Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Set in the 1980s, Rory Dawn Hendrix is a young girl living with her mother in a Reno trailer park. Rory's maternal lineage includes a mother and grandmother who were both pregnant before turning 16.  They are also high school dropouts, chain smokers, and welfare dependents.  Rory's trailer park, the Calle de la Flores, is no safe place for a child to be raised.  Violence and child abuse abound and children are often left alone while parents work or spend their nights at the local bar. 

Despite being brought up in the Calle, Rory attempts to be a proper girl by following the guidelines in the girlscout handbook she checked out from her school library.  She often feels that she will fall into the same traps as the women who came before her,  but her grandmother is sure that she will be the one to escape and make something of herself.  

My Thoughts: 
Tupelo Hassman's debut novel is a coming of age story that takes a close look into the life of a poor, white girl whose future does not look so bright.  Hassman creatively combines social workers' reports, letters, diary entires, arrest records, memories, etc. to give readers a glimpse into Rory's life.  While this book does not read like a typical novel, you will find yourself immersed in the story, rooting for Rory to create a destiny of her own.   

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman

The Sparrow women have all been blessed with unusual talents- some of those talents have been more of a curse. Stella Sparrow wakes on her 13th birthday to find that she can see how a person will die. When she begs her father to prevent a murder, he winds up as the main suspect in the case. This causes Stella and her mother to return to the small Massachusetts town from which they came and to the home of the grandmother Stella has never known. The history of the Sparrow women and the small town of Unity unravel as the characters learn about love and forgiveness.

I wanted so badly to like this book. All the elements of a great story were there: a beautiful setting, a touch of history, a mystery, strong female characters, and a little bit of magic. Sadly, it just never quite clicked together. There were too many characters and not enough time to love any of them. There was no sense of drama to the story. Honestly, I really didn't see much of a point to the story at all. I've been trying to finish this book for months. I tried it in audio form and in text and I finally realized if I was going to review it I would just have to suffer through. Alice Hoffman has been praised for her beautiful writing and this is her sixteenth novel. If you want to see what the fuss is all about I would recommed trying something other than The Probable Future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

"The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible."

Carol Rifka Brunt's heart wrenching novel begins by introducing 14 year old June Elbus.  June is a self proclaimed "weird" girl who enjoys venturing into the woods behind her school and imagining that she lives in the Middle Ages.  There is only one person who really understands June and all her weirdness and that is her Uncle Finn.  Finn is a world renowned painter who is also gay.  June finds out at the beginning of the novel that Finn has AIDS and is dying.  Before he dies, Finn is determined to paint a portrait of June and her older sister which requires weekly visits to his New York apartment. 

Set in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic, June's mother forbids her from meeting or being around Uncle Finn's "special friend."  It is not until he dies that June finds out about Finn's boyfriend, Toby. Her mother continues to forbid her from seeing Toby, but June is determined to hang on to Finn's memory and meeting with Toby is the only way she knows how to do that. While her family believes that Toby is a murderer, June seeks to learn all about Toby and the life he lived with her uncle.

My Thoughts:  
This novel was a little slow in the beginning, but once I got about a fourth of the way in, I could not put it down.  While June has a special relationship with her Uncle Finn, who is also her godfather, this novel is more about the forbidden relationship that June develops with Toby after Finn's death.  It is also about June's relationship with her mean older sister who used to be her best friend.   In a nutshell, this is a story about many different types of relationships and how they shape our lives.  While sad, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a book you will not want to miss.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schiltz

Thirteen year old Lizzie Rose and eleven year old Parsefall are two orphans who have been taken in by Grisini, an ominous master puppeteer. The story begins with Grisini and his wards performing at young Clara Wintermute's 12th birthday party.  The night of the party, Clara goes missing and Grisini is suspected to be her kidnapper. No solid evidence can be found to implicate Grisini, but Clara's father is certain he has a part in the kidnapping.  

Shortly after this initial event, Grisini goes missing. He has been summoned by Cassandra, a witch with whom he has had a longtime magical rivalry.   He leaves Lizzie Rose, Parsefall, and all of his puppets with the land lady.  While trying to make enough money to earn their keep, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall discover a new puppet in their trunk that shockingly looks exactly like Clara.  While they struggle to believe that Clara could have been transformed into a puppet, they cannot help but wonder what powers Grisini may possess.  

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall soon receive a letter from Cassandra, inviting them to visit her before she dies and possibly be left an inheritance.  With nowhere left to go, the orphans decide to visit this strange lady in hopes of finding a safe haven.  Little do they know that Grisini is staying in Cassandra's gatehouse and that they are in danger of becoming mixed up in more magic than they ever thought existed.  

My Thoughts:
In this novel, Laura Amy Schiltz does a great job of weaving multiple story lines into one final and connected story. In the beginning Clara's disappearance is the focus, but soon it seems that Clara is forgotten as Lizzie Rose and Parsefall attempt to survive on their own.  Clara soon resurfaces and becomes a main player in helping the two orphans escape the evil  magic of Grisini and Cassandra. 

This novel is technically a children's book and has just won a Newbery Honor Award.  I personally enjoy reading children's novels and thought that this was an excellent book. Pick this one up for yourself or recommend it for an upper elementary or middle grade kid that enjoys reading fantasy. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Alex, a seventeen year old traipsing through the wilderness as she ventures to spread her parent's remains in Lake Superior, discovers a lot more than she bargained for. Told from her point of view, Ashes tells the story of Alex and those she encounters in the Waucamaw Wilderness of Michigan.  Four days into her trip, Alex is suddenly struck with an excruciating pain which she initially believes to be caused by the brain tumor that has been slowly killing her.  She starts to believe otherwise when she discovers that those around have had the same experience and some are even dead. Her journey after the "zap" brings new discoveries as she travels with two other survivors (Tom: a war veteran and Ellie: an 8 year old whose grandfather died after the zap) and they deduce that the "zap" must have been some sort of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) explosion.  They also discover that the "zap" has caused most teenagers to turn zombie like and go on killing sprees. 

