Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Magnolia League - Review

Title: The Magnolia League
Author: Katie Crouch
Publisher: Poppy

Goodreads Summary:

After the death of her free-spirited mother, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave her home in northern California to live with her wealthy grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. By birth, Alex is a rightful, if unwilling, member of the Magnolia League, Savannah's long-standing debutante society. She quickly discovers that the Magnolias have made a pact with a legendary hoodoo family, the Buzzards. The Magnolias enjoy youth, beauty and power. But at what price?

My thoughts:

This book has all the ingredients to push my reading buttons - Savannah, one of my all time favorite cities, hoodoo/magic, a hippie chick for the main character- I love all these details. Somehow though, I didn't love this book. I really wanted to though.

This book somewhat reminded me of A Great and Terrible Beauty- secret societies, magic, popular girls bordering on mean girls. I think that Beauty had better character development and was overall done better, but both books had similar themes, including a magical mother who died without telling her daughter anything about what they may be inheriting.

If Alexandria had been my friend, she would have been a really annoying, preachy friend. I am a vegetarian, I believe in being environmentally conscious, but I don't insult people who don't believe the same way. I think I make my opinions known in a way that is less aggressive than Alex. I do like how she was very stick to her guns, and made friends with Dexter, even though he wasn't one of the kids who was near the realm of a Magnolia. I was very disappointed in Crouch perpetuating the idea of beauty only belonging to those who are thin. I was disturbed by all the times that Alex was called Piggy, or Pudgy, and just let it happen to her. She hated being overweight, and had the easy transformation to thin perfection through hoodoo. And her character made no bones about the fact that she never wanted to be chubby again. I think this sends the wrong message about weight to an age group that already struggles with this concept. Body image is something even adult women struggle with, and I believe is particularly damaging for a young girl.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series though, believe it or not- there were a few characters that I actually liked. Hayes, Alex's friend, who seemed genuine and intelligent; Sam and Sina Buzzard, I just want to know more of their story; and Alex's grandmother, I feel we have just tapped the surface of this hoodoo matriarch of the Magnolias. I want to see what else she can do, I guess.

As a YA book, I liked this book more than Twilight, less than Hunger Games and A Great and Terrible Beauty. For me, it fell somewhere in the middle. I have hopes the next one will be better.

Pawleys Island- Review

Book: Pawleys Island
Author: Dorothea Benton Frank
Publisher: Berkley

Goodreads Summary:

Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent.

With characteristic humor and a full cast of eccentric and wonderfully lovable characters, Dorothea Benton Frank brings us a refreshingly honest and funny novel about friendship, family, and finding happiness by becoming who you are meant to be.

My thoughts:

I am in love with the south, or at least my romanticized version of it. One day I will live there- perhaps when home values go back up in Michigan and we can sell our house. Until then, here I am in the North, dreaming of the south. I find myself in the same reading patterns every summer - reading books set in the south, Faulkner to Tennessee Williams (love him), to Connie May Fowler (another favorite), to Dorothea Benton Frank. There are no limits or limitations.

This summer is no different. As soon as the weather began to change from the cool spring weather to the humidity of Michigan summers, I found my reading material shifting course. I picked this book up in the library, and fell in.

What a wonderful world Rebecca landed in - and such good, influential friends she found immediately. Yep, this book was true escapism. The book begins by talking about how at times we all want to just run away, start over, become someone new somewhere else, leaving our problems behind. Rebecca runs away to start over, but her new friends help her to face what she is trying to leave behind. She just gets to do it from a condo on a Georgia coastal island, with rich friends. If I were going to run away and start over, this is how I would want it to work out for me too.

Great book for daydreaming about island living in the south - makes you want an ocean view and a hammock if you don't have one, that is for sure!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - Review

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Goodreads Summary:

The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia Virginia Tate's sleepy Texas town, and there aren't a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine from town, but Callie might just have to resort to stealthily cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She also spends a lot time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. It turns out that every drop of river water is teeming with life - all you have to do is look through a microscope!

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

My thoughts:

I read this book as part of a self-assigned summer reading homework list- it is a Newbery Award Winner, and I will be promoting those in the fall at work., and I wanted to be familiar with this one.

I am glad that I read it - I very much enjoyed it. I loved how Calpurnia didn't want to just give in and be what everyone wanted her to be, the perfect girl child who does what she is told, only interested in homemaking skills and becoming a good wife. This would be fine, if that is what she had been interested in. She is not though - she is interested in the world around her, full of curiosity about why things are the way they are. She finds an ally in her grandfather, whom everyone else in the family seems to dismiss as crazy or intimidating, when he really is a very intelligent gentleman. He encourages Calpurnia in her naturalist studies, taking her with him on explorations and involving her in a larger project. You do have to feel sorry for Calpurnia though- for all her natural aptitude and love of science, she is at a disadvantage of being a female in 1899, before equal rights and feminism. Calpurnia is ahead of her time, which is a little disappointing and heartbreaking at times, as she realizes she will have to fight for a different type of life than the one mapped out for her.

I am looking forward to the students reactions at my school to this book and Calpurnia's life and trials as a budding scientist. I hope it makes them think about what educational and life opportunities they have now, compared to what was available in 1899.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where you list the books you read last week and the ones you hope to read this week!

Read Last Week:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly: Calpurnia Tate is a coming of age story set in a rural area of Texas during the 1890s. It is a Newbery Award Winner, and is one of my "summer reading requirements" that I assigned myself this summer. I brought home a huge pile of books from work to read over the summer break - there is nothing worse than when one of the students asks me what I think of a book and I have to say I haven't read it! I am hoping to have my review finished in the next day or two, but I thought this book was a lovely little read.

The Bucolic Plauge by Josh Kilmer-Purcell: Definitely one of my favorite books I have read all year!! I wanted to crawl through the pages and hang out with Josh, Dr. Brent and Farmer John. I wanted to help with the goats. This book was charming and funny, and I absolutely love books that are about farming- especially when the farmers have never really farmed in their adult lives before. This book was fabulous, you can read my whole review here.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: I planned to read this, but just wasn't in the mood. Unfortunately, I am not in the mood this week either. I will read it though! It sounds amazing!

Currently Reading:

The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch: I love this book because of its cover- yes, I do judge books by their covers sometimes, sadly. I love the city of Savannah, and this book looks interesting. I have read good things about it around the internet, I am looking forward to it.

Pawley's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank: Lately I have been beach dreaming from my house in the Michigan suburbs. I think this has prompted what I feel might become another mini author fixation. But it is summer, we all need to read something beachy and fun sometimes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Conroy

I originally posted this on my other blog in January of this year, but I wanted to repost it on this one.

Title: My Reading Life
Author: Pat Conroy

When I was fifteen years old, my father put the book The Prince of Tides in my hands and told me to read. An unusual choice, some might think, for a 15 year old female from the suburbs in Michigan, who listened to Nirvana and frequented Denny's. This was my life though, growing up. My parents started my reading education early, as young as ten when my mother gave me James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small, and never moderated or censored my reading choices; in fact they encouraged me to read whatever I could get my hands on, and suggested many of their favorites, like J.D. Salinger, John Irving, James Herriot, and Kurt Vonnegut. I read voraciously and tenaciously, hanging on every syllable of every sentence.

The Prince of Tides was a changing point in my life however; while I always read constantly, and by constantly I mean actually not putting the book down, and read while brushing my teeth, making breakfast, walking from room to room, I really couldn't put this book down. I even convinced my mom the day after I started the book that I was sick, and had to stay home from school. I finished The Prince of Tides that very day, and thus began my lifelong love of the south and southern writers. The lives of the characters in this book could not have been further from my own, yet something in the writing, in the story spoke to me. The setting, the characters, were a million miles away from my own personal landscapes, and I wanted to be part of that world. I wanted the concrete and tall buildings around me to transform into tidal lowlands; I had a crush on Luke, wanted to be Tom's friend, wanted to save Savannah. And later Luke. I can still recite from memory the poem Savannah wrote about Luke, still remember the white porpoise, Caesar, Callonwolde. This book is so full of pain and beauty and love rolled into one. I cried throughout most of it.

After that day, I read all of Pat Conroy's published works, and made sure to read every new one that came out after. Now, 20 years later, I am midway through Conroy's book My Reading Life, and am just as enthralled as I always am. It has reminded me just how in love with reading, with words, with books, with the south, with southern writers, Conroy in particular, I really am. He taught me that there is magic in a sentence, and that you can never use too many adjectives. He has shaped my northern world into one that dreams of the south, flawed or unflawed.

"Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart." Pat Conroy - My Reading Life

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Bucolic Plague- Review

Title: The Bucolic Plague
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell
Publisher: Harper

Goodreads Summary:

What happens when two New Yorkers (one an ex–drag queen) do the unthinkable: start over, have a herd of kids, and get a little dirty?

Find out in this riotous and moving true tale of goats, mud, and a centuries-old mansion in rustic upstate New York—the new memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the New York Times bestseller I Am Not Myself These Days. A happy series of accidents and a doughnut-laden escape upstate take Josh and his partner, Brent, to the doorstep of the magnificent (and fabulously for sale) Beekman Mansion. One hour and one tour later, they have begun their transformation from uptight urbanites into the two-hundred-year-old-mansion-owning Beekman Boys.

My thoughts:

I adored every word in this book! While reading it, I wanted to rush over to Sharon Springs, make friends with these guys, and become part of their world, kind of like Ariel in Disney's Little Mermaid. This memoir was light-hearted, funny, sincere, and real, and was reminiscent to me of The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux . The Bucolic Plague inspired me to dream my own dreams, evoked nostalgic feelings in me for eras I never lived in, and caused me to stay up until 3 AM because it was just so good I couldn't put it down.

This book had me from the beginning, goats, diarrhea, and all. The moment Josh stuck his head out the window because he couldn't breathe, I knew I was in for a good book. The zombie flies, the paralyzing panic in Martha Stewart's kitchen, all these things and more made me laugh right out loud. The part where Josh realizes that eventually Brent is going to have to find out about the 88 goats in the barn is so something that I would do and feel. I would do something like that, and then be like, uh-oh, now I have to tell my husband? Eek! I did have to skip the scene where he slaughtered his turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, especially once he related that the turkey went with ease and calm under his arm, trusting and secure. So for anyone who is squeamish about animal death scenes, be forewarned!

But this book was not just about good times- in fact, this book illustrates how you should never take anything at face value. On the surface, Josh and Brent lived a utopian, idyllic life. For a while, at least. Then in the pursuit of perfection, they lost the sense of authenticity, the simplicity of what they were doing, and worst of all who they were together. The very traits that they loved in each other became traits they despised. I found myself wanting them to know that this was happening, to calm down, appreciate what they have, realize that it does not all have to be impeccable, Martha standard perfection. Eventually, after Josh left for work without telling Brent he loved him, they realized that the most important thing they had was each other. They seem to have it together, and I hope they do.

And anytime they want to invite me to dinner and to play with their goats, I am available. Just saying.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Lost City of Z- Review

Book: The Lost City of Z
Author: David Grann
Publisher: Doubleday

Goodreads Summary:

A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

My thoughts:

Wow, who wouldn't want to read it after a build up like that!! I have always been interested in explorers, especially from this era of the gentleman explorer. I loved that men of that time period could go to school through the Royal Geographic Society and graduate as an "Explorer". How cool would that be? I can just picture this group of khaki clad men wearing pith helmets and smoking a pipe, roughing it out in the jungle but still remembering tea time. Or really, that is what I would like to imagine, since in reality these men did endure terrible conditions and harrowing situations. And, like Pecy Fawcett and his men and their quest for Z, some never returned from the "green hell".

I really loved this book. It was not an easy read, in parts I felt like I had to hack through areas with a machete myself to get through some sections, but for the most part I found it interesting and educational. I have a degree in history, so I actually do enjoy reading about the past. As I said, some of it was tough to get through. I didn't want to know quite so much back story on past expeditions, but I guess the author couldn't really tell much about the last one, since that is the mystery- what happened to Fawcett and his men? Grann pursues the answer to this question, following in the footsteps of other expeditions that hoped for the same thing- and all of these other expeditions died or disappeared as well, with only one exception in 1996, where the group managed to nearly escape with their lives. I wanted to read more about Grann's journey to the Amazon, and to his answer. The end felt kind of like an afterthought, to hurry and finish the book, by the time the novel really started discussing Grann. Maybe this is because we have made exploration so much easier, with our GPS systems, all-terrain vehicles, helicopters. The same things that make exploring easier and safer, kind of detracts from the over all adventure of it all.

The book was fascinating- the thing that got my attention the most was the accounts of the insects and how very destructive and dangerous they were to the intrepid who took their chances in the jungle. Fawcett was said to have a "freakish constitution", able to keep moving at a grueling pace, on an empty stomach, and did not fall prey to the psychotic fauna like the rest of his men. He was not sympathetic to those who could not handle as much as he could, and no one really could. They faced things such as maggots that will burrow in healthy flesh, malaria carrying mosquitoes, millipedes that will squirt cyanide, it seems that all the insects are lethal and made to kill you in terrible disgusting ways. There is even a "kissing bug" that bites you on the lips, and you don't feel the effects until twenty years later, when you have safely assumed you have survived the Amazon experience. And if the bugs don't kill you, the fish or the natives will. Or you will starve to death. Not a pleasant undertaking, when you look at all the potential ways you could die. These men were brave and ground breaking, and didn't profit well from it- or at least Fawcett didn't. His family was practically destitute, but he gave his life for science and the pursuit of knowledge, and the world gained from his bravery.

So did Grann find out what happened to Fawcett? You will have to read and see what you believe.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies - Review

Book: The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies
Author: Ammi-Joan Paquette
Illustrator: Christa Unzner
Publisher: Tanglewood
Reviewed for netGalley

Goodreads Summary:

What better way to celebrate the wonderful world of nature all around us than a hunt for local fairies? Children learn to spot the tell-tale signs of fairies in residence in this delightful mix of photos and illustrations. Then children can take their tracking skills outside to discover the magic in their own backyard.

My thoughts:

I really, really wanted to like this book. I love the concept of looking for fairies with children, how fun and magical! I was one of those kids who believed in fairies, and would spend time looking for them in my garden as a child. So, I was excited when I saw this book. Unfortunately, none of it worked for me. I absolutely did not like the mixture of drawn illustrations with photos, it turned me off, and I couldn't see the point of it. It made it seem more fake than real. The story had some cute moments, such as the fairies drying their wings by moonlight. But the rest of the book was creepy- I think if the illustrations had been handled differently, with drawings only, no photos, I would have like it better.

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where you list the books you read last week and the ones you hope to read this week!

Read Last Week:

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie: Leftover from my Crusie Craze from two weeks ago. I felt I needed to finish this one. I read it when I needed to take a break from Z, and I really enjoyed it. I liked the idea behind the story, that these women were tired of living for or through someone, and had decided to take their own lives into their hands. Nell kind of bothered me- I felt sorry for Gabe. She was pushy and aggressive, not assertive.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann: This was our book club book, (which I write about on my other blog) and I was right, it did take up most of my concentration for reading last week. Review forthcoming on this blog hopefully today or tomorrow.

Currently Reading:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - My mom gave me this book to read, she loved it. I read the back and it does sound like a book I would enjoy. I have this weird obsession with India, I am looking forward to reading it this week.

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell - My friend Valerie recommended this one after we read Farm Life. I have been waiting weeks for it to come in from the library, and it finally did! I had to finish Z before I could dive into, which I plan to do very shortly.

Monday, June 13, 2011

It's Monday, What are you reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila atBook Journey where you list the books you read last week and the ones you hope to read this week!

Read last week:

I know, I went a little Crusie crazy last week! I was very sick last week with a high fever, and when I woke up long enough to read, I only felt like reading these books. I enjoyed them all very much, they were a great distraction and were entertaining.

Currently Reading:

This is our book club book for the month - I am very excited to read it! I am focusing only on this book this week, as I want to finish it, and I feel that it will take all my concentration.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wolf Camp - A Review

Book: Wolf Camp
Author: Katie Mcky
Illustrator: Bonnie Leick
Publisher: Tanglewood

Goodreads Summary:

In a delightful mix of intrigue and humor, a young girl named Maddie goes to a Wolf Camp and comes back with disturbing new habits--wolf-like habits. Kids will be fascinated with the idea of transformation into an animal, and parents will recognize the sense of change their children undergo at summer camp.

I apologize for the sudden rash of picture books! I am catching up on my netgalley reviews.

What did I think?

I absolutely loved this book! The illustrations were brilliant - they seemed old fashioned yet modern. And the details were fantastic- from the longing in Maddie's eyes when she wanted to eat the grasshopper to the bits of leaves and sticks in her hair when she returned home from camp (and the rest of the year). I didn't like that she scared the collie - and the picture of him being afraid was too realistic for me! Poor baby. I did like that he kept one eye open around her after that. The story itself was cute - it reminded me of my own "wild" days of childhood, roaming the outdoors and overactive imagination. I think all kids would like this book, and I can picture them getting in touch with their inner wolves after hearing it, so parents, grandparents, and teachers watch out!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Frères - Review

Goodreads Summary:

Every day, Chef Marcel and his sons recite the recipe for the famous cheese soup of the Bistrot des Sept Freres--the trendiest mouse cafe in all of Paris. But when a culinary judge is due to arrive and Chef Marcel has run out of his secret ingredient, it is Petite Michelle who saves the day. This adorable story and whimsical illustrations of Marie LeTourneau will delight children, while providing une petite lecon on the language and culture of France.

What did I think?

Well, I thought it was cute! I thought the illustrations were beautifully done, I thought the character introductions were well presented, and I loved the French pronunciation guide for the French words in the story. I am a huge Francophile, so I was so excited to read this book, which I read through netGalley. And I think illustrations of mice are super cute too. I can easily see this book being checked out over and over in our school library. Very whimsical, very endearing, reminded me somewhat of Ratatouille.

A Great and Terrible Beauty- Review

Goodreads Summary:

A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy--jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother's death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls' academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions "for a bit of fun" and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the "others" and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.'

And what did I think?

I really liked it! It did remind me a lot of the movie The Craft, just set in a boarding school in Victorian England rather than wherever The Craft took place. I found myself thinking more about this thrown together group of friends than the central plot. While the girls occupied rather stereotypical roles at first, they began to evolve and grow. They started out as the pretty one (Pippa), the clever one (Ann), the charming one (Felicity), and the mysterious one, Gemma, the main character - or so Felicity describes them one emotionally wrought night. By the end of the book, through Gemma's eyes we see them as much more than these one dimensional characters. Pippa demonstrates a control over her own life, making her own choices; we see that while Felicity is power hungry she is filled with pain; Gemma begins to battle her own guilt over her mother's death; and Ann- ok I am not sure how Ann grew as a character. Although they are friends, they still can be awfully horrid and manipulative as well. (And as a small side note, I love the names Gemma and Pippa!)

The love story in this seems to be just getting off the ground- the question remains, will Gemma and Kartik become an item? We shall see.

The magic and mystery plot line, which was the main plot, was a little thin - I enjoyed it, I just wish it had had a little more force and oomph behind it. I did enjoy the mystery surrounding the diary however - which revealed a shocking secret!

I am looking forward to reading the second in the trilogy, Rebel Angels. I don't think I will begin it right away, I will wait for my friends to catch up, since I read this book as part of a "secret" online young adult book club. Just a few friends indulging in young adult fiction. Four of us actually. Hmmm.