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2021 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (4)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia
- Hawaii (1)
- Idaho
- Illinois (4)
- Indiana
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine
- Maryland (1)
- Massachusetts (1)
- Michigan (1)
- Minnesota (1)
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada (1)
- New Hampshire (1)
- New Jersey (1)
- New Mexico
- New York (3)
- North Carolina (1)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (6)
- Oklahoma
- Oregon
- Pennsylvania (1)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina (1)
- South Dakota
- Tennessee
- Texas (1)
- Utah (1)
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (3)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin
- Wyoming (1)
- *Washington, D.C.

Australia (2)
Canada (3)
England (6)
France (1)
Ireland (1)
Switzerland (1)
The Philippines (1)
Wales (1)

My Progress:

28 / 51 states. 55% done!

2021 Fall Into Reading Challenge

My Progress:

0 / 24 books. 0% done!

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
(Hosted by Yours Truly!)

My Progress:

6 / 25 books. 24% done!

2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge

My Progress:

32 / 50 books. 64% done!

Booklist Queen's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

35 / 52 books. 67% done!

2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

2021 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

The 52 Club's 2021 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quick Update

I'm off tomorrow to the Happiest Place on Earth. I haven't been to Disneyland since I was about 12. Only one of my kids has been there, so this will be a fun trip. I can't wait to see the park again, especially through my kids' eyes. It's going to be a short jaunt (Anaheim is only about 5-6 hours from Phoenix); I'll probably be back before you would have even realized I was gone! Still, I wanted to say ciao, and leave you with a few parting notes:

* My eyes are still bleary from reading manuscripts that were submitted to Amazon for entrance into their Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Have you heard of this one? There are currently 100 semifinalists competing for a publishing contract with Penguin. Amazon is allowing its customers to pick the winner by reviewing and rating manuscripts. There's an incentive for reviewers, too - Amazon is giving a Kindle and $2,000 to their top reviewer. I found out about this a week ago, so I only had a chance to review about 40 of the entries. Did anyone else do this? I probably don't have a prayer of winning, but it was fun to see the different stories. Take a look if you haven't already, there are some really good entries.

* The other night, my husband asked me if the part of my brain that processes reading is tired. I realized that yes, it actually is. So, I'm not bringing any books on my trip. I may sneak in the current issue of Booklist magazine, which I haven't quite finished. Since I'm not a librarian (although I've considered getting a Master's in Library Science), I feel like a rebel reading this publication, which is geared toward professionals. The reviews in it are really good - I'm enjoying them. Other than that, it will be good to get my nose out of a book, and concentrate on my family.

* I still haven't heard from alisonwonderland, winner of The Bookseller of Kabul. If you spy her around the blogosphere, will you direct her over to my blog? Thanks!

* Have a great weekend, everyone! I'll be back soon with more reviews, author spotlights and more.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Winner Is...

The results are in and the winner is ... drumroll, please ... alisonwonderland! Congratulations. My daughter picked your name out a mixing bowl this morning. E-mail me your address and I'll get The Bookseller of Kabul in the mail tomorrow.

Thanks for entering, everybody. I loved getting so many comments, and I definitely learned my lesson: I will be having more book giveaways in the future, so stay tuned!
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Y'all Gotta Check This One Out

Thirty-something Deborah Knott is no soft Southern belle. In some ways, she's been challenging North Carolina's good ol' boy system almost since the day she was born. Determined to escape the expectations of her brothers and father, she became a lawyer with political ambition. Well, what else would you expect from the daughter of Colleton County's biggest bootlegger?

When Bootlegger's Daughter by Margaret Maron opens, Deborah is smack dab in the middle of her campaign for a district court judgeship. For a white woman with a dubious family background, it's a bit of a long shot, but Deborah knows she could do the job well. It will just take some work to convince the rest of the county's residents.

Just when she can't really handle anything more on her plate, she is approached by young Janie Whitehead. Janie's story is known to everyone in town - 18 years ago, her mother's body was discovered in an abandoned mill. She had been brutally murdered. Rescuers found the pair when they heard the squalls of infant Janie, who was wailing from a baby carrier near her mother's side. The murder was never solved. Now that Janie is 18, she has access to a trust fund set up by her grandfather; she's determined to use it for one thing only - to track down her mother's killer. Janie's father tries to discourage the search, but finally suggests that maybe Deborah can help without draining the girl's trust fund. Reluctantly, Deborah agrees to help.

With the aid of Colleton County's finest (most of whom are either old boyfriends or fishing buddies), Deborah looks into the crime. She questions old suspects, roots out secrets, and gets shot at for her trouble. While playing Sherlock Holmes, her campaign is challenged by the appearance of notices on her letterhead slamming her opponents in the election. As if that isn't bad enough, bodies are starting to pile up, and Deborah's making startling discoveries about the genteel people she's known all her life.

When Deborah looks a little too closely at a particular suspect, she finds the clue that will lead her to the killer ... that is, if she isn't shot in the process.

I liked this mystery, the first in a series starring Deborah Knott. I could have done without the homosexual subplot and profanity (Neither is excessive; it was enough to make me blush, but not abandon the book), but besides that, it was an intriguing story. Knott evokes a sense of place that made me feel as if I'd grown up in Colleton County, fishing with the Knott brothers and seeing Dr. Vickery for my ailments. It has enough "y'all"s and "shuga"s to give it that nice, Southern feel, but it's not all iced tea and magnolia flowers in this Southern murder mystery. As writer Sue Dunlap puts it, Bootlegger's Daughter is "like a field of honeysuckle with copperheads underneath" (back cover). It's an engrossing, well-written mystery that will have you exclaiming "y'all got to be kidding me" by the time it comes to its surprising, satisfying end. Note: After my extensive time in the South (3 days to be precise) I may have gotten some of the "Southern speak" wrong, but trust me, Margaret Maron gets it all right.

Grade: B

Friday, February 22, 2008

Green Angel So Lyrical It's Practically Poetry

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Some stories are so lyrical they're practically poetry; Green Angel by Alice Hoffman is one of these. In fact, the book is more allegory than story, but it is so suffused with symbolism and fine, sensuous detail that it reads almost like a poem.
The book follows Green, a shy 15-year-old who lives in the country with her parents and her sister Aurora who is so luminous that "white moths hovered above her, more drawn to her than they were to the moon or to the lantern my father kept on the porch" (7). Her parents each have their own talents, and Green is content to be "the least among them, nothing special, just a girl" (6). Despite her self-effacing nature, she actually has uncanny, almost magic, talents in the garden, which is how she earned her name.

One fateful day, Green's family travels to the city to sell their vegetables, leaving her home to tend the gardens. She is wandering in the hills when she feels the air change. Something terrible is happening in the city. Even from a distance, Green "could feel the whoosh of the fire all these miles away, across the river, past the woods. I could hear it as if it were happening inside my own head" (15). When her parents and sister don't return from the city, Green's grief mounts. Alone, she turns her pain inward, trying desperately to forget the great fire that destroyed her family, her home and all her hopes for the future. She "wanted to be as hard and brittle as the stones I carted into the woods, stones that could not feel or cry or see" (28), so she chops off her hair, tattooes her skin with black roses and ravens, sews thorns into her clothes and shrouds herself in her father's heavy coat and boots until she is "protected from feeling anything at all" (30). She renames herself "Ash" and lets her former identity burn away, like everything else in her world.

Her tough exterior works until Green realizes she's defaced herself beyond recognition - even her sister, who visits her nightly in her dreams, no longer recognizes her. It is only when Green cleans a neighbor's home, shares her bread with other orphans and spreads salve on scorched wings and beaks that she finally begins coming back to herself. The despair that gave birth to Ash threatens to melt her soul, but tiny buds of hope are springing up in her ruined life. Can she shake off the ashes of her grief and find rebirth in the sunshine where she is, as always, Green?

I know the story sounds a little odd, and it is, but it's also a beautiful little tale about loss, despair and ultimately, hope. It's a YA novel, so it's a quick read. Don't let its brevity fool you; Green Angel has so many delicate layers that you'll be carefully peeling them apart long after you've closed the book.

Grade: A

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

I have so many challenges going right now, that it feels good to get another one behind me. The Unread Authors Challenge was a nice, easy one that helped me broaden my horizons. I have so many favorite authors that I often get stuck reading only their books, so this one helped me travel outside my comfort zone a little.

My challenge list is here (sorry, I'm too lazy to retype it). My favorite books were The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig and The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. I also learned a lot from my two non-fiction picks. I guess my least favorite read was The Bookseller of Kabul, although I still found it really interesting.

Thanks so much to Pour of Tor for hosting this one!

Condie's Debut A Refreshing Change

(Image from
I've read so many crappy LDS novels, that it's really refreshing to find one that isn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm not giving Yearbook by Allyson Braithwaite Condie an A+, I'm just saying it was a very decent effort. It suffers from issues that plague all LDS fiction, but all in all, it was not a bad book. In fact, it was actually pretty good.
This young adult novel revolves around that most venerable of institutions - the local high school. In its halls, we are introduced to a group of students and teachers, who are beginning a new year full of hopes, fears and anxieties. Some of them (like class clown Dave Sherman) cruise through the hallways with confidence, others (like Goth Avery Matthews) slink by hoping no one will notice them, while still others (like English teacher Mr. Thomas) only want to forget their despair long enough to make it through the day. Most of the people profiled are LDS, but not all. Even among the Mormons, there is some diversity as the kids struggle to find, keep or strengthen their testimonies. Each one is different, but as the school year wears on, they all experience both trials and triumphs.
The voyeur in me liked peeking at each of the character's stories, although some rang more true than others. I found Andrea Beckett's storyline most authentic. She's a perfectionist, who works hard to make her life look effortlessly neat and tidy. For the most part, she succeeds, but deep inside, she's terrified of losing her composure. Her parents' divorce has embittered her, making her pull away from church and friends. On the outside, she's still perfect little Andrea, but on the inside she's screaming for help. Other characters leaned more toward the stereotypical. For instance, Michaela Choi is a typical Molly Mormon, with few problems more intricate than trying to catch Ethan Beckett's eye (which she already has, she just doesn't know it). The waters are pretty calm for her - in fact, she even manages to convert a friend during the school year. Another example is Avery Matthews, an angry Goth girl who feels as if she can't shake her reputation as the sister of two bad-boy-troublemakers. Predictably, she smokes, gets in trouble at school, and writes poetry. I thought Condie could have been a lot braver - after all, good girls sometimes get in trouble, too, and not all Goths are poets.
Like all LDS novels, Yearbook strives to be uplifting, and it is. There's a lot of talk about forgiveness, repentance, hope and endurance. I won't lie to you - in some spots, it gets mighty preachy, which is my pet peeve with YA literature of any variety. Condie seems capable enough as a writer to get her message across in a more subtle manner; she really doesn't have to resort to sermonizing, which seems alternately phony and preachy.
Another thing I thought the novel lacked was cohesion. Its theme is spelled out on the back cover: People are not always what they seem. Condie makes this point by allowing a different character to narrate each chapter, thus giving us a glimpse into their thoughts and feelings. However, the stories kind of stand alone, without an overall plot to unite them. The fact that all the characters have something to do with the high school works in a way, but bumps off track when Condie includes the Becketts' grandmother as one of the narrators. It was all a bit random without a unifying theme.
Still, Yearbook offers an interesting glimpse into a group of individuals who are more than they seem on the outside. It's an easy, pretty well-written novel that kept me reading. I especially liked Condie's idea of incorporating yearbook inscriptions in the story - I'm not sure I've ever seen that done before. To me, this proves that Condie has a lot of potential, and that not all LDS fiction is crap. Refreshing, isn't it?
Grade: B

Coraline: A Quick, Creepy Little Read

I have a hard and fast rule about ghost stories and horror novels: I never read them when I'm alone. Although I knew Coraline by Neil Gaiman was in this genre, I figured, "Hey, it's a kid's book. How scary can it be?" Yeah, well, if I had known how much this little book was going to creep me out, I would have made for the nearest crowd before daring to open it. As it was, I devoured it while sitting at home, jumping at every tiny sound my 3-year-old made while he was supposed to be napping.

The book follows Coraline, a young girl who has just moved into a new flat with her parents. It's not in a traditional apartment building; it's in a "very old house ... [with] an attic under the roof and a cellar under the ground and an overgrown garden with huge old trees in it" (3) that has been subdivided into four living spaces. Since it's summer vacation, Coraline has had ample time to explore the house inside and out. Now, she's bored. Although her parents work from home, they have no time to entertain her. The old house is filled with interesting tenants, and while they provide some amusement, they really aren't very good playmates. So, when Coraline's father hands her a paper and pen and instructs her to "Count all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot water tank. And leave me alone to work" (7), she makes a discovery: a door. Of the fourteen doors in the house, it's the only one that is locked.

