November 2013 archive

Review: Where The Stars Still Shine

From Goodreads: Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Jenny’s thoughts: Trish Doller has joined the ranks of my Will Read Anything You Write author list. This is only her second book, so maybe that’s premature, but. Oh, you guys.

Callie is living a miserable life when the book starts, then it quickly gets worse when she learns her mom kidnapped her as a small child (her own mother, not a stranger-lady pretending to be her mom). If Callie had had roots to begin with (she doesn’t), they would have been uprooted when her father arrives at the police station to take her home.

Home. Callie has never had a home, now suddenly she does. She has family. She has a history (that she doesn’t remember). She has friends (that she doesn’t know what to do with). Callie suddenly has this average, 2.5 children, white-picket-fence American life that she’s only dreamed about. But with her entire life knowing the exact opposite, Callie needs to learn the social skills that are needed to belong somewhere.

I loved Callie (whose full name turns out to be Callista, just like my daughter!), and I loved her heart. She is the unfortunate victim of a very sick lady’s mistakes, and I loved watching her character learn to trust people and act more like a kid than a necessarily independent adult.

While the story itself is wild, the characters themselves are entirely believable. And with the proper mix of characters and circumstances, the story itself is just too realistic. Doller does a fantastic job making her fake stories feel so real. This book is simple yet complicated. It’s deep enough to pull at your heart by simple enough to not weigh you down.

Review: Call Me Zelda

Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuk

From Goodreads: From the author of Hemingway’s Girl comes a richly imagined tale of Zelda Fitzgerald’s love, longing, and struggle against ever-threatening insanity.

From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, but those who really knew them saw their inner turmoil.

Committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, Zelda vacillates between lucidity and madness as she fights to forge an identity independent of her famous husband. She discovers a sympathetic ear in her nurse Anna Howard, who finds herself drawn into the Fitzgerald’s tumultuous lives and wonders which of them is the true genius. But in taking greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she ever intended.

In this thoroughly researched, deeply moving novel, Erika Robuck explores the boundaries of female friendship, the complexity of marital devotion, and the sources of both art and madness.

What I thought: FSF has had quite the comeback over the past few years, what with the absolutely perfect Leo portraying the dashing Mr. Gatsby and all. I’m not exactly a fan of Fitzgerald’s style, but I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of his books. Knowing little to nothing about Zelda Fitzgerald, I decided I’d listen to this a few weeks ago.

The narration was pretty good. I really like Robuk’s writing– The story was intriguing, and when it was all said and done, I googled Zelda Fitzgerald to see how much of the story was true. (As usual, I didn’t read the synopsis or any reviews before I dove into the book) I thought Anna was a good character, and I enjoyed the progression of the friendship between her and Z.

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, and I’d definitely recommend the audio.

Review: A Cold and Lonely Place

A Cold and Lonely Place, by Sara J Henry

(Just wanted to let you know that I received a review copy of this from Crown Publishing, but all opinions are my own!)

Synopsis (Goodreads):   Freelance writer Troy Chance is snapping photos of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice palace when the ice-cutting machine falls silent. Encased in the ice is the shadowy outline of a body–a man she knows.

One of her roommates falls under suspicion, and the media descends. Troy’s assigned to write an in-depth feature on the dead man, who, it turns out, was the privileged son of a wealthy Connecticut family who had been playing at a blue collar life in this Adirondack village. And the deeper Troy digs into his life and mysterious death, the murkier things become. After the victim’s sister comes to town and a string of disturbing incidents unfold, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the investigation to continue, and Troy doesn’t know who to trust.

A Cold and Lonely Place
, the sequel to Learning to Swim, follows Troy on a powerful emotional journey as she discovers the damage left by long-hidden secrets and catches a glimpse of what might have been.

What I Thought: You know how when someone has a tick and you notice it, you can never unnotice it? Or like if you notice that  certain person always mentions a certain thing, every time you talk, then you almost wait during your conversations for that to come up? Well, that happened. TROY EATS A LOT OF FOOD. I mean, she eats literally every page. I think that for whatever the duration of the book was, we were treated to every. single. meal. she. ate. And most snacks. And all the drinks. By mid-book it was laughable. By the end, I was so hungry for a pb&j that I could no longer function. I’m sorry for mentioning it because now it will be the first thing you notice but, oh man. It is insane.

Now that I got that out of the way: on to the meat. So this is one of those mystery series where there are multiple books but I don’t think it really matters if you read them in order. I hadn’t read the first one, but totally got what was going on. There were references to her past, but the blanks were filled in enough that I was fine starting here.

My favorite part was the setting. This freezing cold, small town in Upstate New York. Granted, I read this just as the weather started to turn here, but it just felt cold. I love when an author writes descriptively enough that you really feel the setting, can see the town, and I was completely sold here. The setting- the frozen lake, the abandoned summer cottages, the sun setting so flipping early- was just convincing and beautifully done.

In fact, the writing as a whole was well done. I felt like the characters were solid and she did a good job of building up a big cast without overwhelming the reader with pointless characters.

But here’s the thing: this was slow as molasses. And predictable. Maybe I’ve just read too many “journalist turned sleuth” books, but I was immediately like “um, yeah right.” you know what I mean? It has all just been done before, the whole plot was just obvious. Bleh.

I hate to say that, because it really was well written and I liked a lot of the characters and loved the setting, but the plot itself? Nothing amazing. And Troy? Her food obsession was just absolutely over the top.

So this is a mixed bag. Sorry, reviews are sometimes like that. Do with it what you will.

Kid Lit Spotlight: The Princess and the Peanut Allergy

From Goodreads: Regina and her mom are busy preparing for her birthday party. It’s going to be a princess party with the perfect cake that looks like a castle and has ice cream cone towers. Regina is inviting all the girls in her class, including her best friend, Paula. Paula is excited, too, until she finds out about the cake. It will have nutty fudge brownies and peanut butter candies. Paula can’t eat that cake–she can’t go anywhere near that cake–because she has a peanut allergy. Regina really wants her cake, and she and Paula fight about it. That afternoon they both go home mad. But that night, after Regina reads her favorite story, “The Princess and the Pea,” she thinks more about her friend and the cake. The next morning she has a great plan that will please everyone.

Jennie’s Thoughts: My daughter Sammie has a peanut allergy, and I’ve found that there aren’t a lot of children’s books that deal with this issue. When I came across this book, I stopped everything and put it on hold at the library. Sammie has dealt with her peanut allergy since she was 2, so for as long as she can remember. For her it isn’t an adjustment, unlike it was with us. She’s very aware of her allergy and knows where her special medicine is and how the EPI’s will be used if she has a reaction. She asks and others if food is safe before eating.

These are all great and fabulous things, but right now she’s well insulated. Her daycare is peanut/nut free and she isn’t the only one with a severe food allergy. We keep her safe at functions and my family creates Sammie safe environments at holidays. But, next year she’ll start elementary school. That isn’t peanut/nut free. To say I’m terrified is a vast understatement.

So, I’ve been wanting to prep her for those upcoming days when she might not be surrounded by people with an understanding of her situation. This book is an excellent teaching tool, and a good story, too. The two girls struggle with the allergy, one with having an allergy and the other with having to accommodate for her friend. This is a sweet story of friendship, food allergies, and two little girls who want to eat the best birthday cake ever.

I highly recommend this book for any young child with a food allergy, not even specifically a peanut allergy. If you’re looking for a book that covers more than peanut allergies, I highly recommend this one: The BugaBees. We have it and I think it helps Sammie feel not so alone, knowing that there are more allergies out there than just hers.

Do any of you have other recommendations for books on food allergies? I’d love some early readers or early chapter book ideas for Sammie, if you’ve got them!

Spotlight on ETC’s favorite books

In honor of my triplets’ third birthday today, I’m sharing a few of Toby, Eleanor and Callista’s current favorite books. The younger group needs book recommendations, too!

Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! by Mem Fox: I’ve been waiting for ETC to grow into seek-and-find books, which I adored as a kid. From the Highlights monthly page to Where’s Waldo, I loved poring over the details and discovering all the hidden pictures. Yoo-Hoo, Ladybug! is perfect for ETC’s age. The ladybug wasn’t too difficult to find, but they never got so frustrated that they gave up. They love turning the page to see the close-up detail of the ladybug’s hiding spot and calling out, “Yoo-Hoo!” with me.

Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin: Pete is one cool cat. ETC love all four books (I Love My White Shoes, Four Groovy Buttons, Rocking in My School Shoes and Saves Christmas) written by Litwin and illustrated by James Dean, and we sing the songs that correspond with each book on the regular. Pete’s cool attitude also serves as a reminder when little things happen that hurt small ones’ feelings: Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! Dean has gone on to illustrate more Pete the Cat stories, but they just aren’t the same as Litwin’s. If you like Pete the Cat, you need to check out the albums performed by the author, Mr. Eric, and his pal Mr. Michael.

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle (and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way): Both Little Blue Truck books have a fun rhythm that moves the story along quickly and always holds the attention of my trio. It didn’t take them long to memorize passages and eventually the whole book, and they love to “beep, beep, beep!” along with Little Blue Truck.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Silly and fun, we all know the classic Seuss books. For some reason, this is the only Dr. Seuss book ETC have time for. We’ve tried a few others, but this is the only one they’ll pay attention to – even the Grinch doesn’t capture their attention. I was surprised by how quickly the rhymes of Green Eggs and Ham came back to me from my own childhood reading days, and ETC love to repeat all the “Sam I Am” verses. They even love to encourage ol’ whatshisname to take “just two bites,” as they so often are encouraged (now three bites!) when they try new foods.

Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman: This is one of those books I need to hunt down and buy because we’ve borrowed it from the library so many times. We even borrowed the DVD version because Katie is Toby’s favorite book character to date. Katie is a dog who’s really excited about new kittens in her house, but she gets too excited and ends up being punished for going overboard. Does that sound like toddler behavior, or what? She’s a sweetheart, and she eventually learns her lessons, but the cause and effect through is story is really fun to read through.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin: ETC’s favorite books stick with throughout the day. We talk about them, revisit passages (“Do you remember when ______ happened? What happened next?”) and point out things similar to those in books (“It’s a rocking chair like in Goodnight Moon!”), so when a song is involved, it just makes it that much more fun. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a really cool version of the alphabet song that ETC easily picked up. They love pointing out the letters as they sing and read along, and I’ve heard them all at some point singing the song quietly (until the BOOM BOOM) to themselves. You haven’t lived until you hear a tiny voice sing, “Skit skat skoodle doot.” Trust me.

This is obviously a short list of what ETC currently love, and some are new favorites while others just haven’t faded away. They have a long list of favorites, but I can’t eat all your time talking about kids’ books. What are some of your favorite children’s books?

Reading Ruts

Dear readers, I am in a reading rut. I know, I know, I’m a collaborator on a book blog, and my co-conspirators are full of excellent recommendations. How can I possibly be in a reading rut?!?

Hey, it happens. I find it really happens a lot this time of year, when the short days and long nights leave me feeling restless. This time of year is when I earnestly start knitting again, after a long, sweltering South Georgia summer hiatus, and by default I lean toward audio books while I’m knitting- it’s just easier to listen and knit than to find time to knit, and then find time to read. And when I’m in a reading rut, I have to have better-than-excellent narration, or even the greatest book ever will fall short.

This time last year, I was extremely pregnant with my son and had the so-called pregnancy brain, where I couldn’t focus on a book for long periods of time. It wasn’t until this past February when I stumbled across The Sea of Tranquility before I broke out of that particular reading rut. Usually I go back to an old favorite or two- The Fault in Our Stars, The Thirteenth Tale, Outlander… and reading just a few chapters can make me fall in love with reading again. Other times it takes discovering just the right book at the right moment to break out.

Lately I’ve read or listened to some pretty good books, but because I’m in this slump, they were all just “meh” for me. Right now I’m postponing my re-read of Drums of Autumn (I’m trying to make it all the way through the Outlander series before My Own Heart’s Blood is released in June) because I’ve been reading it for months and can’t get my head in it. I started Allegiant while I was in the hospital and didn’t finish it, and really have no desire to… not that I didn’t enjoy it; it’s just not the right  book for me right now.

This time I’m hoping listening to The Thirteenth Tale again will snap me out of my rut. If you’ve never read this book, I highly recommend it on audio. It was actually my first audiobook ever and I listen to it at least once a year. (I also have a hardback copy on my bookshelf so I can lend it out) I’ll have to post a review of it soon, because I can gush about this book for days on end.

What about you? Do you have fall-backs in case of reading ruts? Or do you just plow through until you find the “right” book to energize you again? and most pressing of all- What should I read next?


Review: Fangirl

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Synopsis (Goodreads): For Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

What I Thought: Um, I’m still flipping out over how amazing this book was, so just be prepared for me to go on a “this was amazing” bender. You can start a tally for how many times I say “amazing” and it’s thesaurusal (yeah, I made that up.) counterparts. I bet we get to double digits.

So earlier this month, Eleanor and Park and Fangirl were each $1.40 on kindle. I had heard they were amazing and I have the kindle app on my phone and I impulse bought them. I read E&P first because of Jenny’s fantastic review and I thought it was adorable and wonderful and just really well written. And then I started Fangirl.

YOU GUYS!!!!!! This is the greatest thing that I’ve read all year. I was totally into it, hanging out to every word, blown away by how Rainbow Rowell captured college and social anxiety and other not-so-capturable things, and then. And then.

Cath snuggles up with Levi, reads The Outsiders out loud and then they have their first kiss. I mean… seriously? Can we get any better than The Outsiders and kissing? No. No we cannot.  It was phenomenal.

But even that isn’t what sold this book. The writing is crisp and clear and honest. It is snarky, but not so snarky you feel bummed. It’s sweet, but not so sweet you want to brush your teeth. It is just this perfect balance. It is just how I want to write but can’t because I’m not Rainbow Rowell. It was just a pleasure to read. I want to read books like this for the rest of my life.

And the relationships. Sibling, parent/child, old friends, new friends, new boyfriend, internet friends, crappy people that want to use you, they’re all here. I think that in these relationships is where the book really pushed itself out in front of all the books that I’ve read lately. There were so many times when I was just nodding along because I KNOW that person, I remember that feeling, I’ve been there.

The whole book, I got this creepy feeling that somehow Rainbow Rowell was somehow inside of my brain just stealing bits so she could write about them. If you’re up there, Rainbow, just keep stealing stuff if it means that you’ll write more like this.

I have never read fan fiction and don’t really care about fandoms and all, but that didn’t distract me from the heart of the book at all. Cath was passionate about it, so I was passionate about it. End of story. Fanfic fan or not, you will be a Fangirl fan. If not, we can probably not be friends. Sorry not sorry.

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