Friday, January 25, 2008

A Break With Charity by Ann Rinaldi

I am a great lover of historical fiction, and to some extent I can credit one of my favorite authors, Ann Rinaldi, with getting me started on that path. Rinaldi has a great gift for creating strong young women narrators coming of age during some of American history's most important events. Rinaldi's extensive research always shows, and her books always leave me wanting to know more about the actual events she chronicles in her fiction. I read, or to put it more accurately, devoured, A Break With Charity some time during middle school. Despite the fact that I'm not much of a re-reader, this was one book that I definitely wanted to revisit.

A Break With Charity is Rinaldi's mostly imagined account of Susanna English, teenage daughter of parents Philip and Mary actual people who were accused in the Salem Witch Trials. Susanna is fourteen and though she deeply desires to mingle with other girls of her age group in Salem finds herself to be an outcast due to her family's relative affluence and her father's rejection of the Puritan church. Her curiosity about the other girls' activities brings her into the company of the Reverend Parris's slave, Tituba, and eventually embroils her in the hysteria of the witch trials. Though the younger Ann Putnam herself tells Susanna that the witchcraft accusations are scam at the start, she forbids Susanna to tell anyone claiming that she will call out on her parents. As Susanna struggles with how to deal with this information, the consequences of her silence grow and grow until the "afflicted" girls begin to believe their own lies and eventually break charity and accuse her parents despite Susanna's silence.

Through Susanna's eyes, Rinaldi examines the Salem Witch Trials inside and out. She reveals to us the boredom and powerlessness felt by teenage Puritan girls, both of which made the chaos caused by the witch trials and the attention paid them by high-ranking Puritans all that much more alluring. Rinaldi explores the weaknesses of Puritan society and a persistant feeling of religious righteousness and judgement, both of which allowed the hysteria of the witch trials to explode to ridiculous proportions causing immense loss of innocent life. Through Susanna's narrative, Rinaldi provides practically just enough context to whet reader's appetites for additional writings on the Salem Witch Trials and helpfully encloses a list of her references and additional reading on the subject. Rinaldi's strong grasp of history and her female narrators who are never perfect but are on their way to finding the right path make for excellent reading experiences for young adults that encourage a healthy interest in history.

Read other reviews at...

Bookfoolery and Babble
What Kate's Reading

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eva's Reading Meme

Hey, Eva made a meme (with a bunch of magical fairies granting me cool wishes), and who can resist fun bookish wishes?

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

War and Peace. Everybody's talking about their sparkly new translations and I have a perfectly acceptable old translation lying around, and I really, really want to....but it's I'm afraid I won't be able to stick with it for wanting to read the 10 other books I could have read while I was reading it that I never start it all. *sigh*

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I don't know what sort of a event I'd like, but I think I'd have Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings - seems to me like he'd have lots of stories to tell and fun way of telling them. Annnnd...Alice from After You'd Gone (pre-tragedy) because she seems like such a free spirit and also a big bookworm. Annnnd Parsifal from Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant because the book tells his story after his death, though he makes several appearances in dreams, from sketchy details meted out by his assistant, and I want to know his whole story! And now that I think about it, I think we should just all go out for drinks and tell stories because in my experience that's what you do when you go out for drinks or stay in for drinks or do anything with drinks. *shrugs*

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Argh...Of Human Bondage. The one and only book that I merely "pretended" to have finished for my senior year AP English class. I think it was the first required reading that I deliberately didn't finish as opposed to passive-aggresively "ran out of time" to read. *whistles*

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

Hmmmm....this is a toughie. I guess maybe Orwell's Homage to Catalonia for class toward the end of the semester in my junior year of college. I think the whole class was just pretending. It was that time of year when you're so busy writing papers and all sorts of junk like that, so doing reading for class falls to the bottom of the priority list. I still want to read it sometime, but I sure hadn't read it when we "discussed" it!

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I can't recall ever doing this, actually.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP)

I guess if my goal were just to get said VIP to read any book just to see that well, reading is fun and you should do it, I'd have to say Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. My dad's not a huge reader, but he read this and raves about it irritatingly much. Oddly enough, *I* haven't read it. But intend to.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Russian. There's a hugely amazing body of work that I've hardly scratched the surface of, and to do it with no translation needed - even better!