Coraline's mother shows her where the door leads - only to a brick wall that was erected when the house was subdivided - but Coraline knows there is more to the closet than meets the eye. One day, when her parents are both gone, she unlocks the door and steps into an astonishing new world. Well, it's not new really. In fact, it looks an awful lot like her apartment ... only different somehow. It's inhabited by a couple, who look an awful lot like her parents ... except they aren't ignoring her and they have black buttons instead of eyes. They call themselves her "other" parents. At first, Coraline is excited about her "other" life, where something is always happening and her "other" parents are always available. It's only when she goes back through the door that she realizes the awful truth - her "other" mother has kidnapped her real parents, and will stop at nothing until she possesses Coraline.

As Coraline searches the "other" world for her parents, she makes another terrible discovery - she's not the only child trapped in the macabre alternate world. When she tries to summon the police, they laugh at her. Coraline knows she is the only one who can find her parents, save the other children and rid them all of the house's cruel menace.

Coraline shows Mr. Neil Gaiman at his creepy, bizarre best. It reminded me so much of something Tim Burton would create - it's a piece that's charming, just in a really weird way. I'm not kidding when I say that it freaked me out more than any other book I've read recently. It's a quick, creepy little read that will make even that most mundane of household items - buttons - seem sinister in the extreme. I think this quote on the back cover of Coraline says it best:

This book tells a fascinating and distubing story that frightened me nearly to death. Unless you want to find yourself hiding under your bed, with your thumb in your mouth, trembling with fear and making terrible noises, I suggest that you step very slowly away from this book and go find another source of amusement, such as investigating an unsolved crime or making a small animal out of yarn. - Lemony Snicket

All I can say is, read it at your own risk. I thought at first that this was a children's book, but it is actually described as Neil Gaiman's "first novel for all ages" (book flap). That's probably apt, since I think it will scare the snot out of just about anyone.

Grade: B

(For more Coraline fun, check out Mouse Circus. The book image up top was taken from Neil Gaiman's official website.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

That Old Deja Vu-ey Feeling

I think this was a question on a recent meme, but you know that feeling you get when you're reading a book and the plot and characters seem eerily familiar? This deja vu-ey feeling kept floating around me as I read E.L. Doctorow's The March. I finally concluded that I have read it, or at least started it. Since I can't remember the ending, it's probably the latter. Anyway, I learned a long time ago that I have too many books on my TBR list to stick with one I've aready read or didn't like all that much in the first place. So, I'm abandoning The March. I may come back to it at some point, but not right now. It's not a bad book, I just can't stand that feeling of knowing what's going to happen before it does - it's like trying to remember a dream all day, and snagging only little snippets.

The March was actually my last selection for the Unread Authors Challenge, but since I read one of my alternates, I'm going to consider this challenge completed. I'll write a wrap-up post later.

Usually, I have an idea of what book I'm going to read next, but I had a hard time selecting one this time. I kept vacillating between Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Yearbook, an LDS novel by Allyson B. Condie. Since Coraline is a library book and I already have a $30 fine (long story - the library is still looking for Inkspell, which I'm almost positive I turned in) there, I figured I better get to it first. I've read a few chapters and it's interesting - kind of like reading the script of a Tim Burton movie. I'll get back to you when I finish it.

One last thing - don't forget to enter to win The Bookseller of Kabul. I'll be drawing a name on February 25, so sign up here if you haven't already.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

History of Haggadah Beautifully Illuminated in People of the Book

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
When my MIL handed me People of the Book, she said, "It's like The Da Vinci Code, only lots better." So, when I opened the novel, I expected a globe-crossing, adventure/mystery exploring the origins of a historical object. Having read Geraldine Brooks' previous novels, I should have realized that I would be getting much more than a Da Vinci Code copycat; People of the Book is an original, compelling story and my favorite Brooks novel to date.
The story revolves around Australian Hanna Heath, a no-nonsense rare book expert, who is selected to participate in a career-making restoration. The object of interest is a 15th Century haggadah (a Jewish manuscript containing the story of the Exodus), illuminated in a curiously non-traditional manner. Hanna travels to Sarajevo to examine the treasure, which has survived despite massive shelling in Bosnia. While restoring the book's binding, Hanna finds a handful of artifacts - a white hair, a wine stain, a butterfly wing and salt crystals - which lead her on a journey across the globe to trace the book back to its mysterious beginnings.
Each artifact receives a separate chapter as the tale moves backward in time. We discover the significance of the butterfly fragment as a Muslim risks his life to save the haggadah from the Nazis. The wine stain takes us back to 17th Century Venice, where a Jewish rabbi begs a Catholic priest to save the book from the Inquisition's fires. As each clue illuminates a portion of the Haggadah's history, we see each hand that created it, loved it, and risked everything to save it. Although Hanna doesn't get as complete a story as the reader does, the deeper she delves into the mystery, the more her admiration grows for the incredible book; she can't wait to bring its remarkable history to light. On the eve of its public debut, however, Hanna discovers something that will shake her to the core. Is it possible that the treasure is only a brilliant fake? Will Hanna, like the book's previous protectors, have to risk everything to save the real haggadah?
People of the Book is a brilliant historical mystery, replete with danger, adventure and a cast of characters masterfully rendered. Like the haggadah itself, each character is plain on the outside - "nothing that an untrained eye would look twice at" (14) - but illuminated with colorful passions on the inside. Brooks picks each apart, showing their weaknesses as much as their strong devotion; Jews, Christians, Muslims, agnostics - all get the same treatment from their creator. Her point is super fine: Each person - despite his color, religion or creed - protected the book because it was the right thing to do. Brooks underscores her point at the end of the book when one of the characters says, "...To be a human being matters more than to be a Jew or a Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox" (361).
Weirdly, I found all of the charcters in People of the Book sympathetic and endearing except one: Hanna Heath. I disliked her on sight. Although I began to have some empathy for her - especially after meeting her mother - it didn't make me like her any better. It didn't help that dips into Hanna's personal life were mostly just awkward - especially when she suddenly discovers the secret of her father's identity - and distracted from the story.
Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It requires more focus than The Da Vinci Code, but it makes Dan Brown's masterpiece look like the work of a clumsy child. People of the Book is like the haggadah itself - plain on the outside, but beautifully illuminated within.
Grade: A-
Sunday, February 17, 2008

100 Books? 200 Books? Are We All Insane?

Because I have thousands of books on my TBR list, with more being added every day, I thought J. Kaye's new challenge - 100 Books - would be a good one for me. It's simply to read 100 books this year, which I was planning to do anyway. In case you didn't know, I keep a running list of books read in 2008 at the very bottom of my blog. I'm not doing too shabby so far, so hopefully this challenge really won't be much of a challenge at all. Thanks to J. Kaye for hosting!

If reading 100 books in a year simply isn't enough for you, you should check out this crazy chick - she's made a goal to read 200 books this year. I found this link at Sam Houston's blog, and I've enjoyed Mandi's posts so far. I'll be interested to see if she makes her goal.

Speaking of reading, I'm going to settle in bed and read People of the Book. It's excellent!
Saturday, February 16, 2008

2 Non Reviews

I finished two books today, but I'm not going to post reviews on either one of them ... yet. Here's what I read:

  • Kiss Me, I'm Single: An Ode to the Solo Life by Amanda Ford. It's an upbeat little book with a lot of wisdom packed inside - watch for my review and more info on March 5, when Amanda stops by for a visit.

  • The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket. This is Book the Seventh in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series. The books are all pretty similar and there are 13 of them, so I thought I would wait and review the whole series when I finish it. It's such a fun, quirky series. I agree with the reviewer who called them "formulaic," but I'm still enjoying these quick YA novels.

  • I'm now reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I've heard a lot about this one, and I can't wait to dive in. I enjoyed both March and A Year of Wonders, so I expect I'll like this one, too.

That's it for now. Keep the entries coming for The Bookseller of Kabul - I'm loving all of your comments!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Interworld Brings Us Another Ordinary Boy Who Really ... Isn't

Joe Harker - star of Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves - never set out to be a hero. All he wants to do is survive high school. If he somehow manages to earn a glance from pretty Rowena Danvers, well, that will pretty much take care of his life goals. Transforming from an average kid into an intergalactic warrior just plain isn't on his to-do list. But, here he is straddling all the dimensions of time and space to keep balance in the great, wide Alti-verse.

His adventure begins on an ordinary day that turns extraordinary pretty fast. Joe's Social Studies teacher, the eccentric Mr. Dimas, has dropped him and two others (the aforementioned Rowena and a jerk named Ted Russell) in an unknown section of town. Their assignment is to find their way back to the school within a certain time frame and without using a map. Oh yeah, and this is their final project. The test is not a good one for Joe, who gets lost in his own house. The challenge gets even more difficult when he discovers not only that he is lost - nothing new there - but more lost than just lost lost. In fact, he doesn't even seem to be in his own world anymore.

When Joe "cheats" and pays for a bus ride home, he stares out the window at the passing scenery. Everything has changed. Including his home and family. Then, a man in a mirrored mask steps out of the mist, creatures on flying disks appear out of nowhere, and Joe is running for his life from a seductive witch and her tattoo-covered henchman. It is only after Jay (the masked man) rescues Joe that Joe gets the truth: Joe is a Walker, a unique individual who can travel between worlds/dimensions. As such, he is hunted by enemies who want to harness his powers. His particular talents are also desired by the good guys of InterWorld Prime - the organization with which Jay works - who help maintain the balance between magic and science on all worlds.

Soon, Joe joins the good guys, landing in a sort of superhero training camp, where:

It was like being a new kid in a school you hated. Only worse.
It was like being a new kid in a school you hated that was run by the army on
vaguely sadistic principles, where everyone was from a different country and
they had just one thing in common.

They all hated you.

Once again, he's fighting for survival ... in school. And, once again, his "final" is taking him to places unknown. This time, it's a training mission in a (supposedly) controlled environment. When everything goes wrong, however, Joe is left to question his own heart, his own abilities, and his own courage. He must choose between a safe existence on his own Earth or a dangerous life Walking between worlds, a career path that is already paved with failure and death. For a guy who "had difficulty getting to the store on a two-dimensional grid life Earth's surface"(119), it's a decision that will change his life and those of all the various lifeforms on all of the Multiverse's various earths.

Although this book doesn't have the most original plot (an average kid learns he is anything but when his ordinary life goes all weird on him - even a sci-fi novice like me knows this one has been done before), but it has some really fun elements. The main character, for instance, is the kind of helpless underdog you can't help but love. He, and all the variations of himself he finds out in the Multiverse, are interesting although not always likeable. The book makes countless allusions to sci-fi classics like Star Trek (the retiarii's warning will sound familiar to anyone who's watched at least one episode), Lord of the Rings, and The Twilight Zone. Parts of it even reminded me of Stardust, my favorite Gaiman novel. For me, the most fun part was the character of Scarbarus - I love the idea of him being able to bring his tattoos to life.

Interworld offers a fun, if chaotic, mixture of magic, science and space exploration. It didn't wow me, but I enjoyed the story. If you like the Harry Potter books, The Lightning Thief and others, you will probably like this one about another ordinary boy who really ... isn't.

Grade: B

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spreading the Love

Kristina honored me with this You Make My Day Award, which is my very first blog award. I was touched by all the nice things she said about me. Thanks so much, Kristina!

I have so many book blogs on my feed list that it's just impossible to narrow my favorites down to 10. All of you do a wonderful job on your blogs - I've gotten so many fabulous recommendations from your posts. Here are just a FEW of the blogs that make my day:

A Patchwork of Books - My list has to include Amanda, because she's the whole reason I found this awesome book blogging community. I started my blog as a personal project, not even realizing that there were other book bloggers out there. When I stumbled on her blog and saw all of the sites on her blogroll, it was like Christmas for me. Seriously. Plus, she writes a great blog and always has excellent recommendations.

Inside A Book - I love this blog because its author and I have a lot in common. We live in the same city and seem to like the same kind of books. She doesn't update nearly as often as I would like, but her blog is wonderful.

Chainreader - The first thing you must do on this blog is read its description. It is laugh-out-loud funny. The author obviously has a great sense of humor, and I enjoy her succinct, but thoughtful reviews.

A Striped Armchair - I know Eva has gotten and given this award a million times, but that just goes to show how awesome she is. I love her thorough reviews and the sweet comments she leaves on my blog. She commented that I looked gorgeous in a picture I posted, so she's my BFF now whether she likes it or not!

Big A, Little A - I found Kelly's blog only recently, but I love it for its variety and the thorough reviews.

Miss Erin - Erin is a talented girl in more ways than one. Her blog covers a variety of topics, and her addiction to certain authors (Shannon Hale) just makes me laugh. I always enjoy reading what she writes.

Lightheaded Books - Despite the title of this blog, the reviews are not "lightheaded" at all. I think they are intelligent and well-written.

Thoughts of Joy - I enjoy this blog for numerous reasons, including the succinct reviews and the fun challenges Joy hosts.

Becky's Book Reviews - I know Becky is widely loved, but I just have to give her this award for all the hard work she puts in on her blogs. She's always got something going on, whether it's a review, an author interview or a new challenge. She's amazing!

The Bookseller of Kabul Offers Unflinching Look At Afghanistan (A Review & A Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There are some countries I am content to "see" only through books and movies. Afghanistan is one of them. Often books about a country make me want to visit, but The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad had the exact opposite effect. Although the culture she describes is fascinating, I prefer to learn about it from the comfort and safety of my living room couch.

Seierstad is a Norwegian journalist who entered Kabul in 2001. She had been in Aghanistan for six grueling weeks, following Northern Alliance commandos through mountians, desert and steppes as they moved against the Taliban. After the grimy adventure, she happened upon an oasis in the country's capital city - a bookshop where she found it "refreshing to leaf through books and talk about literature and history" (ix). Although the books were interesting, she found their owner, Sultan Khan, to be an engaging storyteller, a veritable "history book on two feet" (x). Seierstad made him a proposal: If he allowed her to live with his family temporarily, she would write a book about him. He agreed. Thus, began her 3-month visit with a family she describes as typical in some ways, not in others.

As Seierstad began her stay, she observed the pecking order in the Khan Family: Sultan ruled his multi-generational family (his household included his mother, his sister, 2 wives, and his own children) with an iron fist. His sons did not attend school, but worked in their father's bookshops, despite their own dreams. Women had even less choice - they remained home, cooking, cleaning and waiting on the men. Sultan's word was law. No one dared oppose him. The man, himself, was an enigma. He had risked his life to save books from destruction by Kabul's religious fanatics, and considered himself open-minded on the subjects of education and women's rights. Yet, he denied his own children opportunities to learn and made sure all of his women were kept in their proper places.

The book shifts its focus constantly, highlighting different members of the family, who in turn represent various sections of Afghanistan society. Trying to sort out the names and relationships of all the individuals will make your head spin, which must echo the reality of living with a dozen or more people in a cramped city apartment. There is Rasul, Sultan's eldest son, who resents having to work for his demanding father. He takes his anger out on his aunt, Leila, who is only 3 years older than him, but the lowest creature on the Khan Family food chain. Then there is Mansur, also crushed under the thumb of his father. He desires only to get an education and see the world, but his future has already been carved for him. Leila's is the most tragic situation - as Sultan's younger sister, she is the family's slave, working tirelessly for the men who torment her. When a young suitor sends her love notes, she becomes excited, but terrified. If Sultan finds the notes, she will be beaten as contact between unrelated men and women is strictly forbidden. Her marriage will be treated as a business deal between the men of her family and her fiance's - she has no say in the matter. As these decisions are made, she feels "how life, her youth, hope leave her - she is unable to save herself. She feels her heart, heavy and lonely like a stone, condemned to be crushed forever" (282).

Through the various members of the family, we are given an intimate and troubling portrait of Afghanistan. The country emerges as a weary land, sagging under the plague of endless war and greedy leaders. With the possible exception of Sultan, all members of the Khan Family appear deeply unhappy with their lots in life. Afghan men, especially, are portrayed as cruel hypocrites - men like Sultan welcome progress on one hand while holding their wives' and daughters' heads under the water with the other. To me, and I think to Seierstad, this dichotomy is one of the most intriguing and odious things about Afghan culture.

I found this book to be many things - fascinating, compelling, disturbing, heart-wrenching, depressing - but it offers an unparalleled look inside a society that is notoriously closed to outsiders. Like all glimpses into other cultures, the book helped broaden my world view, and like any trip abroad, it made me realize once again how blessed I am to live in The United States of America. For this, if for nothing else, it is worth the read.

Grade: B

**Don't forget - I'm giving away my copy of this book. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and I will enter you into the drawing. I will draw a name on February 25, so entries need to be in by midnight on the 24th. Good luck!

Monday, February 11, 2008

This & That

In an effort to avoid folding laundry declutter my mind, I thought I'd let you all in on some thoughts that have been floating around in there lately. I've got news about a giveaway, an upcoming author feature, an award and lots of other random stuff, so here we go:

* I love magazines, so much so that I subscribe to at least 20 of them. Of these, only 1 - Bookmarks - is dedicated solely to books/reading. Book review magazines just aren't very prevalent (Anyone have any recommendations?), so I get excited when my favorite magazines allot at least a little bit of space to books. I recently picked up the March issue of Good Housekeeping, and was excited to see a short story by one of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult. I love Jodi because she's fearless. Her books tackle tough issues, which she examines with both honesty and understanding. To me, her stories ring with authenticity. Perhaps you can begin to see why I was so disappointed in "Spring Break," which concerns a mom who leaves her family one day out of the blue and takes up residence in a seaside Ritz Carlton. Although she scares her family to death, causing emotional damage to her husband and children, everything wraps up nicely in the end. Now, I like happy endings, but I excpected more from Picoult. Did anyone else read this? What did you think? I thought Jodi whimped out on this one.

* I've been chatting with some authors lately - did you catch Jason Wright's reaction to my review of Christmas Jars? I think the guy has a great sense of humor, and I'm honored that he stopped by my humble little blog. Stay tuned, because I will be talking to author Amanda Ford on March 5. She will be on a blog tour to promote her book, Kiss Me, I'm Single: An Ode to the Single Life - I've been perusing it, and I think it's full of some great wisdom. Stand by for a review and hopefully an interview with this fun writer.

* Many, many thanks to Kristina for honoring me with my first-ever blog award. Now, I'm busily trying to choose 10 bloggers who make my day. I have TONS of book blogs on my feeds list, so this is an amazingly tough job. Hopefully, I'll have that post up tomorrow. Thanks again, Kristina, this award definitely made my day!

* Finally, I just finished The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, which is fascinating. My review should be up tonight (that's if I stop procrastinating on the laundry); as part of it, I'm going to be giving away my copy of the book. If you are interested in entering the drawing, all you have to do is wait (hopefully not too long) until my review is up, then make a comment. Simple, right? I (or most likely, one of my kids) will draw a name on February 25. If you're not interested in the book, I would still love your comment :)

* Crap! I think that's it. Looks like it's back to laundry for me. I hope the rest of you are doing something exciting - like reading a great book. I'll catch you later when I'm a little more caught up on my housework!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sentimentality Kills the Story in Christmas Jars

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Christmas Jars by Jason Wright is the kind of novel I hate - it's predictable, it's sappy, and it's wrapped up in a way that is completely unrealistic. In short, it's the kind of book that sacrifices good storytelling for sentimental sermonizing. In fact, I think I would have liked the book a whole lot more if Wright had written up his ideas as a personal essay instead of trying to integrate it into a fictional story.

His tale concerns Hope Jensen, a young reporter who has just lost her mother to cancer. Although Louise was not her birth mother, she discovered an infant Hope abandoned at a chicken joint and raised her as her own. Hope is devastated by her loss, a sadness that deepens as Christmas approaches. On Christmas Eve, Hope's heart cracks open a little further when she arrives home to find her apartment ransacked. What little she had of value is gone, including the $500 she had hidden in a drawer. As the police poke through the crime scene for evidence, Hope makes a discovery of her own - a brown paper sack is sitting by her front door. In it sits a glass jar filled with money; the only clue she can find are the words "Christmas Jar" painted on it in red and green letters. She can't imagine who left it at her front door or why. When she questions her neighbors, one of them points out the obvious: "Somebody was thinking of you. How lucky!" (24)

Hope's journalistic instincts kick in, and she jumps in to solve the mystery of the Christmas Jar. Searching in her newspaper's archives, she discovers a handful of letters to the editor from other jar recipients, thanking their anonymous benefactors. She rushes to interview the grateful citizens, but no one knows anything save that the jars arrived on Christmas Eve when they were in need. One lady even warns her, "This ain't about gettin' credit. This just don't belong in the papers" (31). Only one man has even a shred of information, but it turns out to be the proverbial gold mine.

Suddenly, Hope finds herself in the midst of the loving Maxwell Family, who reluctantly share the secret of the Christmas Jar tradition. Not only do they take her into their confidence, but they envelop her into the heart of their family. The only problem is they think Hope's a college student interviewing them for a research paper on small, family-operated businesses. They have no idea she's a reporter who's developing a story about their secret crusades to help people with their Christmas Jars. To get the story, which has a chance of earning a spot above the fold on the newspaper's front page (Hope's lifelong dream), she knows she may have to betray the Maxwells, whom she's come to think of as family. In the process, Hope will learn just how far-reaching the Christmas Jar tradition really is.

I actually love the idea of the Christmas Jar (I won't tell you how it works, since I hate spoilers) - I think it's sweet and fun. I just wasn't impressed with Wright's ability to describe it in a story. His writing is too generic, his characters have about as much individuality as paper dolls, and his plot is as neatly packaged as a professionally-wrapped Christmas gift. The story relies so heavily on coincidence that it's just not believable. In addition, it's so saccharine it makes my head hurt. I know the book has touched people with its message, I just wish it wasn't trying so hard to be inspirational. All the sentimentality just killed the story for me.

As much as I hate to admit it, my eyes did well up a couple times as I was reading Christmas Jars, so I guess it has some power despite all its flaws. It's a short book and one you probably won't regret reading - I'm just warning you that it's not great literature by any means. Having said that, I do want to recommend going to Jason Wright's site and reading the real stories of people who have given and received Christmas jars. If Wright needs an inspirational story, obviously all he has to do is turn to real people - in future, he should leave fiction to the pros.

Grade: C

Note: Many thanks to Shadow Mountain Publishing , who sent me this book to review.
Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hallelujah! MacInerney Restores My Faith in Cozy Mysteries.

If you happened to read my last rant about cozy mysteries, you know I have just about given up on the genre. I'm tired of the fluff - poor writing, predictable plots, depthless characters and all the rest. From Joanna Fluke to J.B. Stanley to M.C. Beaton to Tamar Myers, I have scoured my library for decent cozy reads, but to no avail. Then, I stumbled upon Karen MacInerney (actually, Kay recommended her, so I put her on my list for the Triple 8 Challenge) and ... voila! My faith has been restored.

(image from Barnes & Noble)

Murder on the Rocks is the first book in MacInerney's Gray Whale Inn Mystery series. It stars Natalie Barnes, a Texas native who moves to rugged Cranberry Island, Maine to open a B & B. Accessible only by boat, the island is as much a refuge for humans as for the black-chinned terns (a fictional species) that nest in its rocky landscape. Although the natives still regard her with the suspicion they accord all "outsiders," Natalie feels at home on the beautiful island.

When Bertrand Katz, a wealthy developer, waltzes into the inn with blueprints for a mega resort he plans to build next door to the Gray Whale, Natalie is naturally upset. It's bad enough that he wants to destroy the terns' nesting grounds, but he also wants to raze Natalie's B&B to make way for a parking lot. He even has the gall to stay at her inn, despite the fact that his son lives within walking distance. She needs the money badly enough to wait on the oily developer, but she refuses to give into his schmoozing. Despite protests from her and other islanders, however, Bertrand's project receives a green light. Sunk, Natalie prepares to lose her inn, her nature paradise, and her financial stability.

Things began to look up - in a morbid sort of way - when Natalie finds Bertrand's dead body broken on the cliffs near her inn. She knows the resort project will lose some of its oomph without its ardent champion. Maybe, just maybe, she can save her inn and her beloved terns, too.

Although no one will miss the pompous developer, the police look into his death all the same. Soon, it's labeled a homicide and our heroine becomes a prime suspect. She's not alone in the line up, however, as nearly everyone seems to have a reason to want Bertrand dead. There's Barbara Eggleby, for instance, who tried desperately to outbid the developer and save the terns' nesting ground. Or long-time resident Claudette White, who vehemently opposes any kind of development on her island. Of course, there's also Estelle, Bertrand's beautiful daughter-in-law and her husband, Bertrand's bumbling son. Unfortunately for Natalie, the greasy, chain-smoking police Sargeant in charge of the investigation has it out for her.

Apparently, he's not the only one. People are creeping into the inn at night, throwing rocks through windows and sabotaging her bike. That doesn't stop her from following her own leads, exploring any angle that might clear her name. But, digging into islanders' secrets only stirs up trouble, and soon enough Natalie finds herself hunted by the police and Bertrand's ruthless killer.

Murder on the Rocks is not a perfect cozy, but it's the best example I've ever seen, uh, read. The old developer vs. conservationist conundrum is not a new idea, but the plot has enough surprises to make it original. The writing needs some polish, but it was good enough to pull me into the story and keep me there (I read the book in one day). I also liked MacInerney's characterization - her cast was colorful, but realistic. The one thing I really wanted was more background on the main character, Natalie. Although we're told she moved from Texas to heal her broken heart, we never get the rest of the story or any other info on her old life - I wondered about her old flame, her reasons for moving to Maine, what she did for work/school before buying the inn, etc. Because of this void, I didn't feel like I knew her as well as I wanted to. As for the killer's identity, it was pretty obvious, but not so much that it ruined the story.

My biggest beef with the book is an issue that plagues most cozies - a narrator who for no apparent reason decides to ignore the police and investigate on her own. I realize this is one of the main components of a cozy, but I think an author really has to work hard to make the situation believable. In the case of Natalie Barnes, proprieter of The Gray Whale Inn, it makes no sense that she would run all over the island gathering clues and solving the case. I get that the police investigator is not her biggest fan (although a plausible reason was never given for his dislike - did they have a previous run-in? Does he despise women? Why is he so bent on convicting her?), but her sexy neighbor is the island's deputy. Although he is not technically on the case, wouldn't it make more sense if she brought her information to him? So, that bugged me through the entire book; it would have been much more realistic for me if she and her neighbor worked together to solve the mystery.

When all is said and done, I really enjoyed this quick, comfy mystery. I liked the setting, enjoyed the characters and salivated over the recipes - did I mention them? In a word: Yum. In my humble little opinion, this book is the best of its kind. It's not perfect by any means, but in a genre full of clumsily-written fluff, this one stands out. Let's say it's as warm and satisfying as one of Natalie's famous Cranberry Island Blackout Brownies.

Note: Another thing I like about Karen MacInerney is that she seems very accessible. She maintains a website and two blogs, Poisoned Pen Letters and Cozy Chicks Blog. The former is her personal blog, while the latter is a joint project with six other writers. Of the six, the only one I have heard of is J.B. Stanley, whose writing I wasn't very impressed with - you can read my review of her Carbs & Cadavers to see what I mean. Still, if you like authors' blogs, be sure to check 'em out.

Grade: B

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Inkspell A Somewhat Satisfying Sequel

(image from Barnes & Noble)

How many times have you been so enchanted with a book that you wished you could step right into it and never come out? More than once, probably. But, what if you could literally transport yourself inside a story? Would it be as magical as you imagined? Or would there be hidden horrors in the book's world just like in your own? If you had the choice between living in a fairy tale and residing in your own time, which would you choose? For Meggie Folchard, heroine of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart series, these are not merely hypothetical questions.

In Inkheart, Meggie learns about her father's special ability to read characters into and out of stories. Before long, she discovers that she also has this dubious gift. Although Meggie is enchanted by the idea of entering her favorite story, she soon finds out how dangerous it can be to trade places with fictional characters. After escaping a band of villains from a storybook - also called Inkheart - she suppresses her "gift" to ensure a quiet, peaceful life for herself and her family.

A year later, when Inkspell opens, Meggie is getting restless. Life is good surrounded by her family and friends, but the words of Inkheart have been whispering to her, beckoning her to its world. When her friend Farid appears with troubling news - his master, Dustfinger, has returned to his own story, not knowing that old enemies are right on his tail - Meggie knows her world will collide with Inkheart's once more. Soon enough, Farid knocks on her door, begging her to read him into the book. Meggie agrees on one condition - she gets to go, too. Farid reluctantly agrees, and the two are sucked into the magical, storybook world.

Meggie is fascinated by her surroundings - fairies twinkle past her, water nymphs gaze at her from watery depths, fragile glass men sparkle in the sunlight - which are just as described in the book. They are not the only occupants populating Inkheart, as Meggie soon finds out. Her enchantment with the fairy tale fades as she faces each new horror: the lands are full of blood-thirsty wolves wandering the forest; pale White Ladies reaching greedily for the souls of the dying; and warring princes with hosts of vicious thugs searching for her, the girl-witch with the magical voice.

Meggie's only consolation is knowing that her beloved parents are safe at home - or so she thinks. When rumors circulate of a strange, injured man dying in a gypsy camp, she recognizes her father's description. The superstitious folk mistake him for "Bluejay," a Robin Hood-like figure who steals from royalty and gives to peasants; soon there is a price on his head as well. Not only is Meggie hunted by enemies, but everyone she loves seems marked for death as well.

Desperate, she turns to Fenoglio, Inkheart's author. The writer has been living peacefully in his own book for a year, reveling in the marvels of his creation. Meggie's warnings alarm him, and Fenoglio vows to revise the story into a less threatening tale. His words only seem to complicate matters; soon, Fenoglio is cowering in the shadows with the rest of his outlaw friends. When Meggie and her parents are imprisoned in the castle of the devious Adderhead, she knows the fate of the land rests in her hands. Can she summon the power of words one more time to save the lives of those she loves? Or will the story that has gotten away from its own author be the death of her and all she holds dear?

Although Inkspell has a lot of the magic and excitement of its predecessor, I didn't enjoy it quite as much. Still, it has a swift plot, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the action going. Character development doesn't suffer - familiar cast members are explored more fully, while new ones contribute local color and intriguing subplots. The majority of the book takes place in the land of Inkheart, which gives the book a fun, magical setting. In fact, I only have two beefs with the book: (1) My favorite character, Elinor, spends most of the book locked in her cellar. Although she is with Darius, nothing develops, and not much happens, and (2) I didn't like the ending. I can't explain without giving things away, but I just wasn't satisfied. There is another book coming out, so maybe it will tie up all the loose ends, but still ... the book's conclusion just didn't sit right with me. Other than that, it was a fun, fast-paced read.

Grade: B

A Meme and A Giveaway

Sam tagged me for this one.

The Rules:

1) Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
2) Open the book to page 123
3) Find the fifth sentence
4) Post the next three sentences
5) Tag five people

Okay, so the closest book to me is Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. The fifth sentence is not a very exciting one - "Orpheus did not look at him." The next three sentences are: "He straightened his jacket in embarrassment and inspected Elinor's bookshelves. 'Hey, just look at him!' Basta dug his elbow roughly into Orpheus' ribs."

The funny thing is, this book has plenty of great quotations about books and reading ... this just wasn't one of them! LOL.

I really hate tagging people, but I also hate not following the rules, so here goes ... I tag Megan, Karlene, Joy, Pour of Tor and Robin. Thanks for playing along, everybody!

I also wanted to let you know about a giveaway Stephanie is having. She's giving away a copy of The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and a Starbucks gift card. I don't drink coffee, so if I win, I will pass on the gift card, but I really want to win this book! You have to leave a comment on Stephanie's blog by midnight on February 13. You also get an extra entry if you mention the giveaway on your blog. Good luck!
Monday, February 04, 2008

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank: A Novel of Remembering and Forgetting

(book image from Barnes & Noble)

Nearly everyone recognizes the name Anne Frank; it is synonymous with wit, honesty and bravery. Her diary has touched millions. I can't imagine anyone not being inspired by her story. Ellen Feldman, however, can. In her novel, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, she imagines a man who suffers a mental break at the mere sight of Anne's published diary. Why would the writings of a young girl cause a man's psyche to disintegrate? Because he is Peter van Pels, the boy who hid in the Annex with Anne and her family. He is Peter van Pels, the man who has tried desperately to forget his past.
In the book's "Acknowledgments" section, Feldman describes her experience visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Her tour guide stated that the fates of all the occupants of the Annex were known except for that of Peter. The mystery sparked Feldman's imagination. By the time she discovered her guide had been misinformed (according to a Red Cross dossier, Peter died in Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945), the character had already formed in her head. Thus, it is Feldman's creation we meet in her book.
When The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank opens, it is 1952 and an adult Peter is sitting in a psychiatrist's office. The doctor has been consulted to treat the sudden, inexplicable bout of laryngitis which has seized Peter's body. Much to his dismay, the psychiatrist insists on peppering him with ridiculous questions, even inquiring as to his wife's reading material. Surprisingly, it's the answer to this last inquiry that gives him his answer: Madeliene had been reading the newly-published The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank.
The publication of the book causes not only laryngitis, but a psychotic break that has Peter grappling with a past he's worked desperately to bury. Unbeknownst to the Red Cross, he escaped the prison camps and eventually migrated to America. When he steps off the boat in New York, Peter covers the tattooed number on his arm, hides his Jewish ancestry, and sets out in pursuit of the American dream. Not even a decade later, he has a successful career, a nice home and an unsuspecting Jewish wife. He has hidden his past so successfully that no one - not even Madeliene - suspects the pains he endured during the war. Then the diary is published and he feels the past whirring around him, a tornado that threatens to destroy everything in his carefully-constructed life.
With memories haunting his every step, Peter begins lashing out. He knows he should tell his family the truth, but he's desperate to keep them anonymous, safe. Then, Anne's diary is made into a play, a play which distorts the events in the Annex for heightened dramatic effect. Madeliene describes a particular event - part of the fabricated story, although she doesn't know that - in the drama:
"It was the most awful scene. One night Mrs. Frank hears a noise and gets up, and there's Mr. van Daan [In her diary, Anne uses "van Daan" to hide the identity of Peter's family, the van Pels'], the father of the boy Ann's in love with, stealing bread from the cupboard. All the time they thought it was the rats, it was really him. He. Taking food out of his own child's mouth. Can you imagine?" (p. 149)
The diary has caused enough problems, but Peter can't tolerate the thought of America ingesting a horrid lie about his father. He snaps. Torn between telling the truth and protecting his family, Peter spirals out of control. On the brink of divorce and mental breakdown, Peter makes a scene during the trial of Otto Frank, which seals his fate. He has no choice but to reveal his identity, but telling the truth means remembering, and remembering means facing memories so torturous they could crush him forever.
The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is a complicated, somber tale about identity and the ravaging impact of war on the human psyche. It's a story about truth and risking all to find out who you really are. Mostly, it's just what its cover proclaims it to be: "A Novel of Remembering and Forgetting." It's spare, thought-provoking and utterly moving. It's not an easy read by any means, but it's one you won't soon forget.
Grade: B

Repent! And Read This Romantic Classic.

Eva's meme forced me to admit the shameful truth - although I have been a book lover all my life and hold a college degree in English, I had never read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. You'll be glad to know that I have repented. Finally, I know why this novel is beloved by so many people, because it was book-love-at-first-sentence for me.

As the title suggests, the book follows the life of one Jane Eyre. When we first see her, she is curled up on a window seat trying to lose herself in a book. Escape into her imagination is her only retaliation against the cruel blows life has dealt her. After her parents' deaths, Jane was sent to live with The Reeds - her aunt, uncle and three cousins. Now widowed, Mrs. Reed has become an indulgent bore who treats Jane as little better than a servant. Her son, the sadistic John, tortures Jane with physical blows, while his sisters tolerate her with haughty indifference. Even the servants believe she is a "mad cat" (11).

Some respite comes in the form of bemused Mr. Lloyd, who encourages Mrs. Reed to send Jane to a school for poor girls. When the school's director poisons the other girls against Jane, she fears she will not survive the experience. She does, however, and soon finds herself qualified to work as a governess in one of England's grand old homes. Soon, she is the employee of Mr. Edward Rochester, the absentee owner of Gateshead. Her charge is Sophie Varens, a precocious child of 7 or 8, who has become Mr. Rochester's ward in the wake of her mother's death. Jane enjoys her student and her associations with the kindly servants of Gateshead. Only one thing mars her experience - she keeps hearing strange noises at night. The other members of the household dismiss it as the odd habits of servant Grace Poole, but Jane's suspicions are aroused. The strange occurrences aside, Jane feels content at Gateshead.

When Jane meets Mr. Rochester by chance, her world changes once again. Despite his oddities, she falls in love with him. Jane knows she is not attractive, but Mr. Rochester seems to appreciate her intelligence and wit. Still, his flirting with a beautiful, if shallow, society woman convinces her that he has better prospects. Finally, the unlikely romance blossoms into marriage, but a shocking revelation halts the happy proceedings. The mystery of Gateshead is finally solved, but Jane's heart is shattered.

Shamed, Jane flees to a distant town, where she begins life anew. This journey will bring her joy and despair - as well as another marriage proposal - but she can't seem to forget Mr. Rochester. The conclusion of the book begins with a Jane in turmoil, caught between two men and two very different futures. Will she abandon her desire for Mr. Rochester to pursue a life of missionary service? Or will she risk it all for the man she loves?

Call Jane Eyre what you will - sentimental, predictable, sappy - but it's a thoroughly charming novel. The voice of our heroine is brave, honest and determined. Even though the novel is essentially a love story, it's not all bubbles and roses. Its themes travel various paths, hitting on passion, moral choices, marital responsibility, duty to God, women's rights in the stifling Victorian period, etc. Hailed as revolutionary for its time, Jane Eyre endures because it's still relevant today. Besides all those noble things, it's simply a good story. It's readable, romantic and utterly enchanting. If you - like me - have committed the sin of not reading this book, repent now. You won't regret it.

Grade: A+

(Book image is from Modern Library)
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