Whatcha reading?

Whatcha reading?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Robespierre; Master of the Guillotine: John DiConsiglio

This was another interesting history book for teens in the "Wicked History" series. This one was about Robespierre. I hadn't realized he started his career of the reign of terror as a lawyer representing the poor. If it weren't for him King Louis and Marie Antoinette probably wouldn't have been murdered. The number of people killed during this time was mind blowing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Living Through The Mexican American War: John Diconsiglio

This was a very interesting history book for targeted age- 5th grade. I was impressed with how much history was in this little book (67 pages) and that it was interesting the entire time. I hadn't realized how the United States just took the land, as well as New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada, and the rest of Colorado and Wyoming. I wish it would have touched on what happened to all of the Native Americans that lived in these areas, but I guess we already know. I also hadn’t grasped how many people Mexico lost during the war-50,000 men, as well as half their land. I was glad to learn that there were people who were against the war, including President Lincoln. Another piece of history we can be ashamed of.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Bridge of San Luis Rey: Thorton Wilder

This was a short book, but guaranteed to cause depression. I didn't expect a book about a bridge collapse in Peru, which claimed five lives, to be a particularly uplifting read, but was surprised on the depth of the emotion it evoked. I didn't understand the time line for the last portion of the story. It seemed to happen years after the other two stories, though they were all mingled together. The story opens with the real event of the bridge of San Luis Rey collapsing in the eighteenth century. It then starts the nonfiction story of identifying the people who lost their lives on the bridge. There were five victims and a local priest, Don Juniper, wanted to make sense on why those people were chosen by God to leave the world. He interviews friends and townspeople about the victims and we are then told each story in turn. The five people all seemed to have one thing in common. They were looking to be loved. The first story is about a woman, Dona Maria, who had always had an unhappy life. She married a man who could take her away from her unhappy parents. She then had a daughter who was embarrassed by her and never seemed to miss an opportunity to hurt her. Once her daughter moved to Spain, Dona Maria became a sort of tolerated presence in town. She got a companion, Pepita, from the orphanage to ease the loneliness and once when she went to a play she was picked on in front of everyone when the actress poked fun of Dona Maria openly on stage. Dona was actually lost in her thoughts about things she would write to her daughter in her next letter and never heard the insults. Embarrassed Pepita lead her home. The next day Camilla, the actress, was sent to apologize. She thought the Lady was being kind when she dismissed any wrong doings, and then actually felt terrible for her behavior. A little while later Dona Maria found a letter Pepita was composing to send to the mother of the orphanage. It expressed her loneliness and her devotion for Dona Maria. The letter changed Dona Maria and she vowed to herself to be a better person for Pepita because of her bravery. The next day they cross the bridge. The second story is about twin brothers, Manuel and Esteban, who were raised at the same orphanage as Pepita, though several years before her. No one ever takes the time to tell them apart and they are all the other has. Manuel becomes enraptured with the actress Camilla, but she doesn't return his affection. She was the mistress of the Viceroy of Lima, and had a matador as a lover. One day she asks Manuel to write her a letter. She doesn't even know which twin he is, but has him swear his secrecy since the letter was to her lover. Over time she has him write several letters for her and Esteban assumes they are in love. Manuel tries to explain that she is using him merely because he can write, but Esteban thinks he is standing in the way of their love because Manuel will not want to leave Esteban alone. Manuel then gets an infection in his leg and ends up dying. Esteban goes around saying he is Manuel and sadly no one knows the difference. Having lost the meaning of life he signs up to work for a man, which is why he is on the bridge when it collapses. The last story is that of Camellia. She too was an orphan, but adopted by Uncle Pio, who made her into the best actress in Peru. From her view we never hear of how she insulted Dona Maria, just that all of a sudden she was obsessed with becoming a lady, which we assumed came after the meeting with Dona Maria. She then falls for the Viceroy of Lima. Once she starts having affairs she meets with Manuel-who was also not important enough to make it into her story. However here is where I get confused, I realize Camilla's story is used to tell about Uncle Pio and her son Don Jamie, who both die on the bridge, but her story seems to last longer than the other two. Maybe I simply missed something about the passage of time, but Dona Maria and Pepita seem to be on the bridge a short time after Camilla comes to apologize, maybe a year. The same goes for Manual's death, since he got sick shortly after writing letters for her. Camilla's story goes on where she gets small pox and is too embarrassed to return to the stage because her face is scarred. She then devotes herself to religion. Uncle Pio begs her to let him raise Don Jamie because he is often sick and Camilla cannot give him the care he needs. Once she consents, both Uncle Pio and Don Jamie cross the bridge and end up dying. Camilla then loses her two daughters who are sent to the orphanage. This book definitely shows how everyone is connected especially in a small community. It was actually very powerful for being so short. It seemed as though every word were important. Just as each person was going to start a new chapter in their life, their lives were ended. Don Juniper, who was focused on making sense of the deaths, scored each person's worth and found the five people on the bridge had the most to lose; they were the most promising citizens out of everyone. He put his findings in a book. His work was seen as heretical and he was burned at the stake. He thought up until the end that surely someone would come to his aid, but in the end it seemed like everyone who had helped him write the book through their interviews, came to see him burn. There are many ways to interpret this book and it was very good. I will definitely read it again.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Brian Selznick

This was a children's book and at the end I was confused. The title is "The Invention" of Hugo Cabret, however he never invented anything. He found a machine the readers were lead to believe was more exciting and important than it was, and fixed it, but never invented anything. I had trouble getting into this book, but I read it after Wonderstruck, which I thought was cute. Both books are very similar. Both boys become orphans and wander about on their own. They are both searching for information about their fathers. They both end with someone basically adopting the boys. Both are told with alternating text, then photos. I liked the other book better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wonderstruck: Brian Selznick

This was probably the most original book I have read. There are two stories told that run parallel to each other until the end where they finally connect. It is a children's book and geared towards boys. A boy's mother dies and he feels out of place with his aunt and uncle. He finds some things in his mom's room that make him believe his unknown father lived in New York. He runs away and meets up with a woman in a bookshop that recognizes the picture he had of the man he believed was his dad. The other story is told entirely through pictures, making the story a quick read. The girl's story takes place in the past. She is deaf and runs away from home because her father doesn't care about her. The boy and woman meet up when she is older and in the end you find out she is his grandmother. The boy doesn't find his father, but finds the other half of his family and learns more about his mother along the journey.

Tuck Everlasting: Natalie Babbitt

This is an old classic that I had read as a child and wanted to refresh my memory. Winnie is a bored only child one summer and adventure finds her in an unexpected way. She is led by curiosity into the family woods where she finds a boy drinking out of a stream. When she tries to join him he tells her the water isn't good for her. His parents (the Tucks) come and wisk her away, then tell her a story about basically the fountain of youth. They had drunk the water and hadn't aged in 80+ years. Coincidently a man looking for the fountain of youth overhears the story and plans on selling the water to whoever will pay. The Tucks, knowing the misery of never aging and never being able to stay in one place too long, end up killing him. They quickly leave town. The boy leaves instructions for Winnie to wait until she is 17 (his age) and drink some of the water. He promises to come find her. She ends up putting the water on a frog she befriended. The Tucks come back 40 years later and are saddened to find her gravestone. We are lead to believe she got married and lead a normal life, but there is a lot to think about. The author leaves out 40+ years of story that we get to piece together how we want. My first question was why didn't the boy come back? The ending was bittersweet in that the Tucks were glad Winnie didn't drink the water because never-ending life is not a blessing, but they really cared for the girl and hoped she would be part of the family.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens

I had forgotten how much I enjoy Dickens, the sarcasm in this book made it very humorous. Dickens’ exposes the state of the poor in English society by following the life of an orphaned boy, Oliver Twist. The poor child can't seem to catch a break and when he does it is short lived enough to seem cruel. He gets glimpses of love and then they are taken away. There is a bit of stereotyping and racism against the "Jew" who keeps kidnapping Oliver. There aren't really evil villains in this story, everyone is pretty much characterized as human, some are just hardened and immoral based on what life has thrown at them at least that is what we are meant to believe. I especially liked the character of the kid selling soap/stain remover when he meets with Sikes. That section hit me as particularly clever. Sikes had blood on his hat from murdering Nancy and the seller alludes that his product could take it out and lists what the stain could be in a poetic chant. The book was extremely sad, but did have an uplifting ending where everyone seemed to be intertwined and many ended up being related. Oliver went from being an abused orphan to inheriting his father's fortune. The story of Oliver's birth would still have been scandalous at the time, but the narrator states several times that the boy shouldn't be blamed for it- and all ends well. I can't imagine being the reader when this story was first published in the paper. They had to wait a month for each chapter. Talk about suspense, I don't think today's crowd would have the patience.

Francisco Pizarro; Destroyer of the Inca Empire: John DiConsiglio

This was almost a pocket sized book written for young adults. It is part of the "Wicked History" series, which focus on horrible people of historical significance. The book was a condensed biography, but still held a lot in information. He was a horrible person. Not only did he betray his own people, but he was responsible for nearly wiping out the Incas, which he wasn't instructed to do. I liked the extra info in the back that talked about an artist who made a statue of Cortez for Mexico and they refused it, he gave it to Peru claiming it was Pizarro and they took it for a while, until the citizens complained.

Modern Nations of the World; Peru: Laurel Corona

This was an informative reference book for teens. I wasn't sure how detailed it would be based on the target audience, but I was impressed. The entire time I read it I kept comparing the country with the United States. Peru knows so much about its ancient civilizations and People. They haven't ruined most of the country's history in the push for "progress" and the majority of the population (outside of Lima) is either native, or has some native blood. I appreciated how they allow the indigenous people in the Amazon to continue their way of life without being contacted by the "civilized" world. This is a country that tries protects their land and their culture, but the gap between the rich and poor, the immigrant culture and native culture are creating strife. It would be nice to see the country maintain its roots instead of trying to keep up with other countries in the global economy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Coraline: Neil Gaiman

This was a cute little kid's book, very similar to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. A little girl moves into a new house and becomes bored quickly. Her parents seem to ignore her and she becomes interested in a door that joins their home to the one next door. When her mother opens the door she is met with a brick wall, but when Coraline opens it, there is a hallway that leads to another world. The world she enters is something out of a Stephen King book. She meets people who look like her parents, but have buttons for eyes. They let her return to her world, but when Coraline gets back her parents are both missing. With the help of a cat she enters the world again to save her parents. Through the ordeal she learns she loves her parents the way they are and once things return to normal she is happy. She is concerned that her parents don't seem to realize they were gone for three days and never mention anything about the other world.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Banana Hammock: J A Konrath

This story was written in the "choose your own adventure" style. It was very entertaining and filled with lame jokes. Harry was interrupted from playing a virtual "comb" game online when an "Amish" woman walks in and requests his services. She thinks her husband is cheating on her. The path I chose the first time was super corny and the story got weirder every time I backed up and made a different choice. However it was an entertaining read that you can make last as long as you want. I was amused by the links that actually took you to the urban dictionary and the one's about different stories altogether. This had to be a lot of work to write!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Watership Down: Richard Adams

This was a clever (though very long) children’s book about rabbits. I like that they had no real special abilities, other than Fiver's visions, and were given human characteristics. Fiver sees something bad coming to their warren, His brother, Hazel, takes the warning to the man in charge. The leader doesn't see any reason for alarm and Hazel and Fiver take a few rabbits that trust Fiver's feeling and leave. They have an adventure finding a new place to live. Shortly after arriving in their new home, two rabbits from the warren find them. They tell how man put poison in their holes and killed everyone. The story has an undertone on how man does not care for, nor understand nature. The rabbits are happy in their new home; they befriend a mouse and a bird. They then realize they don't have any does and if the warren is going to survive they need to find some. There is another adventure where Hazel, the leader of the new warren, is shot and nearly dies. They get two does they rescued from a farm, but decide to visit a bigger warren to try to steal some females. The attack on the large warren does not go as planned, but is still a success. They get several does and go back home to live happily ever after. Until the mouse mentions "new" rabbits. The rabbits from the large warren (lead by Woundwort) have come to take everyone prisoner back to their warren. There is another battle and everyone survives from the new warren. The book ends with Hazel being lead to the "warren in the sky". It was a cute book, but I understand how it was hard to market at first. It does seem like a very long book for a little one's attention span. The action does seem to keep the book moving at a good pace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Alfred Packer, the Man Eater: Gantt

This was a disturbing book and disgusted me about the justice system. Afred Packer's story was remnant of the Donner party's and reading the book made me feel dirty. Alfred was characterized as sort of a loner and seemingly insane. He meets up with some people who were heading into the mountains due to claims of gold. He tells them he doesn't have any money and two men use him to watch the horses and pay his way. Five of the men go off on their own during winter (even though they were advised to wait until spring) and only Alfred makes it to the town. He spends a bunch of money that makes people suspicious. Eventually the rest of the party makes it into town and wonders where he got the money and where the others were. Alfred, sensing the sheriff thinks along the lines of another Donner expedition, tells a story where one man in the party killed all of the others, and he killed him in defense. He is then asked to take the authorities to the bodies. He started off and then "got lost" so they turn back. Someone eventually finds all the bodies murdered by hatchet all together and Alfred changes his story again. He is jailed, and then escapes for nine years. He is eventually brought back to court and found guilty of premeditated murder of the other men. Nothing seemed to be made of the cannibalism. He was supposed to be hanged, but Colorado became a state about that time and gave up the death sentence. He was then sentenced to 40 yrs. in prison. Throughout his 13 yr. sentence he kept trying to go to trial again. He eventually got out on parole because he befriended a lady journalist who claimed he was ill and should spend the remainder of his life free. Feeling the pressure, the court agreed!!! He lived for another eight years.

Case Histories: Kate Atkinson

This was an interesting and original detective story. It compares 3 case studies, the first happening in 1970, the second in 1994, and the third in 1979. The story weaves in and out between the three stories, put in a linear order like a timeline. In the first Story, Rosemary, has 4 daughters and is pregnant. She dislikes being a mother and loathes her children, with the exception of Olivia- the baby. She knows she has a favorite and that she loves Olivia with a strange ferociousness, but she can't help but favor her. One day she lets one of the other girls sleep in a tent outside with Olivia. In the morning Olivia has vanished. The second story is about a widower with two daughters. He also has a favorite daughter, Laura, and he also knows he shouldn't favor one child over the other, but Laura is a loveable person. He gets her a job at his office and goes to a meeting in the morning promising to be back in the office to eat lunch with her. Throughout the morning he envisions his coworkers loving her, but when he gets to work, the office is in mayhem. He learns a crazed client had come in a killed a coworker and when he reared back with the knife and accidently got Laura in the neck. The third story is about a stressed out mother who may be suffering from postpartum depression and a loveless marriage. She had finally gotten the baby to sleep when her husband came in with wood for the fire, dropping it and waking up the baby. The mother snapped and grabbed the ax, killing her husband. Her last thoughts in the chapter are wishing she could start her life over because she would have remained in school. The three cases are all brought to the same private investigator, who just opened his own practice after his wife left him. The book is sad; however there is a lot of humor in it. The detective, Jackson, has all sorts of horrible things happen to him and the way he sees the other characters in the book is amusing as well. He is saved by a black cat (one of his deceased clients had named Nigger) because he saw him outside and went to retrieve him, but as he started back to the house it exploded. Jackson seems to solve all the mysteries (and is left everything from the elderly client that died), but you never get to know if Tanya is ever identified and reintroduced to her aunt. I had some trouble keeping the characters straight especially when new characters were introduced. In the end everyone in the story seems to come into the lives of the other characters. The last few chapters go back to the time of the death for each case and finish them as they happen so you know exactly what happen. The stories are all shocking. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book "Country children used to walk five miles to school in the morning and five miles home at night without complaining. Or perhaps they did complain, but no one ever recorded their comments for posterity." (pg. 92) “It wasn't that Theo believed in religion, or God, or an afterlife. He just knew it was impossible to feel this much love and for it all to end." "...at least she had triceps, unlike Amelia, who had the kind of swinging underarm flesh that would have made it easy for her to glide among the treetops" (207)

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Black Arrow: Robert Louis Stevenson

This was a cute teenager adventure story. I like how Stevenson made it interesting for both boys and girls even though it was a man's world when he wrote it (1888.) The story opens with a man being killed by a black arrow, but those who saw him die never saw the archer. The story of the War of the Roses begins. Richard Shelton's father is mysteriously murdered and Sir Daniel becomes his guardian. It is not until he is a teen that people start talking to him as a man, hinting that Sir Daniel has no loyalty. Richard realizes Sir Daniel was responsible for his father's death. He has two choices; to side with Sir Daniel or join the "black arrow" outlaws. During this time he makes a friend John Matcham and the two try to escape together fearing doom. Sir Daniel assured Dick he would never see Matcham again; the reader fears one will die. In fact John ends up being a girl- Joanna Sedley, which is amusing because she is two years his senior and as his buddy, was stronger and braver than Richard (Dick). Joanna was an orphan and a man sold her to Sir Daniel to marry Dick, realizing they love each other they decide to escape Sir Daniel together and join the "Black Arrows. "Only Dick escapes. After stealing a boat and a few fights Dick gets back to the castle to learn Joanna is to be married the next day. A few fights and adventures later the bridegroom is killed with an arrow, Sir Daniel is taken care of and everyone goes on their merry way.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Last To Die: James Grippando

This book had an intense beginning, but then slowed down rapidly. It was also creepy. A woman is mysteriously shot down years after her daughter was murdered in their home. A ragtag group of people were mentioned in her will, but there is a catch. Only the one that lives the longest gets all her money. So of course, the beneficiaries have to either decline the money or start to kill each other off to ensure they are the last alive. And then...the story slows to an agonizing pace. There are a few romantic encounters which only serve to bring the story to a screeching halt and several threats on everyone’s lives. The author did do a good job of revealing the killer at the very end, however by the time I got there I barely cared anymore. In the end *spoiler alert* we find out the daughter wasn't actually the husband's daughter, mom had an affair. So he kills the little girl and stabs the mom. They divorce, mom gets remarried to a rich old man and then gets AIDS from him (player) and decides to stage her murder rather than deal with the disease. She hires someone to kill her, and then names him in the will. Everyone she named in the will was someone she wanted revenge against; it takes the entire book for you to understand why she hated each of the beneficiaries.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mockingbird: Chuck Wendig

This book may have been even better than the first, though there were a lot of typos...(ok I think I found 3) In this one Miriam is tired of living a "normal life" and after she gets fired from a grocery store she saves her boss, who she loathed, from being murdered. She then hits the road and meets up with a woman dying of cancer who wants to know if she is dying, because she doesn't want to go to a doctor. She ends up shaking hands with a little girl and sees that she dies from a horrific murder and then goes about trying to save her. In the process she nearly gets Louis killed and ends up murdering several people, if not directly than indirectly. This was a fast paced book with a lot of twists and turns.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Soul on Ice: Eldridge Cleaver

This nonfiction story is started while Eldridge is in prison for dealing drugs; he is released and then put back in again for raping women. He is very arrogant and gets upset when people don't agree with him or see him as the intellectual he believes he is. He is able to convince himself that the enemy is the white man, not himself for doing despicable things. The first section of the book is about his reaction (while in prison) to the news that Malcolm X was murdered. The section section speaks of the next generation and how the white children are seeing the racial discrimination for what it is and some do want to tear down the barriers, but Blacks are still used as white man's puppet and he speaks of the famous of the era and their fates. Until Mohammed Ali who became a winner on his own behalf. Cleaver also speaks of Yacub, homosexuality, famous black writers, and the Vietnam War. It was odd to see such contrast between these first two sections. The first section seems like a mad man's ranting, but the second is seemingly written by a different, educated man with an agenda. The Third section is a collection of letters he received while in prison. The last section, like the rest of the book is an assortment of conversations where the last chapter was confusing. It was a letter for all black women from all black men and was written from the grave? This was a very short book.

Blackbirds: Chuck Wendig

This was an enjoyable original story. A woman, Miriam, has the ability to see how someone dies just by touching them. This ability makes her cynical and she uses it to her advantage. Once she sees that someone is going to die in the near future, she makes she sure she is around so she can steal the money in their wallet. Like a Blackbird, she is a scavenger. She learned early on that she cannot change fate and was actually the cause in a little boy's death when she tried to save him. Her life changes drastically one day while hitchhiking. She is picked up by a trucker who, when she touches, calls out her name before he is murdered. She had grown accustomed to people dying of disease or suicide, but the gruesome murder and the fact that she is the only Miriam he knows unsettles her. She decides to distance herself as much as she can. Later that night at a bar she gets picked up by a man she later realizes has been stalking her. He wants to cash in on the dead as well. As a team they don't get very far. Miriam runs into the trucker again at a diner and uses him to escape from the stalker who is mixed up with a drug deal gone awry and is being hunted down. In the end we see how the murder evolved. It was an interesting and fast paced read.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sole Survivor: Dean Koontz

This was an odd book. It started out as a mystery where a man realizes he is being followed by men he assumes are police, but then suspects they are muscle for hire. He goes to the cemetery for the 1 year anniversary of his deceased wife and daughters, who were in a plane crash. He meets a woman at the tombstones and she runs away only to be followed by the men who were following him. He finds a tracker on his car and decides he is in some sort of trouble. After removing the tracking device he withdraws some money from the bank and hides. Later we learn the woman at the cemetery (rose) was actually a survivor of the plane crash and was with a girl that is using one of the man's daughter's names. Rose was a scientist and the little girl ended up being her best work. The little girl can heal and Rose stole her from the lab. Also at the lab, which created paranormal children, was a boy who could occupy one's mind and make them kill themselves. The men in charge of the lab use the boy as a weapon to find Rose and the girl. The ending is oddly religious, where the girl can see heaven and the people in it. I enjoyed the first 3rd of the book, but then it just got dumb to me.