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

I am not much of a re-reader, but if I had to choose one, I'd say A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I remember my mom read it to me when I was a kid, and it's always a good way to get into the right sort of Christmas spirit around the holidays.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

This is also a hard one, as I still feel like a baby book blogger. As a part of bookish communities in general, I've acquired a healthy interest in sci-fi/fantasy type books that I've never had before. And I guess, in general, through blogging, I've found that authors are rather more accessible than I expected them to be. Turns out they are combing the internet, too, and happen to actually make contact with even baby book bloggers like me, on occasion, which is a pretty neat experience, especially when you aren't expecting it! It's nice to see "normal" people just out there writing awesome books and wanting you to read them and enjoy them and willing to communicate with the average joe/jane to that end instead of just being some pillar of literary awesomeness hovering out in the ether somewhere.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

I've got a huge weakness for trade paperbacks. They feel nice when held in the hand, they're pretty, and they travel well. So, all trade paperbacks, probably! Books from my wish list would magically appear. And if this is reaaaaally a dream library - every book would fit into my house onto shelves where they can be viewed - regardless of how many or how few books are a part of the collection. I hate a book in box, and I hate double-stacked shelves, but alas these things often happen to my unfortunate book collection. So in my ideal library, some magical enchantment would allow everything to be on glorious display!

And now, let’s say everyone has to tag four people (more than that becomes a hassle, imho) I tag…

Literary Feline

Of course, only if it pleases you to do so! No pressure! =)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Some of Us Read Some of Us Just Buy Books Part 2

Twice a year great days come to pass at the next town over's public library. These great days are, as you may well guess, the days of the library's used book sale. Though many nearby and not so nearby libraries host large book sales, few (none) take place in the dead of winter or are so well-stocked as this library's book sale. The denizens of said town and friends of said library who deign to donate from their book collections have astonishingly good taste seeing as the sale is not the largest by far, but I always seem to walk away with the most books (and the least money). Having missed the past summer book sale as result of living in Boston in a state of utter (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating) poverty, I was gleeful at the prospect of attending this winter's in a state of only moderate poverty. Poverty or no, when I'm even moderately unhappy (and sometimes when I'm moderately content) I have no power to stop myself from buying stacks of glorious books, especially if said books populate my monstrous wishlist. So with some glee and no small amount of shame, I present to you - the haul (complete with over-enthusiastic comments/excuses and an abundance of exclamation points to take your mind off the fact that you're really just perusing a gigantic list of books). Go forth, be jealous, be astonished, be distressed (along with me) that I have no place to put these glorious book nor nearly enough life span within which to read them! (But they're practically new! They're on my wish list! They're really cheap! I want them! I need them! *salivates*)