Tom, Ellie and Alex must fight for survival in a new world and the adventures only begin with these characters.  Warning:  This book is full of blood and guts and even some cannibalism.   But, it is a page turner with suspense around every corner and definitely one of the best books I have read in a while (I would rate it up there with The Hunger Games).   

What's Next: The second book in the Ashes Trilogy, Shadows, was released in Fall of 2012 and the third book, Monster, is scheduled to be released in September 2013.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

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

The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest--not a friendly Californian forest either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight's reach. There were ladders that clung to the shelves and rolled side-to-side. Usually those seem charming, but here, stretching up into the gloom, the were ominous.  They whispered rumors of accidents in the dark. 

Robin Sloan's award winning novel opens with 26-year-old Clay Jannon scouring the Help Wanted ads for a job.  Clay, an art school graduate, lost his former job as a web designer for a bagel company when the recession hit.  Having no luck with Help Wanted Ads, Clay eventually begins wandering the streets looking for a place to work.  He quickly spots a Help Wanted sign for a night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. 

Upon entering, Clay realizes that Mr. Penumbra's bookstore is very different from most.  The narrow store has shelves that reach all the way to the ceiling and require a rolling ladder to be reached.  Mr. Penumbra is jovial, but a little weird.  Clay is offered the night clerk job only when he reveals that his favorite books are a fantasy series called The Dragon Song Chronicles.    Penumbra then gives him three employee rules that must be followed:  

1) Never be late or leave your shift early; 
2) Take detailed notes of all customer interactions;
3) Do not read the curious-looking leather bound books on the top shelves.  

Clay soon learns that the customers who frequent the bookstore are equally strange and don't actually purchase books, but instead borrow the forbidden leather bound books on the "Wayback Shelves." Clay begins to analyze customer book choices and discovers that Penumbra and his customers have some sort of secret book fellowship.  With the help of his friends, Clay sets off on a quest to decode the mysteries hidden within the shelves of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. 

My Thoughts: 
Booklovers, you will love this book!  Cyber geeks, you will also  enjoy this novel as Sloan does an amazing job of connecting the two worlds.  If you fall into both of these categories, then this book is a must read. You will smile and laugh as Sloan's witty humor comes through on almost every page.  Oh and did I mention... the book cover glows in the dark!!!! 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Arlene has a dark secret. Ten years ago she made a deal with God that if He would just help her keep it she'd never come back to Alabama again, but promises are hard to keep and the south is calling her home. Arlene and her boyfriend Burr make the long voyage to Alabama as Arlene's story unravels and her past comes back. What really happened? Is it possible that the truth can come in many different versions? Is there a chance for redemption?

You know I have a soft spot for southern literature, especially books that conjure up the thick heat of a summer day and the slow fluid movement of a small southern town. I picked Gods in Alabama for that reason, but was pleased to find the book had much more to offer. The author uses vivid and honest language to paint the story from Arlene's point of view. I will warn that Arlene can be blunt and sometimes crass.  The book is full of sexual references and seedy behavior so readers of a more timid nature may find it a little much. 

What I liked most about the book was how Joshilyn Jackson was able to craft such an unreliable narrator. It's rare in books to find that you simply aren't sure if you can trust your narrator, or even like her at times. The story is ultimately a who-dunnit wrapped up in good gossip. As you read you won't be sure who you're rooting for, but it's a good ride all the way to the end.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Any Downton Abbey fans out there?  I began watching Downton Abbey about a year ago and have been hooked since.  After finishing Season 3, I went into a bit of withdrawal and longed for another story set in a similar time period.  I read Jane Eyre about 5 years ago when I joined my very first book club.  I am forever grateful to the leader of this book club because she picked great books that I probably wouldn't have picked on my own.  Jane Eyre was one of those.  It took me about 1/4 of the book to actually get into it, but I eventually fell in love with the story.  To help with my Downton withdrawal, I decided to read it again and hopefully encourage you  to read it as well! 

Charlotte Bronte's tale begins with a 10 year old Jane Eyre.  Jane's parents died when she was just a baby and she was sent to live at Gateshead.  Gateshead belonged to her Uncle Reed who died soon after Jane went to reside there.  Resentful of Mr. Reed's fondness of Jane, Mrs. Reed and her children treat Jane with contempt.  After much abuse from the Reed family, Jane is sent to Lowood School where she lives until she is 18.  Despite being called a liar by the headmaster in front of the entire school, Jane soon proves herself otherwise and is quite successful during her time there.  She gains favor with the school's superintendent, Miss Temple, learns French, and even teaches at Lowood for a short time after her graduation.  With a desire to seek new adventures, Jane posts an advertisement and soon accepts a position at Thornfield Hall as a governess.  Jane becomes responsible for the education of a little French girl, Adele.  Jane eventually learns that Adele is the ward of Thornfield's master, Mr. Rochester.  Mr. Rochester and Jane soon become very fond of one another and eventually fall in love.  Mr. Rochester proposes to Jane and they plan to be married only to have their plans thwarted by mysterious happenings at Thornfield Hall. 

My Thoughts: 
Reading Jane Eyre for the second time caused me fall in love with the story all over again.  Jane, even though she is a very plain girl, is full of life and very strong willed.  She holds true to her values despite many troubles that come her way and refuses to live a life of sadness and remorse.  This timeless story is definitely one that all lovers of fiction should read at some point in their lives. 

Note: The most recent film adaptation of Jane Eyre is great.  Be sure to check it out: