April 2011Monthly Archives

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Order from:
Reason for Reading:
  • This was our Read-Along book for April.

I also recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

The masterpiece of one of the greatest American writers of all time. East of Eden is an epic tale of good vs. evil with many biblical references and parallels. The story is ultimately that of good’s triumph over evil and the human will’s ability to make that happen.

My Review:

Just hearing the name John Steinbeck used to give me pause.  I mean, it’s such a commanding sounding name and makes me think of stuffy scholars, ivy league education and gives me a feeling of inferiority because I have never read anything written by him.

So I figured it was about time.

East of Eden was picked for a read-along book for this past month and, to tell you the truth, I was dreading it.  I thought it would be a book that would bore me to pieces and that I’d have to struggle through each section and try to find something to talk about.  Instead, I found myself devouring each page and desperately wanting to continue on when each weeks assignment was finished.

Steinbeck’s descriptions, of landscapes, characters and situations are fascinating and thrilling.  I found myself not only re-reading sections of the book, but calling up friends and family to share passages – wishing the whole time that they knew the background that led up to those said passages.

Some of my favorites are these:

(When describing his mother)

“She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do.”

(At the beginning of Part 4)

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.

This last quote is a favorite of mine.   I wish I had words to describe how it makes me feel to read it, but I don’t.

East of Eden is a story about living your life in the manner in which people mourn your passing.  It touches on the evil in some, the struggle to be good in some and the innate goodness that dwells within others.  It explores decision and consequences, family relationships between spouses, brothers and sisters and friends.  It is an epic family drama that deserves the title of epic in spite of being subtle and slowly unfolding. The characters of the Hamiltons and Lee will always remain in my memory and be thought of fondly.  Cal and Aron, Charles and Adam – two sets of brothers so alike and so memorable each in their own way.

I could gush on and on about how much I loved this book but, as I said earlier, I just don’t have the words to adequately describe it all.  If you are at all intimidated, as I was, by just the name of Steinbeck, let me assure you that you are missing out by not reading this book.  I intend to fully explore his other works in the upcoming months and cannot wait to get to know him even more through them.

Check out these review(s):

Rebecca Reads

Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes

Order from:
Reason for Reading:
  • You know.. I’m not quite sure why I picked this book out, I just pulled it out of my library pile and thought hm.. why did I pick this?  And then decided to read it to find out!

I recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

A once-fashionable, now fading resort hotel. A spinster Aunt living in an attic. Dirt roads that lead to dead ends. A house full of secrets and old, dusty furnishings, uninhabited for almost half a century. A twelve-year-old girl with a passion for double-chocolate ice-cream sodas, and decaying lake-fronts, and an obsession with the death by drowning of another young girl, forty years before.

Like all important events in the past, there are repercussions and ramifications in the present. In the world as seen by Martha Grimes, those repercussions simmer and seethe and wind their way through hearts and souls. The ramifications can be subtle. Or exhilarating. Passionate. And they can also be deadly.

Hotel Paradise is a delicate yet excruciating view of the pettiness and cruelty of small town America. It is a look at the difficult decisions a young girl must make on her way to becoming an adult and the choices she must make between right and wrong, between love and truth, between life and death. It is a novel with extraordinary range and depth that ultimately becomes a thrilling morality play.

My Review:

I am trying to figure out why I chose this book to read, why I requested it from the library and brought it home but I just can’t remember.  That said, I’m glad I did because I did enjoy the story.

This book is a reminder of what a good mystery is supposed to be like.  Filled with memories of better days gone by, perfect descriptions of food, people and places and enough of a touch of the mystery (and a super cute mystery solver) to keep the reader guessing and trying to figure out the story.

I’m not a big fan of “who done it” mysteries, I like my mysteries to have a gradual unfolding of a story, the story being the mystery itself instead of some huge unveiling “shock factor” type ending – and that’s what I got with this book.

I’d never heard of Martha Grimes before, but I’m glad I followed whatever impulse made me pick Hotel Paradise up and I plan to check out more of Grimes works in the near future.

Check out these review(s):

Elderly Thespian

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I love Historical Fiction and I haven’t read enough of it centering around early States history.

Summary from Goodreads:

For generations, the Winslow and Clarke families have been feuding over rights to the mill stream, but Jane Clarke has managed to stay removed from the fray. While she doesn’t doubt her father’s claims, she also does not harbor ill will towards the Winslows. Yet Jane cannot remain uninvolved after someone hacks off the ears of Mr. Winslow’s horse because everyone in Satucket believes that Jane’s father is the culprit. Is her father the kind of man who could commit such a horrible act? Suddenly, Jane’s long-held placidity is shattered and her trust shaken. Adding to her distress is Phinnie Paine, the suitor her father wishes her to marry. When Jane defies her father and refuses Paine’s offer she is sent away to Boston to care for a troublesome aunt.

Arriving in the bustling city awash with Redcoats and rebellious fervor, Jane realizes she has not escaped the conflicts defining her life but rather stepped into a world in which they are magnified. Father against daughter, Winslow against Clarke, loyalist against rebel–the battles are complicated by her seemingly unbalanced aunt, the unexpectedly kind British soldiers, the townspeople who taunt them, and her beloved brother, a law clerk working for John Adams, who is fervently channeling his own frustrations into acts of sedition. When Jane witnesses British soldiers kill five colonists on a cold March evening in 1770—now known as the Boston Massacre—she understands she has become engulfed in forces greater than herself, knowledge that forces her to question long-held personal truths . . . and face the most difficult choices of her life.

My Review:

This past year I’ve read a few historical books dealing with early American history.  I’ve read some good ones and some.. not so good ones and I was hopeful that The Rebellion of Jane Clarke would fall into the former category.

While this story wasn’t necessarily all that bad, it was lacking in something, but it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is.  I was going to originally say it was lacking in passion, but that’s not really it.  It was just that.. I didn’t care about Jane.  I found her to be one of those annoying women that just couldn’t pick a side, couldn’t decide what she wanted, and just flip-flopped all the time between what daddy wanted and what suitor she should have.

What I did appreciate about the story was how the perspective was different than what I’ve read and seen about the Boston Massacre.  It was interesting seeing it from another point of view, seeing how the British Redcoats could have very well been treated – but still the story didn’t have enough life of its own to keep me interested for long periods at a time.

So overall, I’d say it wasn’t a read I regret, but one that lacked the story that the potential was there for.

 

About the Author

For more reviews on The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones

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Reason(s) for Reading:
  • The title was quirky and fun and.. I had no idea it was poetry.

Summary from Goodreads:

Celebrated YA novelist Sonya Sones makes a HUGE splash with her first adult novel, The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, spinning a funny, fierce, and piercingly honest coming-of-middle-age story about falling apart and putting yourself back together. Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neckmeets Elizabeth Berg—boldly original and endlessly enthralling—The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a luminous, brilliantly told story of life, marriage, and parenthood that you will not soon forget.

My Review:

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a book of poetry.   I don’t do poems.. usually.  I don’t get them, I never have gotten them.  However, I blazed through this book in a few hours one afternoon.

While I haven’t experienced much of what the book is talking about, these poems brought home the reality of it all.  They spoke of pain, happiness, loss, motherhood, aging and death in a way that kept my attention, in spite of the verse (or perhaps, because of it).  I began this book thinking I would be bored and ended it with a feeling of regret that there wasn’t more.

If you are a fan of books like Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck then you will love this charming, beautiful little book of poems.

 

About the Author

For more reviews on The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones, please follow the book tour.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards. While I won’t get to every book, I do plan on reading those novels listed and those listed for the Andre Norton award as well.
Order from:
Reason(s) for Reading:
  • This title is one of the awards for best novel in the 2010 Andre Norton Awards

Summary from GoodReads:

Set initially in a future shanty town in America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she’ll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

My Review:

This is the kind of young adult book that I can fall in love with.  Just a touch of romance, high seas adventures, action, hard decisions to be made, a fascinating world and a main character filled with flaws and strengths.

Last year I attempted to read another book by Bacigalupi and was unable to get past the first 50 pages so I admit to having some worry when it came to Ship Breaker.  However, that gorgeous cover and the summary kept calling to me and when I saw it was up for The Andre Norton award that sealed the deal.

Ship Breaker is set in a sort of futuristic Gulf Coast.  New Orleans has been wiped out more than one time and Nailer, the main focus, is a boy on a crew in charge of scavenging items like copper wire from ship wrecks that show up on the coast.  It’s a hard life and one that is about to change the day a “swank” washes up in her ship-wrecked clipper.

Like most fantasy or sci-fi books it took a few pages for me to get used to the lingo and the setting, but once I did I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down.  Hours later I finished it and breathed a sigh of happiness – because this was the kind of ending I could get behind and my imagination went crazy with the possibilities.