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez - Natural history about the far north that won the National Book Award!
Matrimony by Josh Henkin - Seems like everybody's talking about this one lately!
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee - Because I've heard too much about this author to not give his work a try and it's a Booker!
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi - Because how often do you get to learn about the world and read about books at the same time?
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - Because I think Africa is wildly interesting, yet I manage to have so few books about it!
The Pacific and Other Stories by Mark Helprin - Because I've been itching to try stuff by this author, and I keep promising myself I'm going to give short stories a chance!
Arabian Jazz by Diana Abu-Jabar - Because of my weakness for immigrant stories - the folks in this book are transplants from Jordan.
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult - Because once I actually start reading her books, I'll know that I have a ton more hanging around to indulge myself in a Picoult-fest.
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - See above, and I feel like I was just talking about this with relation to book reviews. Oh, that's because I was.
West With the Night by Beryl Markham - I feel like a few bloggers have been talking this one up though I, for the life of me, can't remember which ones.
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart - Because it's like a travelogue! Of Afghanistan! This is where wannabe traveler me and political science/international relations nerd me can get together and play!
Downtown by Pete Hamill - Because I find NYC fascinating despite my desire to never live there!
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - Because it's The Good Earth!
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks - I went to college in Gettysburg. It's pretty mandatory for me to have at least a passing interest in American Civil War novels and so I do!
Snow by Orhan Pamuk - Another author I've wanted to try for awhile, and it seems to me someone on BookObsessed recommended this one highly at one time.
The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell - Because I picked it up for my mother to buy and ended up being interested in it myself!
The Woods by Harland Coben - See above.
The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley - See above above.
Dog Years by Mark Doty - Because it's a memoir! With dogs!
The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman - Because it's a true Holocaust resistance story!
Hitler's Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen - Because I'm a Holocaust history junkie for reasons that I can't quite explain, and this is supposed to be some really good scholarship on causes which I suppose is good to know if you can stomach
March by Geraldine Brooks - Loved Year of Wonders. Also see "passing interest in American Civil War novels."
Cape Breton Road by D.R. MacDonald - Because I've kinda got a thing for Scottish/Irish immigrants and Alistair MacLeod said something good about it on the front cover which made me think about No Great Mischief. While I was thinking, this book fell into my bag...or something.
War Trash by Ha Jin - Yet another author I've been wanting to try. This one won the PEN/Faulkner I think...and I'm a sucker for a good award winner.
Joe College by Tom Perrotta - Because everything I bought seems all deep and heavy (okay, my reading tastes generally run toward the deep and heavy) but this seemed like more of an entertaining read...
The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn - I think there's been a copy of this in just about every historical fiction swap ever on BookObsessed, and somehow I still didn't have one of my own.
The Master by Colm Toibin - I've heard a ton about this author and have nary a book of his to my name...until now.
The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud - Could it be that Caribou's Mom wrote a review of this that made me reconsider my not having added it to my wishlist? Or was it someone else? Memory....failing.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell - See explanations for Jodi Picoult and Ian McEwan.
Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley - Oh about a year ago I read a review of this in Entertainment Weekly, thought I should have a copy, and now I do. I see now that the ratings on LT are a bit frightening....
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist - Because what's a book sale without the purchase of one good looking chunkster? If all else fails, I can use this to prop a door open or something, right?
Bad Dirt Annie Proulx - See "short stories" explanation, plus a strong fascination with books about the west since having traveled there. And the picture on the cover just makes me love it even more. It's a fab picture.

32 books. 18 from my wish list. I'm $39 poorer, but as it turns out, money can buy happiness. Well, at least for a few hours until I have to find a place to put them. Now it's up to you whether to congratulate or scold me. ;-)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Booking Through Reviews

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

It's come to my attention that I haven't done anything cool on my blog on Thursday in a while and it so happened that I thought this was a great question.

I'd say that reviews influence my reading quite a bit. If I read a lot of great things about a certain book, I'm that much more likely to pick it up. I find, however, that I'm somewhat less influenced by bad reviews than I am by good. If I think the subject matter of a book sounds really interesting to me, but there are one or two glaringly bad reviews of it, I might still pick it up and give it a shot out of sheer interest in the topic.

There have been a few occasions when reviews have persuaded me to consider reading a book that I originally thought I wouldn't be terribly interested in. For example, I had no interest in The Maytrees by Annie Dillard but not long ago, I read a fantastic review of it which prompted me to reconsider and add it to my wish list. The same goes for On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Though I read the summary and didn't think it was something worth checking out based on that alone, having read a few reviews, I think maybe I'll check it out after all.

In this final paragraph, I'm sure I'll convince everyone reading that I'm a big obsessessive compulsive lunatic, but uh, here goes. As I troll the web, I record in a rather gigantic notebook, books that sound of interest to me - from blogs, from Amazon, from BookCrossing, from magazines, and so on. I used to be quite a nut about putting things that I had a passing fancy for on my wish (and this is where the real craziness comes in) I consult my massive written list and often look up the books on LibraryThing to read some reviews from some fellow serious book lovers' reviews to see if they thought the book was any good and so narrow down the list before I stick them on my BookCrossing wish list. Go ahead, point and laugh if you like, but I think it's working out pretty well!

Friday, January 11, 2008

If life's a highway, could you point me to the nearest exit?

2008 sucks. Well, for the most part...a lot of it. And then some of it doesn't. But right now in the moment and probably well into the future I'll think this was a really crappy time of my life. Then again, maybe so much heinous crap will happen in the future that this will look like small potatoes (okay, so I'm not good at looking on the bright side). Does anyone sense a rant coming on?

For a grand total of maybe 24 hours, I had that great beginning of the year feeling, where hey, it's time to start anew and maybe this year I'll accomplish my deliberately ambigous resolution to "be better." Alas, that great feeling of potential was squelched in record time when my grandfather had a heart attack on the morning of January 2nd. On the bright side, he made it through. But returning to sucky - he had to have bypass surgery, and he's currently ranked as "the healthiest person in the family," which doesn't really bode well for the rest of us, does it? So there were five days of visiting him in cardiac ICU before the operation. The day of the operation was among the longest on record, but he pulled through the operation and, we found out today, it was, for the most part successful, but he's still got lots of recovering to do.

I never realized how physically wearying it is to watch someone you love suffering or how mind-blowingly tiring it is to merely sit in a waiting room for all the waking hours of one day (or how well I can play a game of cards when I'm so tired I feel like I've been sedated). You would think that sitting in a waiting room for 14 hours in one day would afford me plenty of time to read about a zillion books. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to muster the intellectual fortitude necessary to do more than half-finish about 20 crossword puzzles. Yes, this story is on its way to what could be a happy ending, but gosh it's been a hard way to start a new year when all you desperately want to do is think that "this year things will be different." *sigh*

As it happens, I'm temping for the hospital where my grandfather is being treated. On the day of his heart attack I was supposed to have a job interview. For me, and I would hope for most people, the obvious decision was to reschedule the interview. In a moment of epic rottenness, the lady that was supposed to interview declined to reschedule. Whether this was because of my emergency cancellation or because she decided to not fill the job with a temp - what a kick in the head it was for me. I waited two weeks for this lady to come back from vacation to interview me, and what does she do? Shuts the door in my face. Talk about insult to injury. As it happens, this story has a semi-happy end, too. They managed to find me another job before my grandfather had even been operated on, but it's very part time, and I work in a lab which is just crazy for a person with an epic terror of collegiate lab science courses. So now, here am I, creatively inclined, liberal artsy, political science-y me brewing up solutions for the slide stainer and filing zillions of wax encased tissue samples into little drawers. Seeing as I've been waiting to be employed in my small town for oh, 4 months now, you would think this should have been a pretty happy time for me, but now it's just another hoop to jump through before I roll on up to the CCU to sit with my sick grandpa and whichever of my family members happens to be around and in need of a similar amount of emotional support.

So yeah, bear with me while I adjust to a few major life changes and advancing further into "grown-up-hood" which sucks kind of like the beginning of 2008. I'm catching up on my blog reading and obviously using my own blog as a therapeutic means of getting all this garbage out. Reading at a normal pace will, hopefully, resume in the very near future. In the meantime, you'll be happy to know, my crossword completion record has increased greatly over the last week.

All right, if you've stuck with me through all this immature ranting, you've earned the right to read this week's good news! I don't know if it's the influence of Buy a Friend a Book Week or that God knows that I use books in my mailbox as anti-depressants or simply that "book people" are awesome, but so many people from Bookcrossing/Bookobsessed have offered me free books (RABCKs) this week. I am astonished by, in awe of, and blessed by the kindesses of book lovers all the time - all the more right now, when it really helps to brighten up my day to have books in the mailbox after everything that's been going on.

In other shocking and pleasing news, I gave out one of my elite and coveted (hahaHA!) Leafy awards to A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly......and uh, she left me a comment on the post. For someone whose blogly reading base seems to consist of 4 or 5 people (hi to you 4 or 5 people - sorry about this post!), this was quite a fun surprise and a reminder that I'm not blogging in vacuum (again, uh, sorry about this post). She mentions being honored, but the honor is all mine. Cool, very cool. =)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks

After his father takes off with a mini-mart clerk and his Aunt Sapphy suffers a head injury in a cherry factory accident, 5th-grader Jamie Reardon finds himself living in a trailer at the not-so-wondrous Wondrous Acres. As the new kid at school, Jamie only wishes to be invisible, but a bully, his teacher Miss Miller who doesn't even realize his name isn't short for James, and the odd and prying Audrey Krouch simply won't let him disappear. Even as he tries to help his aunt regain her short-term memory, Jamie only wishes to forget his own terrible secret. As it happens, his disabled aunt and Audrey are the ones that can ultimately help Jamie face his fears.

