Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

genre: adult mystery

This is Flavia's sixth novel that I have listened to, and I am still just as smitten with her as I was in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  This book takes us even further in the past of Flavia's family and the secrets are deeper than even our precarious nearly 12-year old chemistry enthusiast could imagine.  I feel like the characters we've loved were more fleshed out, given more purpose and depth.  Based on the cliffhanger of the last book, I wasn't sure how things were going to move forward and I was surprised by several of the plot twists.  There were a few threads that hung awkwardly for me for a while and that distracted me, but they did get resolved eventually.

This is going to be a spoiler, for those who care:

I just want to note that I find the whole plot with Flavia's mother very interesting.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around the intrigue, I had to shift my thinking in a way that moved my brain beyond Buckshaw and the surrounding towns, which took a little getting used to.  Sometimes I forget how very recently an enormous war had been fought and so its fitting - I just had to get used to it.

I will be so disappointed if this is the last book.  I love Flavia.  Love.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

genre: young adult fiction

This is a book about two girls - two girls who know pain and who end up being in the same hospital room - a flimsy curtain their only way to get privacy.   During the time that they share in that sterile, horrible room, they slowly find a way to give each other some comfort.

The format of the book is unique - it's a read as a conversation, with a curtain in between.  When the line down the text disappears, that means the curtain has been withdrawn.  It's a novel in verse, so between the layout and the sparse text, it reads very fast.  It took me longer than I'd thought to get into - it was hard to figure out who people were and what was really happening.  I couldn't bring myself to put it down, though, as Chess, the main character, is slowly given her diagnosis.  Shannon, who is far more angry and prickly than Chess, has been dealing with Disease and in a brash way starts a dialogue to help Chess sort though the emotions of being told the word Chronic applies to you.


Something I did like about this book is the fact that it isn't a cancer book or an anorexia book - it brings to light other illnesses that aren't as discussed in the cannon.  To be sick with gastrointestinal issues, to deal with the embarrassments of being sick to your stomach all the time - that's so different than having other problems.  I think that teens who are struggling with this could really see this book as a hug hug, reminding them that they are not alone and that there is hope.

I can't say I loved it but I'm not sorry I read it either.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

genre: fiction

As the amazing author John Steinbeck sees himself getting along in years, he realizes that it has been decades since he truly spent any time getting to know the people in the nation he writes about.  His desire to reconnect with America and see it again with his own eyes leads to something I personally love: a massive road trip.  He gets a truck that he turns into a camper and he names it after Don Quiote's horse, Rocinante.  And then he leaves his New York home and embarks on a cross-continental journey.

I chose this book because I was personally embarking on an 18 journey from Maryland to Las Vegas and back, I wanted something to inspire me and get me excited.  This did that - to an extent.  It's obviously a very different journey than the one I took, he took his in 1960 and instead of traveling with five children like I did, John's companion was his standard poodle, Charley.  Charley is a main character in this story - he is John's confidant and his muse.   And other than Charley, almost everyone else we meet in this story is a stranger, a snippet of a life that John is able to glean from a few minutes or hours of conversation over a bottle of whiskey.

I really, really liked it.  I liked it because he painted a portait of 1960 for me - the ferocious pace of progress, the rise of the city and the freeway and the rest stop.  I loved, particularly, his thoughts on traveling and how it changes us.  There are parts that are hard to read, especially when he gets to the South and encounters all the tensions and hatred that were constantly boiling over.  But in true Steinbeck fashion, he is a MASTER of our language. His prose is so fluid, his images so perceptive that I love his writing for its own sake.  I have been told to be wary of considering this a literal travelogue - that it is far more "novel" than "true."  But I think I am choosing not to let that bother me - I found truth in his words and ideas, not from whether or not he really stopped at a particular truck stop or not.

I want to mention that I listened to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Gary Sinise, and he was INCREDIBLE.  His accents were wonderful, his tone was so smooth and dreamy to listen to.  I loved having him in my headphones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blog Tour: Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta

I read this book as part of a blog tour - welcome new readers!!

genre: non-fiction

Wild things is a book for Bibliophiles.  It's an ode to children's literature - a romp through the ins and outs and behind-the-scenes adventures of the authors, publishers, editors and yes, readers of literature for the young.  In a conversational and familiar tone, this book assumes the reader knows a little about books and wants to know MORE, more about how this book world works and more about how it came to be the way it is.

I found it to be really engaging. I particularly loved the anecdotes and background information about books I'm already familiar with.  Did I wish I could UNlearn a few things?  Maybe.  I'll never think about Shel Silverstein the same way again.   But, truth is good and several times I found myself sharing stories I'd read with my reader-sister, I was so intrigued.  A good sized portion of this book is dedicated to the sexual orientation of various authors and the emergence of books about homosexuals - since this part didn't interest me as much as the rest, it felt a little long but I know other readers would feel differently, so there you go.

