Last Five Posts

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister - Blog Tour

 Joy for Beginners
Erica Bauermeister
Putnam/Penguin
2011
269 pgs/ARC

"...Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up."

To celebrate the life of one of it's circle, 7 women agree to do the one thing that terrifies them. But there's a twist, they don't get to pick that thing.

In Erica Bauermeister's Joy for Beginners each chapter focuses on a different woman as she attempts to do the task assigned to her.  The chapters don't just focus on the task though, they give us a little background that shows why that particular woman is the way she is how that particular task makes sense.  Bauermeister also slips in bits and pieces about the other women in each chapter.

The Good
Having each woman in her own chapter allowed Bauermeister to go deeper into each person's character.  That combined with the women having minor roles in other chapters made them more believable.  I could see my own friendships reflected in the lives of the characters. The women were simple and real.

The Not So Good
The women in each chapter have flashbacks to help you understand their characters.  The only problem for me was knowing "when" in the story I was.  I thought the flow was disrupted by these necessary pieces because I kept trying to put a "date" on the events.  I wasn't sure if each woman was during her challenge slightly in the future or the next year since that's when Kate's challenge is supposed to take place and she's the last woman chronicled.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There is much to remind you about being "you" and doing things that make life meaningful and rich. It's about sharing the journey with friends and family but making sure you are participating not just supplying everyone else's journey.  In short, live don't just exist. I would recommend Joy for Beginners to women who enjoy a quiet, thought-provoking story.

Giveaway
The publisher is giving away one copy of Joy For Beginners.  Just leave a comment and your email address from June 27, 2011 - June 30, 2011 11:59pm.  Name will be picked by random.org.  US/Canada Only. One entry per person, please.

Read an excerpt of Joy for Beginners
Find Erica Bauermeister on Facebook
More Tour Dates on TLC Book Tours

Thank you to Putnam/Penguin and TLC Book Tours for this ARC.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Bookaday To Date - June 2011

This is my second year participating in The Book Whisperer's Bookaday challenge. My goal is to end the summer having read 72 books.

June 5 - June 25, 2011
I've been off work for 21 days and have read 27 books! Woo hoo!

8 Middle Grade
When A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Reiner
Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Odd Girl Out by Jo Whittemore
All The World's A Stage by Gretchen Woelfe

14 Young Adult
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
Virals by Kathy Reichs
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Breadcrumbs by Anna Ursu
The Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card
Conspiracy 365: January by Gabrielle Lord
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Worldshaker by Richard Harlan
Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck
Nickel Plated by Aric Davis
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

5 Adult
Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan
A Game of Character by Craig Robinson
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister


I'll continue posting short summaries and/or thoughts about the books in the weeks ahead. Have a great week!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick - Bookaday #12


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
2011 (ARC)

Wonderstruck. That's exactly how I felt after reading this book! I was sad when Brian Selznick stopped illustrating the covers for Andrew Clements; I loved his work.  Then he came out with The Invention of Hugo Cabret and I got it.  It took a lot of work to write a story where the pictures are so integral if you miss one, you might as well give up! That book won the Caldecott.  Now, 4 years later, he's done it again.  Though, I think we might have a Newbery contender on our hands.  Wonderstruck is, at least, two stories in one.  Ben's is the story we start out reading while Rose's story is told in the pictures.  We alternate between the two but at the same time, they seem entwined.  Ben just lost his mother and is at his old house when he is struck by lightning.  This leads him on a journey to find his father.  Rose is obsessed with an actress she desperately wants to see but she is being locked inside the house.  This leads her to run away.  I can't tell you much more because it would give things away.  This is a MUST read. Really, beg, borrow, or steal, err, I mean pre-order it now!

Shine by Lauren Myracle - Bookaday #11


Shine by Lauren Myracle
Abrams
2011

Cat is telling us the story of her one-time best friend, Patrick, who's on his death bed after getting beat up. The way he was found leads police to believe it was a hate crime.  Cat suspects there's more going on and decides she owes it to Patrick to find out.  As she does her research we find out more about Cat's past as well as what's going on in the town.  There aren't very many jobs left and many people have turn to crystal Meth as a way to cope. Cat finding out how Patrick ended up in the hospital could bring a lot of issues to the forefront so someone is out to stop her.  Shine covers a lot of issues and still managed to leave me seething in the end!  Read this one.


Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart - Bookaday #10


Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Random House
2010

Love the title of this one.  Totally weird story about Lenny Abramov who falls in love with a young Asian girl, Eunice, while in Italy.  They get together shortly after she returns to the States.  Lenny works for this company that's involved in a little bit of everything but his department looks for HNWI, High Net Worth Individuals, to offer them a form of immortality.  There's a lot of talk about apparat's which are like high tech gadgets that go beyond the smartphone.  You can check out anybody's credit rating and in bars the level of attractiveness is weighed.  We learn a lot about Lenny and Eunice through their writing.  Lenny keeps a diary and Eunice emails her best friend, GrillB***h about everything. Oh, and books are to be skimmed, not read! That lowers your attractiveness!


Bossypants by Tina Fey - Bookaday #9


Bossypants by Tina Fey
Reagan Author Books
2011

I am a huge fan of 30 Rock and I love Liz Lemon.  I don't really watch Saturday Night Live but I knew Tina Fey was on that show.  I'd heard great things about this and really wanted to read it.  I ended up getting the audio and it was a hoot since it's read by Fey herself.  The book covers a lot of ground from childhood to 30 Rock with some wonderful insight into Fey's father and other assorted characters.  There were some not so funny moments - the whole Sarah Palin/Hillary Clinton political portion - but for the most part, I was entertained.  Well worth the listen.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami - Guest Post and Giveaway

The Grand Plan To Fix Everything
Uma Krishnaswami
Atheneum/2011
266pg

I reviewed Krishnaswami's Grand Plan to Fix Everything, a fun-filled middle grade read, and raved about the setting.  Krishnaswami takes us to India to see the mountain area of Swapnagiri.  The lush green tea gardens are easy to visualize from her descriptions.  Here, Krishnaswami tells us how to read books like a traveler instead of a tourist.  How to let go of your preconceived notion and let the book take you along on a journey:


PaperTigers has a Reading the World challenge going on right now. I love that idea, to get people all over the world to make a concerted effort to "read the world," especially within the framework of children's literature.

In an interview with Talk of the Nation host Neil Conan last week, travel writers Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux tell us how we might go about the business of seeing the world: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=137202335. They offer five tips for making travel meaningful: http://www.npr.org/2011/06/15/137202335/near-or-far-make-your-travel-meaningful.

The program got me thinking about the differences between travelers and tourists. A tourist travels with an agenda already in mind, a list of places to go to. The traveler goes with an open mind. Tourists see what they want to see, and notice nothing else, or if they see things that don't coincide with their view, they either reject those things or they decide they hate the place. Travelers see what there is, and understand that sometimes misdirection and stolen bags can take them to magical places and experiences. Tourists want to leave the place with trophies in hand (pictures, movies, purchases). Travelers seek to emerge transformed. The tourist's trip is about himself. The traveler's trip is about the place and its people.

Apply this to story and what do we have? Here are my five tips for reading the world like a traveler and not a tourist:

1. Look for questions rather than answers. It's worth investing time to learn the fine art of living with questions.

2. Read each book as a product of its own time and circumstance. Understand that it may not be the book you'd have written, nor the classic you loved that was written a century ago about the same place. Those are part of a different journey.

3. Prepare to work a little; working at understanding a book is not such a bad thing. Working at understanding the world may be a survival skill we all need.

4. Expect to have your assumptions challenged. When I read Beverly Naidoo or Siobhan Dowd, I'm after their pictures of South Africa and Ireland, not a confirmation of my own preconceptions.