This is a very good choice for the award and now I can’t wait to read the other selections!

Check out these review(s):

Laura’s Review Bookshelf

The Book Smugglers

Blackout by Connie Willis

Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards. While I won’t get to every book, I do plan on reading those novels listed and those listed for the Andre Norton award as well.
Order from:
Reason(s) for Reading:
  • This title is one of the awards for best novel in the 2010 Nebula Awards

Summary from GoodReads:

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place. Scores of time-traveling historians are being sent into the past, to destinations including the American Civil War and the attack on the World Trade Center. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser, Mr. Dunworthy, into letting her go to VE Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. And seventeen-year-old Colin Templer, who has a major crush on Polly, is determined to go to the Crusades so that he can “catch up” to her in age.

But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments for no apparent reason and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s, and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

My Review:

I am so incredibly grateful to the Nebula awards for bringing titles to light that I would have overlooked.  Blackout by Connie Willis is one of those titles.

I’m a big fantasy lover – but I haven’t really delved that much into the world of science fiction and alternative history, so this book was a bit of a stretch for me.  I loved it though, I loved how different events were looked at from all points of view, how beliefs were so firmly stated that I had no problem believing them – and then sharing in the disbelief and doubt that began to emerge in the main characters.

And the history.. it was such an intimate picture of unsung heroes at times I felt as if I was standing outside a building, peeking in through the windows to watch these characters, supporting characters and more go about their daily business.  It brought home to me a personal, relate-able view of what London during the blackouts was like and just how frightening it had to have been.

Fantastic fun and I cannot wait to check out more of Connie Willis’ books.  I just love being introduced to a new author!

Check out these review(s):

The Book Smugglers

At Home with Books

 

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

(Before this review, I just wanted to take a moment to let you all know what’s happening here.  This week marks Finals Week for me and this class kicked my butt!  But the good news is.. I’m nearly done and, as a result, my reading has begun to pick up again.  Thanks to those of you who’ve stuck by and I have some fantastic stuff coming up for yall to read!)
Order from:
Reason for Reading:
  • I read Hex Hall and it amused me so I was looking forward to reading the sequel.

I recommend:

Summary from GoodReads:

Sophie Mercer thought she was a witch.

That was the whole reason she was sent to Hex Hall, a reform school for delinquent Prodigium (aka witches, shapeshifters, and fairies). But that was before she discovered the family secret, and that her hot crush, Archer Cross, is an agent for The Eye, a group bent on wiping Prodigium off the face of the earth.

Turns out, Sophie’s a demon, one of only two in the world—the other being her father. What’s worse, she has powers that threaten the lives of everyone she loves. Which is precisely why Sophie decides she must go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that will destroy her powers.

But once Sophie arrives she makes a shocking discovery. Her new friends? They’re demons too. Meaning someone is raising them in secret with creepy plans to use their powers, and probably not for good. Meanwhile, The Eye is set on hunting Sophie down, and they’re using Archer to do it. But it’s not like she has feelings for him anymore. Does she?

My Review:

I’m in the minority here.  I took this book with me on a trip for airplane reading on the way out and was… massively disappointed.

It may just be that my tastes have changed, but I chuckled and enjoyed Hex Hall and just.. found that Demonglass lost its charm.

Demonglass picks up right where Hex Hall left off, Sophie is involved in a forbidden romance with a bad boy for her – something that is becoming all too familiar a plot point for me lately.  While the story had its ups and downs, they were more like kiddie-rollercoaster ups and downs and felt forced to me.  I did not feel any sort of connection to the characters and found myself disliking Sophie more and more as the story progressed.  By the time I reached the “cliffhanger” ending I was done with the book and will not be picking up #3.

I wish this book had the charm and wittiness of Hex Hall, but it didn’t and as much as I hate writing negative reviews I really can’t find anything positive to write here.  I was sitting on an airplane, without any other sort of amusement and found myself putting it down several times to thumb through magazines and read advertisements.  That’s a deal breaker for me, and so I’ll write this series off unfortunately.

 

Check out these review(s):

A Muggle’s Magical Book Blog

Novel Thoughts

The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton

Order from:
Reason(s) for Reading:
  • I enjoyed Clayton’s The Wednesday Sisters and wanted to give this one a shot.

    Summary from Goodreads:

    Meg Waite Clayton’s national bestseller The Wednesday Sisters was a word-of-mouth sensation and book club favorite. Now the beloved author is back with a page-turning novel that explores the secrets we keep, even from those closest to us, and celebrates the enduring power of friendship.Mia, Laney, Betts, and Ginger, best friends since law school, have reunited for a long weekend as Betts awaits Senate confirmation of her appointment to the Supreme Court. Nicknamed “the Ms. Bradwells” during their first class at the University of Michigan Law School in 1979—when only three women had ever served full Senate terms and none had been appointed to the Court—the four have supported one another through life’s challenges: marriages and divorces, births and deaths, career setbacks and triumphs large and small. Betts was, and still is, the Funny One. Ginger, the Rebel. Laney, the Good Girl. And Mia, the Savant.

    But when the Senate hearings uncover a deeply buried skeleton in the friends’ collective closet, the Ms. Bradwells retreat to a summer house on the Chesapeake Bay, where they find themselves reliving a much darker period in their past—one that stirs up secrets they’ve kept for, and from, one another, and could change their lives forever.

    Once again, Meg Waite Clayton writes inspiringly about the complex circumstances facing women and the heartfelt friendships that hold them together. Insightful and affecting, The Four Ms. Bradwells is also a captivating tale of how far people will go to protect the ones they love.

    My Review:

    The Four Ms. Bradwells was a book I wanted to like but, sadly, fell short of its mark for me.  I read through this story of four women on the plane ride to and from California and I deliberately made sure I would have no other distractions and still I had a rough time getting through it.

    I think the biggest problem was that it was just plain confusing to me.  I felt as if Meg Waite Clayton were jumping around all over the place and I couldn’t keep track of what time this or that was happening and if it was the present or the past and it took about 100 pages before I finally started to make sense of things.  I also felt as if I was thrown into the story without given much info at all about the characters and, while I know who a few of them are (such as Mia and Laney) the other two remained a mystery for a long time.

    I was really saddened that I just couldn’t get into this one.  I really wanted to like it and I’m all about the sisterhood, strong women type books but.. like I said, this one fell sadly short of the mark.

     

    About the Author

    For more reviews on The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton, please follow the book tour.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

    Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards. While I won’t get to every book, I do plan on reading those novels listed and those listed for the Andre Norton award as well.
    Order from:
    Reason(s) for Reading:
    • This title is one of the awards for best novel in the 2010 Nebula Awards

      Summary from GoodReads:

      International award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magic realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and of the woman who reshapes her world.

      In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her child Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue.

      From a young age, stubborn, willful Onyesonwu is trouble. It doesn’t take long for her to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.

      But Onye is not the average Ewu. As a child, Onye’s singing attracts owls. By the age of eleven, she can change into a vulture. But these amazing abilities are merely the first glimmers of a remarkable unique magic. As Onye grows, so do her abilities—soon she can manipulate matter and flesh, or travel beyond into the spiritual world. During an inadvertent visit to this other realm she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

      Desperate to elude her would-be murderer, and to understand her own nature, she seeks help from the magic practitioners of her village. But, even among her mother’s people, she meets with frustrating prejudice because she is Ewu and female. Yet Onyesonwu persists.

      Eventually her magical destiny and her rebellious nature will force her to leave home on a quest that will be perilous in ways that Onyesonwu can not possibly imagine. For this journey will cause her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately to learn why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death?

      My Review:

      Fantastic book!  Seriously, this one took me FOREVER to read, but that was because of just how incredibly amazing it was.

      Before I start talking about all of the fantastic elements of this book let me just say that this story was completely out of my comfort zone.  Everything was strange to me, the culture, the names, the language, the myths – everything was brand new.  I expect some of that already when I read fantasy books, but this was even more so.. because it was rooted in the real world in such a fashion that everything seemed completely plausible.

      Onye, as a main character, experiences conflict, joy, terror, hope and more.  She’s strong and weak, stubborn and pliant and gives me, the reader, everything I was dying to have in a main character.  I seriously cannot sing the praises of her development enough and loved every layer of her that I got to see slowly peeled away.

      This is, by far, one of the top contenders for the Nebula award, in my opinion.  I challenge each of you reading this review to step out of your comfort zone and give this book a shot. You will be fiercely entertained and stunned by the magnitude of the story and its message.

      Check out these review(s):

      The Literary Omnivore

       

      Bear