As a girl who grew up reading Where the Sidewalk Ends and Dr. Seuss, Little House on the Prairie and Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, I was always happy to pick this up and learn more about my favorite thing: books.

Disclosure: a copy of this book was given to me in exchange for an honest review

Interested in following along on the tour and getting other viewpoints on the book?    Here's the schedule!

August 5: 100 Scope Notes
August 6: There's A Book
August 8: Guys Lit Wire
August 11Book Riot
August 11: GreenBeanTeenQueen
August 14: Wendy on the Web
August 18: Into the Wardrobe
August 20: The Book Nest
August 21: Random Chalk Talk
August 22: Children's Corner

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Some thoughts on Children's Books and Social Change, by the authors of Wild Things!

Tomorrow I will be posting a review of the book Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson and Peter D. Sieruta.  Since my review will be part of a blog tour, I've got a fun piece for you to read by the authors that will help you get excited for this book:

Children’s literature, as we write about in our book Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in

Children’s Literature, has a way of accompanying social change. Sometime, though, it precedes it.

Our book, mind you, sets out to debunk the cute-and-fluffy notion of children’s literature.

For many people, the mere mention of children’s books conjures up this world of cute, fluffy

bunnies and sweetness and light. There’s a place for books like that, we suppose, but in our

book we aim to dispel the notion that all books are or should be that way by not only looking

at the wilder side of those authors and illustrators who create the books, but by also looking

at subversive literature itself. Yep, some of our favorite books are subversive and downright

WEIRD and life-changing and mind-blowing. Not all children’s books are sweet and fluffy.

But when it comes to looking at examples of children’s books that precede social change,

one book you can examine actually is about cute and fluffy bunnies. Garth Williams’ 1958

picture book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, is the simple story of two adorable, fluff-tastic rabbits who

want to be together forever. They have a happy forest wedding. That about covers it.

But it became one of the most controversial books of the 1950s. And that’s because one

rabbit is white, and one rabbit is black. And they appear on the very cover. In 1950s’ America,

such interracial marriages were taboo. Or, as we note in the book, “they didn’t like the color of

his hare.”

It’s brainwashing, wrote one columnist from Florida’s Orlando Sentinel, and it’s

propaganda, wrote another journalist at the Montgomery Home News. The book should be

burned, stated Alabama State Senator E. O. Eddins.

Garth Williams himself remained calm during this debate. We could tell you his response

to the arguing, but then we can’t give away all our book’s secrets, can we?

It just goes to show: Cute, fluffy bunnies are never what they seem.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

genre: fiction

When we first get to know Abbie Deal, she's a little girl on the prairie, making dolls out of rocks and spending her little free time daydreaming of growing up to be someone really accomplished.  As she grows up, gets married and starts a family of her own, Abbie Deal becomes a pioneer in her own right. She and her husband take their wagon to the Nebraska wilderness where she begins a life of sacrifice and accomplishment - if not the kind of accomplishment she'd imagined as a girl.

As I planned for a huge road trip all through the midwest, I did a lot of searching for a quintessential pioneer book and I found this book on several lists.  I found an awesome vintage copy online but of course it took me forever to actually read it, with the way my life is now. ANYWAY.  I hardly read any of it actually IN Nebraska but having just driven through that delightful state showed me how very intimate Aldrich was with the prairie.  Her love of the land while simultaneously cursing its wiles was real.

The writing is lyrical - simple and tender.  I can see how some people might feel like it sloshes into sentimental occasionally but for me, I believed in Abbie's experience I believed in her heartache. I felt so close to Abbie - as a mom myself, I related to her emotions about her children, her willingness to put her own dreams on hold to provide for them.   The book skips forward in time pretty quickly - there are often huge jumps with small scenes in between, snippets of her life - and it's an 80 year life!  The transitions forward in time felt smooth.  It's amazing to think of the change these pioneer women saw in their lifetime - from living in a sod house in near complete isolation to automobiles and electricity.   Abbie's reflections on her lifetime, the things that matter most to her in the end, actually had me in tears.

I know that it's not for everyone, but this book totally hit the spot for me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scan by Walter Jury and Sarah Fine

genre: science fiction

Tate's father is hard core.  Demanding and exacting, he's raised Tate to be strong and intelligent and not a little resourceful. McGyver-type resourceful.  And it's going to come in handy because one unfortunate choice brings to a crashing halt not just Tate's safety but also everything he's ever believed about his life.

This was an unsolicited arc sent to my house.  I almost didn't read it because it sounded a bit cheesy, but it was described as a cross between McGyver and War of the Worlds, both of which I like in a strange way. So I tried.  And I liked!  I totally want some more! There are aliens!  Bad guys!  Maybe-I-can't-trust-you good guys! Strange technologies and explosives made from Walmart junk!  I'm not kidding.  The plot grabbed me.  There are too many swears at the beginning but for a male protagonist, he felt his emotions deep enough that I believed them (ok, sometimes being in a teenage male head got annoying but I still wanted to keep reading). I just took my disbelief and suspended it, baby, and had a nice fluffy ride.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

genre: young adult mystery

Cadence appears to have an idyllic life.  She has everything money could buy and she spends her summers with her extended family on their private island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Between her two dear cousins and a beloved friend, she finds a haven of acceptance.  But during her fifteenth summer on the island, something goes very wrong - but despite time passing, Cadence cannot remember what.


It might be better for you to go read this knowing nothing.  Reading any more might be a spoiler.  Beware. 

Really. If you can handle books with a serious emotional punch, don't read more of this review.

I started listening to this having no idea what it was about. I didn't know it was a mystery, a piecing together of memories.  I didn't know it was about the all-consuming power of first love or the way that money and jealousy can rip a family apart - you can't help but think of King Lear.  So much of it I just did not see coming, and maybe I should have, but the scope and tragedy of this book caught me by surprise all the same.

I have read several reviews that sang its praises to high heaven and several reviews that hated the characters and the plot.  For myself, I was just compelled by it, in its entirety. I found the family dynamic to be completely fascinating and it made me think a lot about how huge we can let small things become.  I felt the ending very deeply, my emotions were real and I didn't feel like I was being manipulated, which really matters.  I cannot forget the moment where things hit my heart, like even I, as a reader, was backpeddling, trying to undo things that cannot be undone.

It's not an easy book, but it is a well-crafted book about love and loss, mistakes and consequences.  Even though it isn't a pretty story, I'm glad I listened.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (audioboo

genre: historical fiction

Coralie's life as the daughter of an illusionist-turned-side-show-museum-operator is anything but ordinary.  Coney Island at the beginning of the 20th century was a place to escape - and The Museum of Extraordinary Things provided guests with wonders to amaze and astound, for a price, and all carefully designed and lorded over by Coralie's father.

On another side of New York lives Eddie, an immigrant living in the Lower East Side whose flight from the orthodox community of his childhood has left him with little but himself to rely on. When Eddie and Coralie's lives intersect, their story begins to flash with new meaning and a deeper longing for more than the life they'd been handed.

For the most part, I really liked this.  It was solid historical fiction and I felt completely immersed in this New York of the past, there are two significant historical events that directly affect the plot of this story and I thought the writing in these scenes absolutely dripped with authenticity, every sense was wrapped in the moment.  I had to go online and learn more after I listened to these parts.  I happen to already be very interested in New York during this time - the immigrants, the labor politics, the way of life.  And while it is definitely historical fiction, there is also, by the nature of these "wonders" that Coralie's father employs, as well as parts of Eddie's life, a certain magical quality - I wouldn't go so far as to say magical realism but just a sprinkle of something MORE than what meets the eye that can't be explained.

 This audio production had three readers - a narrator, Coralie and Eddie, so the story was constantly told from three different points of view, which I found refreshing, it kept things interesting.  I do have to say, the reader for Coralie wasn't my favorite - I wanted more emotion from her sometimes.  And the other thing I must say is that the beginning sort of drove me crazy with all the flopping between time periods and people. I'm glad I stuck it out though because there is so much beauty in this story.   There is also some hideousness, where the rank underbelly of humanity somehow finds itself in charge and the weak have to obey.  But the beauty overcomes and that's the kind of story I like.

There was so much going on and it all fell into place so well, as wonder and the extraordinary leave the stuff of dreams and grace us here in real life.  I would read more by this author.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

genre: paranormal historical romance

Eva has just lost her dearest friend:  her beloved older sister Katrina.  When it is time to spread her ashes, Eva's choice is the most logical one she can think of: an old manor house on the coast of Cornwall where they spent summers together as children.  Among familiar companions, Eva hopes to finally find some peace, but when she starts having hallucinations that appear to be from another time - peace continues to elude her.  As Eva begins to understand that these hallucinations are nothing short of time travel, her experiences in the past begin to seriously affect her contentment in her own time.

When I was in a bus full of 8th graders on the way to an amusement park field trip and I just needed something fluffy to amuse me, I knew that Susanna Kearsley would not disappoint.  The slipping between centuries works well in this story and I liked Eva, especially as she tried to sort through living in a distant time with such different rules and expectations.  Her love interest is certainly dreamy, if not a little caricatured, and since I've read several of her previous books, the time period in the past was familiar.

I know I say this everytime, but it continues to be true.  I appreciate a clean, romantic and intriguing story.  Kearsley's books don't change my life but they sure do make it pleasant for a while, and the time travel elements of this one were a nice twist on the usual.  I liked it.
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