5. Just go! Don't look back. Expect to come back changed.

Here are three of the books I've picked out from my 2011 desktop bibliography. They fit the requirements of the challenge. Tourists may be disappointed. These books work when you read like a traveler.

Good Night, Commander by Ahmad Akbarpour, illustrated by Morteza Zahedi, translated from the Farsi by Shadi Eskandani and Helen Mixter and published in Canada by Groundwood Press. The author and illustrator are Iranian, and the setting of the book is a boy's room--a boy who has lost his leg and his mother, a boy struggling to cope with the change that is to come. Hope comes in the end from the richly drawn world of his fantasy play. Those who go into this compact picture book looking for answers may turn away disappointed. But it stirs the humanness of reader and characters together in startling and moving ways. It is unflinchingly true to itself. It refuses to moralize. It's the kind of book that can only reach into your mind and turn its realities upside down if you allow it to do that.

The nonfiction title in my Reading the World list is I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by performance poet, storyteller and teacher Arthur Flowers, with illustrations by Patua scroll artist Manu Chitrakar from rural Bengal. Designed by Guglielmo Rossi and published in India by Tara Books, it's a "telling replete with the Will of the Gods, with Fate and Destiny and the Human Condition." The text, with a marvelous rolling cadence, sometimes runs along the stream of the highly interpretive fusion art. Sometimes they yield place to one another. Sometimes they seem to interrogate each other--are the victims of lynchings from the American south or from rural India? The story is richest in those moments of pause when I turn the page and there is no text, so that my visual reading mind can take over and integrate the river of text that's just poured into it in previous spreads. An extraordinary book, not always easy to read, and one that demands active engagement.

Reading the World asks readers to choose at least one book set where they live. My "local" book, set in northwest New Mexico, is Songs of Shiprock Fair by poet, writer, teacher, storyteller Luci Tapahanso, illustrated by Anthony Chee Emerson and published by Kiva Publishing. Then and now, tradition and modernity, fuse energetically in this book. It's a delightful account of the oldest fair in Dine country, seen through the eyes of young Nezbah. It's an unapologetic celebration of laughter, family, and community, a story told with love from the inside. "You'll get your blessings if you are awake," Grandpa tells the children. It's a good line to remember.

Giveaway
A Grand Giveaway! Three lucky Grand Prize winners will each receive one copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING along with a starry assortment of bangles and trinkets that Dolly Singh, famous famous Bollywood movie star, would adore! An additional 3 runners-up will receive a copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING.

To enter, send an e-mail to GrandPlanGiveaway@gmail.com.

In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address).

One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.

Watch the book trailer on Uma's homepage: http://www.umakrishnaswami.com/

Uma's blog: http://umakrishnaswami.blogspot.com/


Friday, June 17, 2011

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami - Blog Tour

The Grand Plan to Fix EverythingThe Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Uma Krishnaswami
Atheneum/2011
266pg

"Some people would say kismet means fate, but really it is a far more beautiful idea--it is the idea that in spite of all the obstacles, some things are meant to be."

Dini and Maddie are looking forward to summer when they get to go to Bollywood dance camp. They are huge fans of Bollywood movies! But, Dini's mom has big news.  Her grant has finally been funded and they are moving to India. Dini is sad, she will miss her best friend Maddie, but she is also happy, her favorite movie star, Dolly Singh, lives in India.  Maybe she can get to meet her?  Coincidence, kismet, fate; call it what you want, it's the main ingredient in Dini's grand plan.

Uma Krishnaswami fills this story with believable, fun characters and a colorful setting.  Veeran, huge fan of Dolly's and taxi driver, Priya, human beatbox and possibly Dini's new friend, Soli Dustup, Dolly's manager and friend, and Mr. Chickoo Dev, owner of Sunny Villa Estates in Swapnagiri where Dini and her family rent a house.  The story moves swiftly from the introduction in Maryland, when Dini sends her letter to Dolly all the way to Swapnagiri also known as Dream Mountain, with a quick stop in Mumbai, otherwise known as Bombay.  You can tell Krishnaswami knows this landscape and the setting becomes a secondary character that allows the story to progress.  Krishnaswami's multicultural tale of friendship and support is packed with humor and students, aged 9 and up, will identify with Dini's movie obsession and want to sign up for their own bollywood dance camp.  I only wish Mera Jeeran, Tera Jeeran (my life your life) was a real movie!  Don't miss this

Check out this interview with Uma Krishnaswami on Mitali Perkins Fireplace.
Uma Krishnaswami's website
More stops on The Grand Plan to Fix Everything Blog Tour.

Take a look at this video trailer:



Come back Monday for Uma Krishnaswami's guest post on Reading Like a Traveler.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Virals by Kathy Reichs - Bookaday #5

ViralsVirals by Kathy Reichs
Razorbill
2010

I;ve never watched Bones nor read the Temperance Brennan books, but I've heard of them.  That's why I wanted to read this one.  I'm also looking for a book for our next One Book, One School; somehting appealing to 10 to 14 year old boys and girls as well as staff members.  This could have been the book.  These smart bored kids break into a science lab to use the equipment and find a wolf cub being imprisoned there.  They kidnap the cub and try to raise it in an abandoned bunker on their near deserted island.  Then they start investigating.  Well, someone does NOT want them nosing around.  The action ensues from there!  And there is a lot of action. Plus, they get infected from the wolf cub and now they have these cool powers.  Alas, the book appears way too long.  I'm hoping they re-format for paperback in time for me to suggest it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan - Blog Tour

The Art of ForgettingThe Art of Forgetting
Camille Noe Pagan
Dutton
288 pgs/ARC

"Studies show that the more times a person recollects something, the less accurately she is able to do so; her memory becomes affected by other factors..."

The Art of Forgetting is the story of Marissa and Julia.  They've been friends since the age of fourteen with Julia always taking the lead.  After Julia is hit by a cab, she loses most of her memories of the past and Marissa now must take the lead and help Julia remember who she is.  As Marissa helps her friend recover, she realizes that she has resented Julia for a very long time and Julia, unwittingly, has brought this bitterness the fore. 

Camille Noe Pagan weaves the friends past into the story while we watch Marissa deal with both issues at work and a relationship she can't decide if she wants. Pagan also pulls in interesting information about memory and health as we learn about Marissa's work at a female-oriented magazine.  These elements all come together to create a well-written and entertaining story about the changing face of friendship. I look forward to more books from Pagan.

Read more about The Art of Forgetting and check out the book tour stops

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Dutton for this ARC.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Reiner - Bookaday #4

The Unsinkable Walker BeanUnsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Reiner
First Second
2010

This little fantasy graphic novel follows Walker Bean as he sets out on his quest to return this crazy, cursed skull back to its rightful owner. Along the way, Walker meets Gen and Shiv. Gen secretly wants to keep the skull because it's supposed to answer your questions. Did I mention they are on ship? I found this a little hard to follow with the variety of storylines. We've got Walker's dad, Billy Bean; his grandfather, who'd stolen the skull in the first place; the people on the ship Walker stows away on; this mysterious man who's trying to get people to sail him to Laptev; the beasts from the trench, etc. It was too much for me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams - Bookaday #3

Palace BeautifulPalace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams
Putnam/Penguin
2010

 "All the bad things in the world lie inked on these pages."
 
Sadie finds a little room hidden inside the attic of her new house.  Inside the room is a picture of a family and a journal.  The journal belongs to Helen White who lived in the same house in the early 1900s.  Sadie, her next door neighbor Bella, and Sadie's little sister Zuzu, decide to read 6 entries a day to find out what Helen thought was so horrible, she wrote about it, but never wanted to read again. "Father came home from work early.  He said it was the influenza that took that family Sunday.  He said it seemed to be spreading across the city."  They read all about the flu epidemic that ravaged the town in the early 1900s and what Helen's family had to deal with.  "I started thinking about the sick families again...and went to the attic...I've decided to make this my safe place...my very own Palace Beautiful."

In the meantime, Sadie is afraid for her stepmother's life.  Her mother died giving birth to Zuzu and now her stepmother, Sherrie, is in her last month of pregnancy.  Also Bella, who's real name is Kristin, is trying to get her mother to spend more time at home and to let her be herself. A great middle grade read with just a touch of history.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Game of Character by Craig Robinson - Blog Tour

A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago's Southside to the Ivy League and BeyondA Game of Character
Craig Robinson
Gotham Books
2010

"You can lead others up the steps to where they need to go and maybe help open the door. But it's up to the individual to walk through it. Or not."

Craig Robinson is the basketball coach of Oregon State University. He credits his success in coaching, and in life, with the way his parents raised him and his sister. The self-esteem instilled in them by their parents allowed them to take risks that led to great success. Craig depended on the character instilled in him to get him from the south side of Chicago to Mount Carmel Academy and then to get him through Princeton.  At Princeton, Craig Robinson suffered a setback when his first report card showed extremely low grades, including an F. Craig was ready to give up but his parents, especially his dad, helped him call on the character traits they'd worked on his whole life; "self-esteem, enthusiasm, conviction, relentlessness, diligence" to pull himself together in order to play basketball and graduate.  Craig went on to start a family where he hoped to raise his children the same way. He sacrificed his love of basketball for his family and went into finance. After 10 years and a divorce, he found his way back to coaching, and the rest is history.

A Game of Character is written in a conversational style, it's like Craig Robinson is sitting here chatting with you. It's a great story of overcoming odds and setbacks and making it doing the job you love. It's easy to read and flows from one event to the next, showing not only the ups but the downs and includes pictures. Very inspiring.

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour.




Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Gotham Books for this PB.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson - Bookaday #2

If You Come Softly
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin Young Readers
1998

This is the story of a black boy and a white girl who like each other.  They met when Elisha transferred to Percy Academy and Jeremiah ran into her in the hallway.  That chance encounter changed both their lives.  They struggled with peoples reactions to them dating. "He's black, Anne."
She didn't say anything.  I could feel the air between us getting weird.
Miah takes Ellie home to meet his mother, who turns out to be a famous novelist.  Now, Elie has to deal with her own misconceptions about Jeremiah.  "What If I had told you the truth from the beginning?  That day, in the hallway, I wanted you to see...to see me, Ellie. Miah."  I enjoyed this one but the ending was shocking and unexpected.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Bookaday #1

A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Walker Books, UK
9/2011

"What you think is not important. It is only important what you do."

I couldn't wait till September to get this book in the US so I bought it from Book Depository.  It was worth it.  I can't tell you much about the book because it would spoil it. The monster comes to tell Conor three stories.  "You're going to tell me stories?" ..."How is that a nightmare?"  But the stories are not what they appear and Conor's understanding of them has some surprising results.  "And suddenly they were back in Conor's grandma's sitting room. Conor saw that he had destroyed almost every inch of it."  This will definitely be on our Mock Newbery list at school.  Don't miss this one.


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Sunday Salon - 48 Hour Book Challenge Update

I did it! I set myself a goal of 15 hours and I did it! It was touch and go towards the end what with shopping thrown in the mix but I did it!

Books Finished
When A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Reiner
Virals by Kathy Reichs
Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams

Books Started
Bossypants by Tina Fey (audio 51 min)
Shine by Lauren Myracle (128 pgs)

Networking - 1hr of Twitter

Total Pages 1,429
Total Time 17hr 1m

Even though I didn't read a ton of hours, this was one of the most satisfying readathons I've ever finished. It's been a while since I've just sat and read for fun.  I actually stayed up beyond my ending time and finished Shine! Such joy!