Jumping the Scratch is a charming and quick read for younger readers. Jamie is a lovable character who I'm sure most kids, and humans in general, could relate to as he struggles with how to respond to a bully's taunts, how to fit in at a new school, and how to deal with a teacher who always seems to be picking on him. This a great story about kindness that isn't always so common and learning to open up and trust others to know and help us with our problems.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum

Well, it's been a pretty crummy week, and I can't say I feel much like writing a book review today, but here I am anyway. The good folks at Library Thing and Random House sent me a copy of Have You Found Her to review through the Early Reviewer program. Despite my reluctance to write much of anything this week, this book definitely deserves to be reviewed before I've begun to forget it's finer points. So here it goes...

In Have You Found Her, Janice Erlbaum has written a fine a memoir with all the trappings of a novel. As a kid, Erlbaum fled her home only to find herself in the New York City shelter system. In her mid-thirties, having reconciled with her parents and attained some measure of success in her life, she decides it is time to return to the shelter where she once resided to volunteer and give back to the place that helped her when she most needed it.

While volunteering, Janice meets Sam, an abused, drug-addicted, and very troubled teenager trying to turn her life around. She sees something of herself in Sam and falls in love with the girl and what she has the potential to do for Sam. As their relationship deepens and Sam's health takes a turn for the worse, Janice learns that Sam is even more disturbed than she could have imagined.

Erlbaum's memoir is compulsively readable. She honestly confronts the dilemmas of volunteering head on. Do we volunteer and try to help merely for the sake of being altruistic? Or do we volunteer to give ourselves that good feeling that comes from having sacrificed of ourselves for the good of others? Erlbaum confronts this and many other questions as she explores her relationship with Sam and both the good and bad things it brings out in her own character. While it's hard to watch Erlbaum struggle through a year of being a de facto mother to a severely troubled girl, it's easy to see why she fell in love with Sam and her very mixed feelings about feeling responsible for a girl who is so smart and so lovable but also so tremendously damaged.

This memoir reads similarly to a novel. It's full of interesting and lovable "characters" from Janice and Sam to Janice's ever-supportive partner Bill to Sam's other "moms" Maria and Jodi. It has several very unexpected "plot twists" and runs the full gamut of emotions. Though this memoir has many things to recommend it, I most appreciated Erlbaum's efforts to present an honest account of her year with Sam. She doesn't skirt the big issues and doesn't try to make herself look like some sort of perfect volunteer faultlessly picking up the downtrodden youth of New York City. Instead, she reflects on a very real and very difficult experience and the way she actually reacted to it at the time as well as how she felt about it in retrospect. It's this honesty and self-awareness that makes Have You Found Her really stand out.

Read another review at Booking Mama.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Books Read in 2008

Ah, 2008 has begun. It's time for a new list!

1. Have You Found Her - Janice Erlbaum
2. Jumping the Scratch - Sarah Weeks
3. A Break With Charity - Ann Rinaldi
4. Schindler's List - Thomas Keneally
*5. Make Lemonade - Virginia Euwer Wolff
6. The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur - Daoud Hari
7. Sobibor - Michael Lev
8. Stealing Heaven - Elizabeth Scott
9. The Beet Queen - Louise Erdrich
*10. Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
11. Fever 1793 - Laurie Halse Anderson
12. The Widows of Eden - George Shaffner
13. The Cactus Eaters - Dan White
14. Black Wave - Jean and John Silverwood
15. Queen of the Road - Doreen Orion
*16. A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray
17. Three Girls and Their Brother - Theresa Rebeck
18. Forgive Me - Amanda Eyre Ward
*19. Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin
*20. The Wednesday Sisters - Meg Waite Clayton
21. A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father - Augusten Burroughs
22. Home Girl - Judith Matloff
23. The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta
24. Far World: Water Keep - J. Scott Savage
25. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry - Kathleen Flinn
26. A Tranquil Star - Primo Levi
*27. Ellington Boulevard - Adam Langer
*28. Tears of the Desert - Halima Bashir
29. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - Janelle Brown
30. Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
31. Songs for the Missing - Stewart O'Nan
32. Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry
33. Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn - Sarah Miller
34. Aberrations - Penelope Przekop
*35. Sweetsmoke - David Fuller
36. London Calling - Edward Bloor
*37. When We Were Romans - Matthew Kneale
38. Boy Meets Boy - David Levithan
39. Twilight - Stephanie Meyer
40. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
*41. How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
42. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson