Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

genre: ya historical fiction

In medieval Southern France, a holy war has recently slaughtered thousands of the so-called heretics who have no need for the conventions of Catholicism. Rooting out the few remaining sinners and their sympathizers is the focus of Holy Men up and down the coast. When word of a girl who does miracles reaches the ears of the Fathers, she is brought in for questioning. Unable to deny her connection to her Savior, Dolssa is willing to be burned if that is the sacrifice that’s required.

Botille is nothing like a believer. Living with her two sisters and drunk of a father, a hand-to-mouth existence whose only reward is the relationships she’s made in her village, she is content enough with her lot. But when paths cross and fortunes told become reality, Botille’s life will never be the same. 

While all the names at the beginning confused me (there is a list at the end! OH how I wish I’d noticed that BEFORE the end of the book!) and the ending confused me a bit, I really liked this historical story. Dolssa is a powerful character and her weaknesses outshone her strengths as she solidified her relationship with her God and found where the well of her faith resided. I loved the sisters and the town – frustrating though each member could be, there is a very communal feel in Botille’s village and it felt very real. I liked the religious overtones in this book – the miracles and the differences between the faith of the “holy” men and that of a simple believer, seeing miracles and attributing them to God.

I also always appreciate an appendix that fleshes out the history for me –I am embarrassed that I know so little about the time period or the factual events the story is based around. Well written book, if the ending had felt less ambiguous to me I would give it 4.5 stars but it’s still a solid 4 star story.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The BFG by Roald Dahl

genre: children's literature

When Sophie saw something coming up the street through the darkness out her window, she never could've imagined the adventure that awaited her.  The terrifyingly huge creature walking her way turned out to be a giant - but a friendly one.  The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), by name.  A giant who does NOT eat children, like all other giants do.  A giant who would take Sophie with him to his land of dreams and protect her from the likes of Fleshlumpeater and all the other mean giants like him. Can the BFG and Sophie make the world safe for children again?

I read this book aloud to my 11 year old son, who thought it was absolutely hilarious.  The BFG's broken and silly English (full of made-up words and flip-flopped-words and all-smashed-together words) was probably the best part for both of us.  The plot felt slow to me, until about the last 1/4, and then it was exciting and my son was always begging for me.  The giants are horrible.  Dense, but horrible.  They actually crunch up and eat children, so that's a bit violent for younger readers.  If you can handle that, though, the relationship between Sophie and the BFG is tender and I love that, once again, Dahl finds a way for children to best the scary grown ups (or, in this case, giants) - such an empowering idea.

My boy liked it, I didn't ever super get into it but I don't think Dahl was writing with me in mind, either.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

genre: politics

I'm a little bit of a fan of the musical Hamilton. In one song, the future sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton sings, "I've been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine, so men say that I'm intense or I'm insane." That particular line gets stuck in my head a lot and I finally thought - I should read the dang thing myself!!

Common Sense is a "pamphlet" that Thomas Paine wrote in an attempt to justify and defend the cause of independence from England. His thoughtful, logical arguments approach the problem from all angles, some I had never even considered. He's not gentle, that Thomas Paine. In his mind, if you don't see the benefits of an immediate severing of ties with England, then you are a idiot.

He begins at governments, their purpose and responsibilities. He deconstructs and destroys the entire idea of a king. He is very aware of the amazing chance they had, in that moment, to create a new world. He even says, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

This book actually fascinated me. It is so well laid out, so logical, it does make so much SENSE. I didn't read a page without highlighting something that really resonated with me as a person privileged with a life a freedom. He'd have convinced me to commit treason, I think. I feel like I have a much better sense now of all that was at stake in the TIMING of the thing. Part of his argument for immediate independence was the fact that their current generation of adults had just FOUGHT in a war, they knew HOW to fight - Paine's argument against those who wanted independence but "not right now" is that if they waited one generation, that institutional military knowledge would be lost. I had never thought of that before.

 I felt like singing the National Anthem when I was done reading. Or maybe some Hamilton ;)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

genre: fantasy

Having been a Potter fan for nearly 17 years or something, I had a strange hesitation to read this script-book.  For so long, especially through the earliest years of being a parent, Harry Potter and his story were grand escapism for me.   I was all in - I read the "end" of his story and wept and rejoiced and I still cry when I read it again or watch the film.  For me, it is a story of redemption and the triumph of good and kindness over evil.  They aren't perfect books and I like some more than others but overall, they touch something inside me that's deep and real.

When I heard this was a thing - I worried that MORE would somehow spoil what WAS.  That seeing Harry as an adult would somehow diminish what I knew.  But I also knew I couldn't stay away because I did actually want to know what happens.

So I read it.

Some of it fell flat.  I felt like even by making TWO plays, it was still so so rushed, like it was spinning past me - and maybe that was intentional - I just didn't always like it.  People felt more caricatured than I like - Hermione and Ron, especially, seemed like shells of themselves, I think because there wasn't time to flesh them out, I don't know.  It's dark, but even as I was reading it and I had that thought, my next thought was - so were the rest of the books.  It's a dark world Harry and his friends have to live and survive in.

What I did love was dipping my toes back into this world.  I loved certain scenes that still had the same heart, the same acknowledgment of the power of the good inside us.  Other parts were painful and intimate, I liked that too.  I liked exploring the obstacle-filled road that is parenthood and how none of us have a script for how to help our teens figure out their own path.  I liked the time travel aspect, that worked for me and I thought it was actually a really interesting devise - I just had no idea which way the plot would lead and I liked the plot itself.

At least I'm not sorry I read it, so that's good.

Friday, September 30, 2016

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows (audiobook)

genre: young adult historical fantasy

Perhaps you have heard of Lady Jane Grey?  Reluctant girl-queen who reigned over England for a mere nine days in the 1550s? Imagine her story retold, only with shapeshifting and a few new bits that history forgot along the way AND, I would imagine, a LOT more comedy.

I seriously am not going to say any more about it because this one was SUCH a fun audio to listen to with no preconceived ideas. The reader was 5 our of 5 stars, truly, her voices were incredible and varied and her sense of comedy is phenomenal.  This book had me laughing out loud all alone in my car.  I also really love a book where the narrators pop in and give their opinions, snarky as they may be, and the authors of this one are spot on.  I also love the feminist slant, Jane's strong personality and the romantic storylines are delightful.  The backbone of the book is historical fact and the rest is just fun.

I've been looking for a fun audiobook for a long time and finally, this one hit the spot.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

genre: historical fiction

On a windswept, isolated island of the coast of Scotland, Elspeth lives a rather solitary life. She writes poetry, she writes letters and she thinks of the war going on in France that will become World War I.

Davey, an American college student, writes a fan letter to Elspeth - just to thank her for her poetry. But soon, a correspondent begins that will change both of their lives.

Set in multiple time periods, this epistolary novel explores love and loss, betrayal and forgiveness. The characters are fine - they as fleshed out as they could be in this style of book, although I sometimes had a hard time convincing myself to believe in the time period completely.  I did love the imagery of the Isle of Skye - it's exactly what I remember from my time there and the story itself did move at a quick pace. 

*****spoiler***** As much as I liked the romance that blossoms I have a hard time being excited about an affair.  The fact that she was married meant that I could never give my heart to the crux of the novel.  I knew how it would end as soon as it began, which annoys me, also.  Also, she really somehow put a suitcase full of letters INTO her wall?  That seems extreme.

****end spoiler****

Overall, it was fine to read while walking on the treadmill but it didn't blow me away.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams

genre: non-fiction

The Hour of Land is Terry Tempest Williams' musings on our National Parks and on the essential role that wilderness plays (or should play or should be allowed to play) in our national psyche and conscience.

The chapters are divided by National Park and cover a wide range - demonstrating how ridiculously varied and beautiful our nation's land is.  From the shores of Florida to the wilds of Glacier Park and the fields of Gettsysburg, her firsthand knowledge and experiences are the foundation of each essay. While some parts are a love letter to the spaces she finds most glorious - even more, each chapter is a discussion of that park's issues, how human policies and choices have affected and continue to affect these sites that belong to all of us. I liked some more than others - and truthfully, as much as one paragraph could move me to tears with its beauty, the next just made me depressed and hopeless.

This woman has a powerful way with words and imagery and she absolutely captures the magic and majesty of our shared spaces.  I get what she's trying to do and I know there is truth her idea that we need to worry more about protecting the parks instead of just celebrating them. I just was looking for more celebration, which is more a problem of my expectations for the book as opposed to a lack in the writing.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Interference by Amélie Antoine

genre: thriller

Gabriel is in love with his wife.  He loves their life together in a small coastal town in France.  He's happy with his job as a banker.  But in one moment, one phone call, the structure of his life falls to pieces. Told from multiple viewpoints, this book explores not only what happens next to Gabriel but the choices he makes and the ways he copes with what he's lost.

Meh.  I can't even write a summary without giving things away but truth is that while it was readable enough, I just did not believe the "twist."  It required too much suspending of my disbelief.  It's a "thriller," I guess, but it ended very quickly (too quickly for me) and I finished feeling blah.  The writing is bland but not horrible and I never wanted to give it up I just...meh. Maybe I should've.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Country of Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

genre: fiction

Our unnamed narrator arrives at a small, coastal fishing village in Maine at the beginning of summer. In search of a quiet place to write and relax, she soon finds herself in the interesting position of belonging but also being an outsider.  Meeting the natives of the town, making a place for herself among the fisherman and widows, our narrator's lovely voice speaks truth not only about the people she interacts with but also about the human condition at large.

There isn't a plot, per say.  Not action and climax and aftermath.  But each chapter isn't really a short story either, since they all roll around and intertwine with each other.  The landlord, the old sea captains, the grandmothers living on isolated islands in the bay - each character is richly drawn and lovingly rendered.  What you also get is a firm sense of life in such a Maine village, the accents, the passions, the loss.  Nearly everyone is elderly.  Truly.  I can think of maybe two scenes with children but this isn't a story about the young.  It's about the aged, about looking back at what you've had and taking stock of what you've got.  There is a glorious scene at a family reunion that rang with so much clarity, so familiar and authentic that it made me smile while reading, I couldn't help myself.

If you enjoyed Cranford, you might enjoy this.  It isn't funny like Cranford is, but it runs in a similar vein, with a strong sense of community and place. The language is just painstakingly beautiful, I found myself highlighting in at least every chapter.  I'm so glad I found this one.  It definitely makes a Maine of long ago feel alive again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson (audiobook)

genre: non-fiction

I have to admit that before this book, I have never given lobsters more than ten minutes of thought before.  Maybe not even that. When I asked a trusted reader-friend what I should read if I was going to visit Maine, she recommended this book.  My expectations were probably low, considering the subject matter, but the minute I started listening, I was all in.

The Secret Life of Lobsters is absolutely, yes, about lobsters. It's about their behavior, their physical bodies, their mating and the specific environment that their bodies need to grow and thrive. The science here is pretty fascinating, even for a non-scientist like myself, we dig deep into actual hands-on research, in the lab, out in the water and, interestingly enough, on the lobsterman's boat.  Throughout the text we get to know a lot of different scientists who have dedicated their career (and lives, in some cases) to understanding the lobster itself.   We also get to know a few very specific lobstermen (and women) from the Maine Coast. These people spend their daylight hours out on the water, seeing first hand how lobsters interact with their world and, for the even more importantly, how lobsters as a resource are being managed.

Much of this book is this pull and tug between the scientists and the lobstermen and how the population of lobsters is handling the current rates of fishing.  Overfishing is a real issue, obviously, but it is interesting to see how the lobstermen have tackled it.  Science can measure and calculate so many different minuscule things but it is different to be the guy out on the boat pulling traps in and seeing what is really in front of your face.  I liked this interplay a lot.

The narrative is interesting because clearly the author is privy to all kinds of situations, he is witness to all kinds of things and yet he is NOT part of it.  It's a very objective way of storytelling, with no opinions.  I noticed it but it didn't bother me that he is clearly telling a story about a world he is involved in, in some unknown way (the author's notes do give us clues).   I liked his writing style enough that I would absolutely read more by this author.  Not only do I feel like I know more about lobsters, but I have a real sense of a specific way of life that ebbs and flows with traps full of them.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...