Friday, June 3, 2011

No Summer Slide and The 48 Hr Book Challenge

It's my favorite weekend of the year.  Motherreader's 48 hour Book Challenge (#48HBC) started this Friday, June 3rd.  This weekend is also the official start of my summer break which means The No Summer Slide Bookaday Challenge (#bookaday) starts for me too! Double Woot!

What's that you say? You know not of which I speak?

The 48 Hour Book Challenge
Check out the rules for the #48HBC and know that this is reading challenge that focuses on HOURS read.  It runs from Friday, June 3rd 7a till Monday June 6th 7a.  You can read for any 48 hours within that time period but those hours must be consecutive.

Last year I read around 18 hours or so. Not enough to win any prizes but enough to jumpstart my Newbery reading!  This year I'm walking a 5K and going to a graduation party so my goal is 15 hours.  I'm going to start at 10pm Friday and end at 10pm Sunday.  Weird I know, but it works for me.

Follow our progress on Twitter! - use the hashtag #48hbc to join in!

Book A Day Challenge
Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer believes teachers/educators should put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.  If you want kids to read, you need to read.  This is my second summer participating in BookAday where my goal is to average one book a day for every day of my summer vacation!! Does that mean I will read a book each day? Sometimes! Sometimes 3! Sometimes none! It's an average so there's no pressure! Also, picture books count!  Last year I read 68 books!

My summer vacay runs from June 4 - August 14, 2011.  That's 72 days.  So that's my goal.  What I love about bookaday is the lack of pressure.  If I read a book in one day? Sweet! If I don't read a book? Sweet!

Follow the progress on Twitter - use hashtag #bookaday if you want to join in!

Thoughts Without Cigarettes by Oscar Hijuelos - Blog Tour and Review

Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A MemoirThoughts Without Cigarettes
Oscar Hijuelos
Gotham Books
6/2011 367pgs ARC

Thoughts Without Cigarettes is, as the author says, "told in so many parts--illness, sheltered messed-up childhood, death of father, subsequent struggles with identity and just surviving, my sometimes existence as a writer..."

Thoughts Without Cigarettes is like sitting down with an older relative, pulling out the photo album/scrapbook/netbook/picture place and having them tell you the history of each picture.  Each story brings back memories of the occasion and sparks other memories that are somehow connected in the storytellers mind.  Reading Thoughts Without Cigarettes is like strolling around the neighborhood, stopping to chitchat with neighbors, petting the animals, sort of ambling with a destination but no hurry to get there.

The prose, however rambling, is mostly beautiful.  We meet Oscar Hijuelos father, Pascual, early on as he's trying to get his brother to come visit New York from Cuba.  Uncle Oscar has a fatal accident for which Pascual forever after believes he caused and this sets the tone for the rest of his life, as well as that of the Hijuelo family.

"He'd wince with the realization that certain events cannot be undone, and, blaming himself for that tragedy, embarked upon a sea of regrets."

Another recurring aspect of the book is Oscar Hijuelos search for his "Cuban-ess".  Hospitalized at the age of four with few visits from family, he forgot how to speak Spanish.  This separated him from his family, both physically and culturally, and he would spend a large portion of his life "trying to become anything else but what I should have been, Oscar Hijuelos."

These two paths, his father's depression that becomes his own, and his struggle to reclaim  his Latino heritage are the main points of this dense, sad read.  The only uplifting portion of the book happens when Oscar Hijuelos travels to Rome, by way of Spain, for a fellowship.

"Rome...pressed so many wonderful buttons inside me that for much of my time there, I became a new and improved version of myself...really enjoying my life for a change."

It was a struggle to get through Thoughts Without Cigarettes due to Hijuelos tendency to get sidetracked.  These extra details served to slow the re-telling down and we'd have to backtrack to unravel the original thoughts.  Oscar Hijuelos takes those many episodes of his life and narrows them down to two sections - The Way Some Things Worked Out, his life from early childhood until the age of eighteen, and What Happened Afterward, his life as a grownup. We spend an inordinate amount of time in part one while Hijuelos sets up the illness that changed his life as well as his mother's consequent nagging of him and his dad. This left part two feeling rushed as he embarked on his writing life and subsequent Pulitzer Prize award.  Although I enjoyed the book, I would have appreciated it more if I'd known it was going to be more about his relationship with father and if it had been a bit more straightforward.

Check out the TLC Book Tour for other reviews.

Thanks to Gotham Books and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai - Review

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again
Thanhha Lai
HarperCollins Children's
2/2011

Ha and her family are forced to move from Saigon to Alabama.  They not only leave behind their life experiences and their belongings but also Ha's father who was captured by the military.  They haven't seen nor heard from him in years and are afraid that, if he is alive, he will never be able to find them in America.

In Saigon the family is mostly happy but very poor.

Yam and manioc
taste lovely
blended with rice,
she says, and smiles,
as if I don't know
how the poor 
fill their children's bellies.

And the high cost of everything without any additional money coming in combined with the encroaching war is what convinces the mom that leaving is their best bet.  Their father's military connections land them a coveted spot on a naval ship. All is not well in America.  The family is ostracized and Ha is bullied at school.

Things will get better,
just you wait.


I don't believe her
but it feels good
that someone knows.

The brothers and the mom look for work and try to support themselves, not wanting to depend on the American who "sponsored" them, especially since he didn't really want a family.  Throughout the parts in Alabama, we also listen in as Ha learns English with all of it's confusing rules.  This helps to lighten the story somewhat.

Historical fiction works well as a verse novel.  The spareness of the prose makes the images seem more stark and heartfelt. The story takes place over one year, opening and closing with Tet, the lunar new year.  Ha's wishes on both these days help to solidify the changes we see happening to her over the course of the novel.

Possible Pairs
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle
The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski - Review

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have)
Sarah Mlynowski
HarperTeen
354p. ARC - 6/7/11

Let me just say, I hope they change the cover when this is published.  This book is more about two friends enjoying three months of freedom than it is about romance.  Also, you need to put aside reality for this realistic fiction read.  If you do that, you will enjoy Ten Things and possibly read it all in one sitting.  Or maybe that was just me...

It all begins with April's dad letting her stay behind in Connecticut while he and her stepmom move to Cleveland.  Did I tell you April is only a junior in high school?  And the girl she's staying with has a mom who is extremely unreliable? Yeah, well, Violet, aka Vi, comes up with an ingenious plan to fool both sets of parents and her and April get the party rocking.  They've got a $1,000 mo. budget and no supervision.  This should be the perfect time for April to take her relationship with Noah to the next level and Vi decides she wants to get it on too.  They plan dates but things don't work out as planned.  Juggling a house, some hotties, and school prove to be just a little more than the girls expected.

Ten Things We Did jumps back and forth between the now of April's life and how she ended up wanting to stay in Connecticut.  We meet her mom and her brother Matthew and find out why they are in Paris instead of with April and her dad.  The few times we "meet" April's mother leads me to want more.

"And anyway...I was her friend.  When your parents divorced and your mom started dating again, that's what happened...Mom needs someone to dissect dates with..." 

There has to be more to the story.  I'm a divorced mom and I have actual friends my own age who I talk to about personal things, not my soon-to-be sophomore daughter.  We are closer than many mother-daughter duos but she is STILL just a kid!  Also, the mom lives in Paris! What gives?

I'd also like to know more about Vi.  She is self-sufficient and smart and takes care of herself.  But she also exercises constantly.  What's up with that?And Hudson, he sounds hotter than the guy on the cover.  Change that cover, HarperTeen!

Overall, Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) is a fun, lighthearted read. It touches on quite a few teen issues in an informational non-preachy way.  April and Vi have a good time but learn about themselves and what they really want along the way. 

Other fun reads:
Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski

ARC courtesy of AmazonVine

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