Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time begins as a mystery told from the point of view of Christopher John Francis Boone, a very unique teenager. Christopher finds the neighbor’s dog dead in the yard and decides to write a book about his investigation into the matter. After his father repeatedly tells him to mind his own business, a secret is revealed to Christopher that sends him off on an even bigger adventure. His quest brings him to new places, creates new experiences, and redefines his life as he knows it.

While I can’t recall the author ever directly saying what makes Christopher so different, it seems clear to me that Christopher has autism. This book is an interesting, and I believe amazingly accurate, look inside the head of a person with autism. The glimpse inside Christopher’s mind is fun, quirky, and somewhat maddening at times. His skewed views of the world make the most mundane daily tasks seem like terrifying and exciting adventures.

The book is uniquely written and refreshing. This book breaks the mold of a typical novel by numbering the chapters with prime numbers (because those are the numbers Christopher likes), and using mathematical formulas, sketches, and charts throughout. While I laughed out loud at the oddities of the book in the beginning, I did find it to be a bit tiring by the end. Being inside Christopher’s mind was exhausting and I was glad when the story was over. Altogether an interesting read, though not one of my favorites.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher
is set in World War II and Post World War II Hong Kong as Janice Y.K. Lee tells the tale of one man’s interactions during and after the war. Throughout the novel, she skillfully moves from one time line to another. In the beginning we are introduced to Will Truesdale, an Englishman who has just moved to Hong Kong who quickly falls for Trudy, who is the daughter of an affluent Chinese businessman. We follow their story into the Japanese attack on Hong Kong and are given a small glimpse into history. As Janice Y.K. Lee is telling Will and Trudy’s tale she also weaves in the tale of Will and Claire, the piano teacher, which takes place after the war.

This is a must read simply because it is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. Reading fiction is a treat itself, but it is all the better when you can read about pieces of history neatly woven into the lives of the fictional characters. Janice Y.K. Lee does a wonderful job of weaving in the factual information with the fictional. We are given a look at the Japanese occupation through both the eyes of Trudy and Will. Once the Japanese completely take over, Will is interned and his life in the camps is less than easy. Trudy is left on the outside to fend for herself and through her eyes we are given a look at the Japanese soldiers, as she must make friends with them to survive.

While I definitely recommend this book because of its historical elements and the authors uncanny ability to switch from one time line to another, I was frustrated with some of the characters' decisions and the ending of the book. I felt that the epilogue ending was rather quick and inconclusive.

The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Paul and Lauren’s marriage is in trouble. Lauren is sure he is having an affair and she decides the way to deal with his betrayal is to have an affair as well. As she spends an amazing evening with a man she has been dreaming about for some time, the night takes an unbelievable twist and Lauren finds herself in the middle of a nightmare.

This book is so fast paced and full of surprises it is hard to summarize it without giving anything away. Patterson hits the gate running from the prologue and doesn’t slow down until the last page. You will read this novel at a full sprint.
The Quickie stays true to its name and is an excellent poolside read for the summer or as a way to spice up a cold winter night. You won’t get bogged down with words or lost in a description of the weather and landscapes or deep inner thoughts. It’s simply action, action, action. Short and sweet, just like the book.

The Memory Keeper’s Daugher by Kim Edwards

The book begins in 1964 with the birth of twins and the formation of a secret so unbelievable that it haunts all those involved for the rest of their lives. One baby is healthy, while the other is born with Down syndrome. The father asks the nurse to take the baby away to an institution and he tells the mother that her daughter died in childbirth. Instantly in love with the out casted child, the nurse is unable to send her away and decides to go into hiding to raise the baby on her own. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is the story of how this one fateful night shapes the lives of these two families for the rest of their years.

It seems almost impossible that this could be Kim Edwards’s first novel. It is so beautifully written that the reader genuinely shares the pain and regret of each character in the story. The lives of these two families are seamlessly woven together. At many points in the story I just wasn’t sure who I was rooting for. As is so often true in real life, there is no clear hero in this story, only people that rise on some occasions and fall so far on others. As the story came full circle I began to think there was no way this book could end in a way that gave me closure, but I was pleasantly surprised. Read this book. Then go find someone you have done wrong and tell them you’re sorry, for goodness sake.

Marley and Me by John Grogan

While Marley and Me may technically be nonfiction, it reads like a beautiful work of fiction. It is the story of a dog and the role he plays in his owner’s lives as they journey through the ups and down of life and the journey into civilized adulthood.

Right from the start Marley terrorizes the peaceful life John and Jenny have created. He destroys their house and pushes them to their limits. The situation only gets worse as the couple begin to have children. They constantly go back and forth on whether to keep Marley or find him a new home. By the end of the story, they realize that even with his antics Marley has played an important role in the story of their lives.

I got a puppy shortly after college when I was living on my own. I quickly realized I had made a huge mistake. When I seemed to be at my wits end with my dog, someone begged me to read Marley and Me before I took her back to the pound. As I finished the book I hugged Rizz through a haze of tears and promised her she would live out all her days with me. I still have Rizz, and she’s my best friend.

Marley and Me is heart-wrenching and beautifully written. Anyone who has ever loved a dog will love this book. Please, please, please don’t just settle for the movie. You need to feel the power and emotion behind John Grogan’s words. You will love this family and more importantly you will love Marley.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Gemma Doyle was raised in India in the late nineteenth century. After the mysterious death of her mother, Gemma is sent to the Spence Academy in England to finish her schooling and learn how to become a lady. Gripped by despair, guilt, and terrifying visions Gemma finds herself an outcast at the academy. She then befriends a group of Spence’s most powerful girls, and Gemma finds that she is able to control her visions and transfer herself and her friends to a supernatural world. It’s there she learns that she is connected to a group of powerful women known as the Order. Gemma must decide whether to trust her instincts and pursue her powers or listen to the warning of the mysterious young man that is following her.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is both a beautiful and frightening tale of young girls on the brink of womanhood and the choices they must make. As if toying with the supernatural wasn’t difficult enough, Gemma and her friends are faced with the decisions that every teenage girl must make. Confusion over boys, the pressures of school, and daily quarrels with each other can make the lives of the Spence girls seem downright dramatic.

Libba Bray creates loveable and sometimes despicable characters that are so true to reality they might have been modeled after our own high school friends. The character of Gemma is strong, independent, and utterly interesting. It was almost hard to believe she would struggle to make friends, since I wanted to call her up and have drinks (if not of course for the small obstacle that she is only sixteen and in fact not real). A Great and Terrible Beauty places these fantastic characters in a glowing green English countryside, throws in a little magic, and we find ourselves at the start of what is sure to be a wonderful adventure. Thank goodness there’s a sequel.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer

This is the true story of child abuse told from the mouth of a man that lived it. A Child Called “It” is Dave Pelzer’s account of life as the child that was the outlet for his alcoholic, emotionally unstable mother’s frustration with life. Never called by name, starved almost to death, and hidden away in the basement for years of his life, Dave Pelzer overcame this living nightmare to write a series of books about his life. This is the first in the series of three. It focuses on his childhood up to the fifth grade when observant teachers helped to bring his abuse to an end.

I was disgusted while reading this book. Not with the book, but with the fact that it is nonfiction. It’s rare that I read a nonfiction book, but when a fellow teacher told me how this book changed her way of thinking about her students, there was no way I could walk away from it. If you work with children in any way, you must read this book. It will make you angry. It will make you sick, but you must find the strength to read it. The fact that this woman was able to torment this child for so long without anyone knowing had me looking at each of my students with fresh eyes. It made me see that I need to understand their lives outside of school in order to understand their performance inside my classroom.

Underneath the wretchedness of this story is a theme of determination and perseverance that will steal your heart. Little David’s ability to hold on to hope is inspiring. To survive reading this book I had to keep reminding myself that it would be okay, he would live to write his story. I was able to keep reading because I knew he was going to make it. Where did he find his strength?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
is a fascinating tale about an eleven year old chemist/detective, Flavia de Luce. Set in the English town of Bishop's Lacy, Flavia de Luce battles with her two older sisters who seem to despise her as she attempts to solve a murder that happened in her very own back yard. She does all this using her chemistry lab left to her by an auspicious uncle while relying on her bike as her means of transportation to gather clues. This is the first Flavia de Luce mystery, with the second: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag to be released in March 2010.

Readers will most likely fall in love with Flavia de Luce after the first twenty pages. She is a fearless and determined eleven year old girl who will stop at nothing to solve a crime or to get revenge. After being tied up for hours by her two older sisters, Flavia skillfully concocts a remedy for her sisters' bad behaviors in her chemistry lab. Flavia cruises around Bishop's Lacy on her bike, which she has creatively named Gladys, in attempts to discover who has killed a mysterious man in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw, the great house where she lives.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a page turner that will send you out looking for the next book in the series. Thankfully Alan Bradley is feeding our addictions and has already released the titles of the next five books.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Set in a dismal view of the future, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins follows the story of Katniss as she is sent into the arena to fight for her life in a game of survival. Chosen through a drawing created by the corrupt government of Panem, one boy and one girl from each district is sent to the games. The children must fight to the death and the winner is the only one left alive. Katniss must choose between life, love, and loyalty in a story that makes us question our ideas of quality entertainment. The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy with the final book being released in summer 2010.

Sarah's review:
The Hunger Games is a delicious morsel of a book that leaves me starving for more. Although it is considered young adult literature, the themes of the book relate to teens and adults alike. The story is told from Katniss's point of view and the reader is really able to get inside her head. She is the warrior every teenage girl hopes she will be. The love story that begins to unfold is juicy and enticing and I had to follow up immediately with the second installment in the series, Catching Fire. The Hunger Games is an adventure from start to finish. It's a quick read but will stay on the mind long after you are through. Although the concept of the book seems farfetched, it makes one think about how far reality TV will go and exactly what we consider to be entertainment. Why do millions of Americans engross themselves in shows like Survivor, or worse yet, Jersey Shore? As for me? I'll stick to books like The Hunger Games.

Erienne's review:
Suzanne Collins does a superb job with her first book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Not only is the novel filled with excitement that leaves you not wanting to put it down, it is also jam packed with thought provoking issues such as desensitization and the value of human life. The gruesome death match is aired on television for all to see and the people of Panem are required to watch. While the people in the districts do not particularly enjoy this, those within the Capitol find it intriguing. Viewers cheer for their favorite contender and simply watch while the chosen children kill one another in hopes of being the last remaining survivor. The onlookers within the Capitol hold little regard for who lives or dies while those within the districts are watching for even a glimpse of their representative. While The Hunger Games is a book where you will find love and excitement, it is also a book that will leave you thinking about many of the issues that we encounter today.