Friday, November 29, 2013

Ding Dong! Gorilla!

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Peachtree Publishers; we had the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.
I have a daughter that also read this book, and my review will include her opinion as well.

Ding Dong! Gorilla! by Michelle Robinson

Summary (via NetGalley):
A little boy has a lot of explaining to do when a gorilla comes over and makes a mess of the house...and that's not even the BAD news!
While his mother gets ready upstairs, a boy is waiting for the delivery of a great big pizza with extra cheese.  When the doorbell rings, it isn't the pizza guy it's a gorilla!  Without even being invited in, the gorilla heads straight for mischief.  He dumps out the boy's toy box, colors on the walls, kicks soccer balls in the house, and makes a giant mess in the kitchen.  And that's not even the bad news!  While all this mayhem is going on, the real pizza boy comes, and the gorilla doesn't leave any for the family!

Megan's Opinion (my 7 year old 2nd grader):
"It was a nice book and it was sad at the end because there wasn't any pizza and he went through all that for no pizza.  And all he wanted was some pizza but then a gorilla came in and crashed everything.  The pictures were very neat and they were very colorful.  I thought it was funny when the pizza boy ran away because of the gorilla."

My Opinion:
This was a very cute book.  It was a perfect length with great illustrations.  A fun story.  

Bellman & Black

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 84.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Atria Books for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Summary (via NetGalley):
One moment in time can haunt you forever.
Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly.  It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten.  By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seem sot have put the whole incident behind him.  It was as if he never killed the thing at all.  But rooks don't forget.
Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William's life, his fortunes begin to turn - and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root.  In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain with an even stranger partner.  Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.

My Opinion:
This book was intriguing but not exciting.  It was quiet, building and building to the end.  My only complaint is that the ending felt a little too soft and quiet; I expected a more climatic moment between Bellman and Black.
It held my interest and was well-written, and I will read more by the author.

Quote of the Blog:
*Since this was an ARC, I can't quote directly from the book like I normally would.  Instead I've found another quote that seems fitting.
"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." ~ Irish headstone

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hate List

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 83.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Summary (via the book jacket):
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria.  Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saved the life of a classmate, but was implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create.  A list of people and things she and Nick hated.  The list he used to pick his targets.
Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year.  Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends, and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

My Opinion:
When a mass shooting occurs, I think of the loved ones of the perpetrators, especially the moms.  They have very real grief but are isolated, judged, and blamed while the world demonizes their loved one.  
The author tackled a delicate, unpopular perspective, and did it well.  Valerie loved Nick and is trying to reconcile her horror at what he did with her love for the boyfriend he was.  She feels anger - at Nick for doing it, her friends and family for abandoning her (oh my heart ached for the way her parents treated her), and the world for blaming her.  Yet she can't completely discount their thoughts because she also feels guilty and blames herself for not seeing the signs and stopping him.
On the YA spectrum, this is closer to the "young" side than the "adult" side, but it was a solid, interesting read.

Quote from the Book:
"You were beloved, son.  You were my beloved.  Even after all of this, I still remember the beloved you.  I can't forget."

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Truth About Forever

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 82.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Summary (via Goodreads):
A long hot summer...
That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp.  Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of her father.
But sometimes unexpected things can happen - things like the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew.  Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories.  Things like meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy that could turn any girl's world upside down.  As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder, Is it really better to be safe than sorry?

My Opinion:
This book was okay.  It was a standard YA storyline with cookie cutter characters.
Maybe I'm disappointed because I've heard really good things about Sarah Dessen's books and expected this (the first one of hers I've read) to be outstanding.  I'm still interested and will definitely read another one of her books, but this particular one just didn't grab me.

Quote from the Book:
"I am not a spontaneous person.  But when you're alone in the world, really alone, you have no choice but to be open to suggestions."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 81.

I would like to thank NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for the opportunity to read and honestly review this book.

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter by Rachael Hanel

Summary (via Goodreads):
Rachael Hanel's name was inscribed on a gravestone when she was eleven years old.  Yet this wasn't at all unusual in her world: her father was a gravedigger in the small Minnesota town of Waseca, and death was her family's business.  Her parents were forty-two years old and in good health when they erected their gravestone - Rachael's name was simply a branch on the sprawling family tree etched on the back of the stone.  As she puts it: I grew up in cemeteries.
And you don't grow up in cemeteries - surrounded by headstones and stories, questions, curiosity - without becoming an adept and sensitive observer of death and loss as experienced by the people in this small town.  For Rachael Hanel, wandering among tombstones, reading the names, and wondering about the townsfolk and their lives, death was, in many ways, beautiful and mysterious.  Death and mourning: these she understood.  But when Rachael's father - Digger O'Dell - passes away suddenly when she is fifteen, she and her family are abruptly and harshly transformed from bystanders to participants.  And for the first time, Rachael realizes that death and grief are very different.

My Opinion:
I could relate to the author as she described her fascination with the stories behind the graves.  Like her, I also began reading true crime stories and obituaries at a very young age and I find cemeteries peaceful, respectful, and comforting.  From an early age my family instilled a deep appreciation of history and human experience and exploring cemeteries is something we did together and I continue to do; this makes me sound much more morbid than I actually am.
The author has a nice writing style.  This may not be a book that makes a big impact (as the author acknowledges, there is no big climatic ending), but personally, I enjoyed reading it.
I'm also happy the pictures were included in the digital copy I read; they complemented the text very well.
Quote of the Blog:
*Since I read an ARC of this book, I can't quote directly from it as I normally would.  Instead, I've found another quote that seems appropriate.
"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living." ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Thousand White Women

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 80.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

Historical fiction.

*The actual historical event*:   At a peace conference in 1854, a North Cheyenne chief requested that the U.S. Army provide one thousand white women as brides for his warriors; they reasoned this would be a good way to assimilate the Indians into Western civilization.  The request was denied.

*In the book*:  The request was approved.  May Dodd chooses to participate in the secret government program to escape her family after being committed to an insane asylum for loving a man beneath her station.  The story follows her journey west, her marriage to Little Wolf, and her conflict between two loves and two worlds.

My Opinion:
May Dodd is an excellent narrator because she is romantic and dramatic but also straightforward and honest.  The author has a very descriptive writing style; even the act of squatting to urinate was given poetic phrasing ("for the place I occupy on earth is no more permanent than the water I now make, absorbed by the sandy soil, dried instantly by the constant prairie wind...").
The ending was a bit abrupt but I understand the reasons why and the epilogue helped wrap everything up.
This is a solid book and I will read other books by the author.

Quote from the Book:
"Frankly, from the way I have been treated by the so-called 'civilized' people in my life, I rather look forward to residency among the savages."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 79.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Summary (via Goodreads):
Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives - the ones we'd like to pretend never happened - are in fact the ones that define us.  In this book, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor.  Chapters include: "Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel";  "A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband"; "My Vagina is Fine. Thanks for Asking";  "And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane".  Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

My Opinion:
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I wasn't familiar with her before but definitely will check out her blog.  I love her writing style and dark humor.
Recommended if you like off-beat stories and don't mind the word "vagina".

Quote from the Book:
"The weirdest thing about my getting a cow pregnant when I was in high school is that I wasn't even enrolled in that class."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Rapture of the Nerds

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 78.

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

Summary (via the book jacket):
It's the dusk of the twenty-first century, and Earth has a population of a billion or so.  For the most part, we're happy with our lot.  Those who aren't have emigrated off-planet, joining one of the swarming densethinker clades of the inner solar system.  These posthuman consciousnesses have mostly sworn off dealing with their still-human cousins, but their minds sometimes wander...and when that happens, they casually spam Earth's networks with disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems.
A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there's always someone who'll take a bite from the forbidden apple.  So until the overminds get bored with stirring Earth's anthill, there's tech jury service: random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them loose.  Huw, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been selected for the latest jury.
And he'll do his best...despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors.

My Opinion:
Yes, the summary is a bit jumbled but sci-fi stories are notoriously difficult to sum up so I gave it a shot based on the funny title and starred review from Booklist.  Unfortunately, the book is over and I'm still not clear on what exactly it was about, other than saying the summary didn't match the story.  Spoilers prevent me from saying more, but the themes and overtones were not what I expected at all.  The weirdness of the story would be offputting for some but that wasn't the case for me.  For me, it was the amount of utter concentration this book required to keep everything straight, especially at the beginning when new characters were being introduced constantly.  Although it settled down about halfway through (which is why I always finish the books I start), I just couldn't shake my initial reaction and it soured my experience.

At times it felt like a competition between the two authors to see who could write the biggest words and longest sentence possible.  There were many sentences to choose from but kudos to the one that wrote this: "Huw zones out during the endless subcommittee meetings that last into early evening, then suffers himself to be dragged to the hotel refectory by Doc Dagbjort and a dusky Romanian Lothario from the Cordon Bleu Catering Committee who casts pointed and ugly looks at him until he slouches away from his baklava and dispiritedly climbs the unfinished concrete utility stairway to sublevel 1, where his toil is to begin".

The starred review implies that maybe I just missed the boat on this one and I can accept that.  But my personal opinion...skip it.

Quote from the Book:
"Huw tries to imagine what the old Huw, the Huw who went down to his pottery every day, would have felt about being turned into a woman by a bunch of quiasisentient ants en route to immortal transcendence."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Then Again

My goal is to read 100 books by the end of 2013.  I just finished book 77.

Then Again by Diane Keaton

Summary (excerpt from the book jacket):
In this memoir, Diane not only reveals herself to us, she also lets us meet in intimate detail her mother.  Over the course of her life, Dorothy kept eighty-five journals - literally thousands of pages - in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and, most probingly, herself.  Dorothy also recorded memorable stories about Diane's grandparents.  Diane has sorted through these pages to paint an unflinching portrait of her mother - a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy, struggling to find an outlet for her talents - as well as her entire family, recounting a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.

My Opinion:
Although I recognize Diane Keaton enough that I could hear her voice as I was reading it, I didn't pick this book up because I'm a huge fan and wanted to know more about her specifically.  I'm just an ardent observer of people and read biographies and memoirs for the snapshot they provide into others' lives and experiences.
As much as I read them, I struggle reviewing biographies and memoirs because it would be like judging someone's life.  I will say that as a book, it read a bit slowly and whimpered out to a soft ending, but as a life and relationship with her mother, she sounds very lucky to have remained true to herself and still had success.
Neutral on my recommendation.

Quote from the Book:
"Mom was different.  She didn't judge me or try to tell me what to think.  She let me think."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ick! Yuck! Ew!

Although I normally don't review the books I read with my kids, I am making an exception for this book to show my appreciation to NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group; we had the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.
I have a daughter that also read this book, and my review will include her opinion as well.

Ick! Yuck! Ew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey

The reader is transported to June 1770 to learn about "gross" daily life in early America.  The author is careful to note that she is only informing, not judging or making fun of early settlers; they did the best they could with the information they had at the time. 

Alison's Opinion (10 year old 4th grader):
"Well, it was informational and gross about the past.  Who knew people did that?  The chapter about poop was gross.  The second chapter was about bugs - how could people sleep with bugs crawling on them?  The third chapter was about germs - their diseases were disgusting and I'm glad we don't have them.  People usually lost their children.  The last chapter was about fashion and I'm glad we don't have to wear the heavy petticoats and we can just wear jeans.  I don't like corsets either, I prefer slouching.
I liked the book and I would recommend it to people who would want to know about the past.  But don't eat lunch right before reading it." 

My Opinion:
Yuck!  My head is itching after reading the chapter about bugs.  The chapter on fashion was the most interesting to me.  Fun fact: shoes weren't made for left and right feet; they all had the same shape, which would have been incredibly uncomfortable.
The book was well-written and informative.  Based on the level of information presented and the potential squeamishness (the real photo of a person with smallpox blisters especially), I would recommend it for ages 8-12.