Sunday, March 16, 2014

Morgan's March Picks

Historical Fiction for March 



Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I loved this young adult novel. It is a fantastic story of friendship during WWII. The two main characters are best friends who meet during their service in England during WWII. One is captured and the other is missing. An intense drama of Nazi capture, hiding out in France and the struggles we face between freedom and life are highlighted throughout the book.

 The story definitely keeps you guessing and I loved the drama when the perspective flipped between the two characters in the middle of the book.

Additionally, this book provides great insight into the roles women played during WWII. Too often the women and girls who were critical in the resistance, flying of planes and general support roles during the war go unnoticed.

I would definitely recommend this for middle to high school students and for adults who just like a good read! 

 

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain

This book was incredible. Although this is historical fiction it reads almost like a tell-all diary of Ernest Hemminway's first wife. The story is wonderfully told and does a good job illustrating an important part of Hemminway's life.

A tragic story and one that is definitely easy to sympathize with I was struck with the simultaneous fragility and strength of the main characters. I also enjoyed the historical context - reading about Paris during the time of some of the greatest writers of all time.

For fans of Hemmiway's work and anyone interested in a historical romantic tragedy. 

  

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

I spent most of this book waiting for it to redeem itself at the end. It did! This book gets a little slow in certain sections but I thought it was a very complex and interesting character study and it had enough twists and turns that I felt like my time spent reading it was worth it.

A look into a bizarre project sponsored by british intelligence this is a love story, a coming of age novel and a look into british society. Very different from Atonement I still felt like Ian McEwan pulled out a win on this one.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Marti's March Picks

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

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This is a story about power and secrets.  There is a flow of life around a river in a small logging town.  The river defines the rhythm and their fortunes of the people through the mills.  The Androscoggin is such a river and the small town of Titan Falls, NH is such a town.  The people of Titan were hardscrabble people.  Surviving in the bitter cold and heat, along with the noxious fumes of the plant and its toxic runoffs.

The family who owned the mill ran this world. They held the power over who survived in this small town.  Into this world came three siblings, used to making do. Needing a place to be.  There was family land and a place to stay.  Mercy, Zeke and Hannah Snow struggled to survive the harshness of Titan.  
Things might have been quietly the same until the bus accident. From the wreckage of the accident, another body was found and another mystery opened up. Someone caused it and someone would need to pay.

Zeke went on the run to hide as he was going to be accused of causing the accident.  Mercy who had found work with Hazel and her sheep struggled to survive and take care of Hannah.  Meanwhile, June the wife of the mill owner Cal has her own suspicions and continued to force people to turn away from the Snow family.

To me the book showed so much of what could and did happen in small mill towns.  I found all the characters realistic – with both good and bad traits.  I worried over Mercy and Hannah. I became disgusted over the capitulation from some of the town’s peoples.  I found the book built slowly after the initial accident and might have even dragged a bit in the middle.  Much like the river that slowly moved the logs to the mill and left the toxins to leach into the water until the whole river was enmeshed.
The end was a surprise to me, which I liked. There was a little of magical realism in the book, which I didn’t mind surprisingly. The resolution showed the corruptness of power and the fallibility of people and to me - hope.

Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner

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Lisa Gardner's new book might be titled Fear Nothing, but don't let that fool you. There are things in the dark to fear. In this case a serial killer on the loose that is somehow wrapped up in a serial killer who has died and his two daughters. One is in jail for murder and is an antisocial personality disorder, a narcissistic nightmare and the other a prominent psychiatrist who feels no pain, literally.

Into this maelstrom, DD Warren investigates a murder. She goes back to the scene to investigate late a night only to be found at the bottom of the stair unconscious later. She is badly hurt and is off the case, but that did not stop her, because another killer is on the loose, the serial Rose Killer. DD has drawn his/her attention and now she is being “stalked” by the killer. 

Great Read! Fun Read! Creepy Read! Fear Nothing has very nice structure to the story with several great characters and mounting tension. This is one to enjoy.


The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton

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In June of 1942 During WWII, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands and through massive efforts of the United States Military were evicted the following May (1943). This arena of the war was mostly unknown as there were black outs of the media in Alaska.  This is the setting of Brian Payton’s book The Wind is Not a River.  John Easley, a reporter decides to honor his brother’s death in WWII by investigating the rumors of what is happening in the Aleutians. Meanwhile, his wife does not want him to leave.  He leaves after harsh words quietly in the middle of the night.

The plane that John was able to sneak onto crashed over the islands.  John and a young service man found themselves on an island without any resources.  It is from here that the story truly starts to take your breath away, as they try to survive without being caught.  Meanwhile Helen knows something is wrong and is determined to get to where her husband is.  She finds herself cast in many roles as she looks for her husband.   

The book was a journey of love and survival at the most basic level and opened my eyes. I continue to be astounded over how far some people can go for love and how much suffering is too much. The Aleutian Islands are some of the harshest places on earth for survival. The search for a missing man who was secreted in the area for news was both painful and powerful.

The Wind is Not a River will resonant with me for quite some time. Emotionally the book brings you on a journey of life allowing you to witness both characters as they struggle to survive.  The sheer will of survival is highlighted again and again. 

A Great Read.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Marti's February Picks


Zoo by James Patterson

Zoo by James Patterson knocked the socks right off of me. Why? The plot was too close to something that could actually happen. The reasoning of what happened was all too real. The government officials – just frosted me. I mean – I was furious with the self-centered and self-righteousness of the government officials. As long as it didn’t bother them! GRRRRR...

The premise of the book was that there are many incidences of unusual animal behaviors occurring. The main character, Jackson Oz has for sometime been trying to get people to pay attention. No one has believed him and he needs proof. Then he goes to Africa to investigate and that’s when it all happens!

As with all James Patterson books, it read quickly and kept my interest! This was one of the few books of his that absolutely blew my mind! I was not expecting a dystopian novel.



Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a powerfully moving book about the life of Louis Zamperini. The majority of the focus was on his time during World War II when he was shot down, later captured by the Japanese and survived in their camps. Louis was an Olympic runner. He was improving in his sport and looked forward to competing in the next Olympics. But WWII intervened, as it did for many people, and Louis went to war. Certainly his bravery and ability to survive was highlighted, but his descent into the darkness of PTSD after the war was also highlighted. This book is one of the most powerful books, I have ever read.



This book was earth shattering. Due to the factual writing style of the author, information was presented as a straight recall without added emotion. This made the book readable. In reading how badly the American POWs were treated made me sick to my stomach. Intellectually, I do understand how a prisoner of war camp needs to have discipline and strict rules. I absolutely cannot justify the beatings and starvations that occurred so regularly. 

The powerfulness of the book cannot be underscored sufficiently. This has brought home to me more than anything else why, Tom Brokaw called this generation of men and women the Greatest Generation. Having said that, it is also clear to me that any man and/or woman who goes into battle is a hero, knowing the consequences of their choices could have life long ramifications.

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow is a story about power and secrets.  There is a flow of life around a river in a small logging town.  The river defines the rhythm and their fortunes of the people through the mills.  The Androscoggin is such a river and the small town of Titan Falls, NH is such a town.  The people of Titan were hardscrabble people.  Surviving in the bitter cold and heat, along with the noxious fumes of the plant and its toxic runoffs.

The family who owned the mill ran this world. They held the power over who survived in this small town.  Into this world came three siblings, used to making do. Needing a place to be.  There was family land and a place to stay.  Mercy, Zeke and Hannah Snow struggled to survive the harshness of Titan.
Things might have been quietly the same until the bus accident. From the wreckage of the accident, another body was found and another mystery opened up. Someone caused it and someone would need to pay.

Zeke went on the run to hide as he was going to be accused of causing the accident.  Mercy who had found work with Hazel and her sheep struggled to survive and take care of Hannah.  Meanwhile, June the wife of the mill owner Cal has her own suspicions and continued to force people to turn away from the Snow family.

To me the book showed so much of what could and did happen in small mill towns.  I found all the characters realistic – with both good and bad traits.  I worried over Mercy and Hannah. I became disgusted over the capitulation from some of the town’s peoples.  I found the book built slowly after the initial accident and might have even dragged a bit in the middle.  Much like the river that slowly moved the logs to the mill and left the toxins to leach into the water until the whole river was enmeshed.

The end was a surprise to me, which I liked. There was a little of magical realism in the book, which I didn’t mind surprisingly. The resolution showed the corruptness of power and the fallibility of people and to me - hope.




Safe With Me by Amy Hatvany

This is a novel that is going to be published in March. While this is my first time reading a novel by her, this is not her first book. I received this book through Book Browse with the understanding of providing an honest evaluation of the book.

This book touches on difficult issues: loss of a child, organ donation and spousal abuse. There is a poignancy to the grief and a sharpness to the fear. Amy Hatvany delivers characters struggling with their burdens. Their emotions underline the passion of the novel. Even during the hardest times, there is an underlying positiveness to the novel, with your hope moving them forward. 

Hannah has lost her daughter, Alice. A tragic accident has left her raw with grief as she slowly pushes everything and everyone away. Her daughter's organs are donated to children needing transplants. Meanwhile, in a parallel story line, Olivia is living with her husband of many years and their teenage daughter who desperately needs a liver. Maddie is growing weaker daily, while waiting for a match. The two stories begin their connection when Maddie receives Alice's liver. However, it is as the story line continues that the secrets of Olivia and Maddie's lives are revealed. 



This is the first Amy Hatvany novel I have read. I have enjoyed this book and will be adding her name to the writers to watch for. I was able to read the book easily in a day and found myself engaged with the storyline and empathetic with the characters.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Karrie's January Pick




Colum McCann

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61wAgmDqFCL.jpgThis story is a roller coaster ride of emotions. A beautiful entanglement of stories that speak to the human nature about pain and love, faith and forgiveness. One morning in 1974 New York City is abuzz with the rumor that a man is walking a tightrope between the World Trade Centers. Frantic excitement lures people to the scene and causes gossip all over Manhattan. In the Bronx, an Irish monk, Corrigan lives purely and amongst prostitutes in hopes of curing the evil he believes is inside him. He spends his time helping at the old folks home and lending his bathroom to the prostitutes - living simply for others. In upper Manhattan, Claire, looks forward to entertaining the other mother's in her support group as she tries to find a way to cope with the affects of Vietnam. And in upstate New York, Lara, a young artist, struggles to learn how to fix the mistakes she has made in life. Love has gone wrong, drugs have ruined her morals, and a life-shattering accident has flipped her world into perspective. All the while a man is walking, skipping, jumping, cart-wheeling, tumbling across a tightrope between the Twin Towers - not caring is he falls so long as his body is at peace.






 




Sunday, January 19, 2014

Morgan's January Picks

 

Mr. Penumbra's 24 - Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hours Bookstore had everything I look for in a book: drama, action, romance, a deeper meaning and lots of comic relief. The characters were relatable and interesting. 

The story is one of a quest to solve an age old mystery. It is a search for immortality, a battle with a secret society and a sort of coming of age tale for the main character. The story begins in a very peculiar book shop that is open all hours of the day and night and is managed by a wonderful older fellow named Mr. Penumbra. The story takes us all over the United States and keeps us on our toes as we go from the headquarters of Google to an underground secret reading room in New York.

Each of the characters successfully portrays a different type of person in our time, those who embrace technology wholeheartedly, those who straddle the divide between books and computers and those who seem completely against innovation.  The conflict in the book between the digital age and the written word helps bring forward important questions that our society will be grappling with for some time. This book is for true book fans as well as anyone who loves a little bit of mystery and puzzle solving. Mr. Penumbra was especially interesting for me as a character and I think his story line in the book was one of the most engaging. Now out in paperback this is definitely worth a read!


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Nancy Horan does an incredible job of bringing to life an impossibly difficult love story between Frank Loyd Wright and his Mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A difficult portrait of both individuals at times it is still a beautiful retelling of their lives together. The story is interwoven with true historical details of Wright's life in architecture and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with his investors, partners and friends. This is a great read for fans of historical fiction, romance and contemporary fiction. Knowing that this book was published several years ago I should mention for all of you who have already read Loving Frank and enjoyed it Horan's newest book will hit the shelves in the next few weeks!
 



Friday, January 17, 2014

Marti's January Picks


January is the time for Resolutions

It’s that time of the year where we all make resolutions.  Some actually become a new habit or thought process. It takes 6 weeks for something to become a new habit. Others, well they disappear.  In an article, in the Boston Globe, Doctors in England are prescribing books to help combat some illnesses. With that thought in mind and knowing all about new resolutions, a list of “help” books seems to fit the bill (of health, that is).

Human Rights

Half the Sky:  Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D Kristof

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

Thinking and Making Decisions

Predictably Irrational:  The Hidden Forces That Shape Our
Decisions by Dan Ariely
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tell:  Little Clues that Reveal Big Secrets about Who We Are by Matthew Hertenstein
Top Brain, Bottom Brain:  Surprising Insights into How You Think by Stephen Kosslyn

Mental Health

Exist No More:  The Art of Squeezing the Most Out of Life by Detavio Samuels
Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by Jennifer Michael Hecht
A Street Cat Named Bob:  How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen
Staying Strong – 365 Days a Year by Demi Lovato

Weight and Food

A Big Fat Crisis by Deborah A Cohen
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
In Defense of Food:  An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
Grain Brain:  The Surprising Truth about Meat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers by David Perlmutter
Wheat Belly:  Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
Salt Sugar Fat:  How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss



Saturday, December 21, 2013

Marti's Christmas Reads


I love Christmas time! The lights and the decorations sparkling bright against the darkness lift my soul. Most of all I love the children’s books about Christmas. I have favorites, of course, that I have reread and shared many times. My Aunt Sue started me on this path, by sharing some of her favorites with me. I was lucky enough to share these books with many children for a few years with another teacher. We used the books to help identify various elements in reading, while sharing the love of stories.

One of my favorites is Peef, The Christmas Bear. This is a delightful story about unselfish giving of something you love. Santa makes a bear out of scraps of fabric and then the bear comes to life under his hand. Peef is the word the bear says when you squeeze his stomach. Santa and Peef worked with the elves to prepare for Christmas, but Peef recognized something was wrong with his life. I also have the actual bear (see the picture above) that I share with children as we read.
There are two other Peef books that follow: A Silent Night for Peef and Peef and his Best Friend.

Another favorite is Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera. The illustrations are fabulous. The moral: It is far better to give than to receive. Sophie is a little girl who lives near her Auntie Claus. She receives important instructions every day about Christmas from her Aunt. One day, she decides to follow Auntie Claus on her “annual business trip”. What a surprise for Sophie when she finds Auntie Claus! This book is full of wonderful hints and foreshadowing! My favorite character is Mr. Pudding.(Oh Dear! Oh Dear!) There are two other books that follow this: Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmas and Auntie Claus, Home for the Holiday.

A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe was another book that Aunt Sue gave me. I love this book because the animals helped a too tall tree to be a Christmas tree while helping him see that the most important thing was to be the best friend he could be. The illustrations are wonderful with all the animals portrayed so life like. This story focuses on the importance of helping a friend. The decorations the animals share with such caring made me realize how simple and beautiful a tree can be.

There are many, many, many other Christmas storybooks to share with each other. I have listed only a few below.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett

Santa Mouse, Where Are You? By Michael Brown

Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray

Snowman at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess

A Baker’s Dozen by Aaron Shepard and Wendy Edelson

Other great winter tales:

The Mitten by Jan Brett

Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman