home (evil stepmother?  Not really, but….) and David feels sad, overwhelmed and neglected and worst still he feels as though his father has replaces his mother with his new wife and new baby.

The tension between David and Rose (har har right?  More fairy tale allusions) reach a breaking point and the book loving David is sent to his room to consider his roll in the fight with Rose earlier in the day.

And, I should mention that David has begun having blackouts and his books have started talking to him.  Not exactly normal. 

One night, David can bare no more and when a German bomber crashes into his back yard, David crawls into a hole in the retaining wall of a sunken garden following the pleas of his mother’s voice and finds himself in an alternate universe where he is being hunted by more than one creature.  The Crooked Man and the man like wolves who are amassing their own army against the aging King.

The Woodcutter David meets upon entering the world remarks that the King has a magical book that could be used to get David out of that world and into his, but the wolves are fast on David’s tail and they must hurry.  David makes his way through this world straight out of a volume of fairy tales.  He meets the trolls under the bridge, hears the legend of Red Riding Hood (and her part in the creation of the Man Wolves who are now hunting him).  He encounters Sleeping Beauty who lures him into her briar filled castle with his mother’s voice and, in the end, realizes that his bitterness and anger will stand to cause him harm and David chooses to become an honorable man.

The author, John Connolly, is known for writing mysteries, but I’m not sure that I’ll be reading any as I don’t really care for mysteries that much, but this book is very much what I’ve been hoping for when reading similar things like those written by Gregory Maguire (see Wicked).  I highly recommend it and it may be my favorite book of the year. :O)

01 Mar 2008 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time-Mark Haddon
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This book was my pick for my Mom’s group book club (btw-if you haven’t checked out meetup.com for groups that share your interest in your area you should.  It’s a great resource and I’m so happy to have met so many good people and my girls are making friends too :o))

Anyhow, this book came well recommended for book groups and the premise interested me greatly.  All in all I really loved the book.  It was great and I knew when I picked it up and read a few pages that chances were pretty good that I was going to love it.  It was written in journal form, with little illustrations here and there. I don’t NEED pictures in my books, but after so many years of reading books without them (well, grown up books without them) findiong a good book with them seems like a little bit of a present.

Anyhow, Christopher Boone is a fifteen year old Autstic boy living in England.  One day, he happens past his neighbor’s house and find her standard poodle, Wellington, dead.  The dog has been stabbed by a garden fork.  Christopher, who has trouble connecting with people, enjoys connecting with dogs and feels horribley sad about Wellington. He picks him up in a hug (something he decidedly does NOT do with humans) and is caught by the dog’s owner, Mrs. Shearer.  She screams at him and calls the police.  In Christopher’s confusion, eh lases out at a police man who is touching him and hits him and is carted off to jail.

Overall, Christopher doesn’t mind the cell.  It’s quiet and small and he can do the math and find out the size of the room and the number of blocks it takes to make the cell up.   Christopher, in fact, spends a great deal of time fantasizing about being alone; in space, under water and the survivor of a disease where everyone but the “different’ people like him die off leaving him alone to wander in silence as he will.

Christopher decides that he’s going to solve Wellington’s murder as a part of a writing/journaling assignment given to him and he sets on trying to find out who killed the dog.  His Father gets angry and instructs Christopher to stop investigating Wellington’s murder and Christopher uses his superior deductive reasoning to probe people for information without expressly breaking his promises, but Christopher uncovers more than he or his Father could have intended and things get difficult for Christopher.

Of course, I won’t spoil the book.  You’ll have to read to find out what happens to Christopher.

I found the book fascinating.  Mark Haddon worked closely with children with autism for years before writing novels and he has a great depth of understanding of their detachment and quirks (IMO, of course).  Christopher is believable as a character with a disability.  He has a vast array of things he either likes (red food) or avoids (yellow things and brown things) and is a mathematical genius, but can’t tell jokes or read facial expressions beyond smiles and frowns. 

Awesome read. :o)

17 Feb 2008 Love in the Time of Cholera
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I confess I’ve been reading this book for several months.  It was slow going.  Long, wordy prose.  Tedious at times, but the story intrigued me and I stuck with it.

It is the story of Florentino Ariza and his love Fermina Daza.  In the 1800’s, Florntino spies the lovely young Fermina Daza, a young woman with a substantial fortune and a dubious family line.  Florentino falls in love with Fermina and composes long, poetic love letters to her as he tries to win her favor.  Fermina responds in kind and her father takes her out of hte country to cool the love she’s feeling for Ariza, who is a hard worker, talented, but illegitimate and poor.  Fermina’s father wants better for his daughter and while she is gone from town she matures and upon hr return realizes that what she harbored for Florentino was just youth and she decides to marry the much more eligible, socially well-placed Juvinel Urbino, a respected young doctor.

Florentino is heartbroken and spends the next fifty years of his life tracking Fermina’s life and engaging in affairs with over six hundred partners while he waits for his next opportunity to win Fermina’s hand.

You know, it was difficult for me to draw a bead on these characters and normally my opinion of a book is directly related to what i think of the characters.  Florentino, with his mad, adulterous (sparknotes.com calls him a nymphomaniac) should be despised, particularly when he begins an affair with his young god daughter, but somehow he remains, if not tragic at least somewhat forgivable haven given his heart and life to Fermina Daza only to have her reject him, smashing his hope.  Fermina is likable and understandable, considering her position and she makes a choice of the head and not the heart when she marries Dr. Urbino.

Dr. Urbino seems the most insipid to me, and I’m not sure why I feel that way. 

Overall I liked the book but disliked the ending.  I felt it was very anti-climatic.  I’m not concerned, really, with a neat package, but some idea of how things will go is important to me.  It reads very slow and I found myself rereading pages and passages frequently, which I’m not typically prone to do.

Overall, I’d recommend the book as it was totally different from any I’ve read of late, but can’t really give it high marks on my readability scale.

26 Jan 2008 The Memory Keepers Daughter-Kim Edwards
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For years now I’ve maintained a separate blog for my reading diary, but decided there just wasn’t reason to do it anymore.  My reading isn’t that prolific anymore so the few books I end up reading certainly won’t clog up the blog.

If you remember, I read this book within the last year or two and really didn’t like it, but I’m leading a book group and this book was chosen in a democratic, fair process so I read it again.  And I still didn’t like it.

The premise is heart breaking.  IN the early 1960’s a doctor’s young wife goes into labor during an unexpected snow storm.  He can’t make it to the hospital and takes her to his clinic where he intends to have his partner, an OB, deliver the baby.  The OB ends up in the ditch leaving the doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, and his nurse (who is in love with him) to do the job.  The first baby is born, healthy and beautiful and then his unexpected twin sister is born as well.  She’s beautiful, but has Down’s Syndrome.  The doctor, David Henry, carries a heavy burden of grief from his childhood with his beautiful, loving, fragile and terminally ill sister and he decides in that instants to spare his pretty wife and new son the grief of having a sick child whom he belives could die an early death.  He instructs his nurse to commit the baby into a local institution and tells his wife that their baby daughters has died.

The nurse, Caroline, can’t commit the baby.  Her visit to the institution made it so she couldn’t leave the baby there and she returns home with the baby and hatches a plot to run away and raise the baby as her own.  After she attends the baby girls’ mock funeral she flees Tennessee with Pheobe and settles to raise her in Pittsburgh. 

Meanwhile, the grief David Henry looked to save his wife Norah and his son Paul from has permeated their life.  Norah grieves deeply for her missing baby and turns into a borderline alcoholic.  Paul grows up in the shadow of Phoebe’s loss, experiencing his mother’s sadness and his father’s attempt to compensate for not only what he did to Phoebe but for the sadness of his own life.

As is expected, the family falls apart in the wake of David’s lies and inability to open up with his wife and son and after David dies, Caroline Gill finally informs Norah and Paul of Phoebe’s existence.

The thing that is so hard about this book, for me, is not only the heartbreaking scenario of David and Caroline taking Norah’s baby away is so difficult to swallow (and was when I read it the first time) but also because there are just so few likable characters.

David Henry-Obviously totally unlikable because of all he concealed and since he was the person to send away Phoebe out of ignorance and fear.

Norah Henry-Not so bad until she begins having affairs when Paul becomes a teenager and I have no patience for that crap

Paul Henry-Moody.  At best

Caroline Gill-participated in David’s plot and didn’t rat him out to Norah.

So, that pretty much leaves Phoebe who is, of course, one dimensional, but likable at least.