Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Author: Garth Stein
Pages:  321
Rating: PG-13 (there is a little too much swearing for my taste, including probably about 10-12 instances of the F-bomb. Also, the dog does describe his master having sex with his wife twice, but it is not very graphic. This is more of an adult novel for sure.)

Summary: Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television and listening carefully to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Now in his twilight years, Enzo finds himself thinking back on his life with the Swift family, reflecting on all he has learned about the human condition and how life, like racing, is about so much more than simply going fast.

My Thoughts: I read this book in about 2 days. It was a really quick read, and you just don't want to put it down. I love that the whole thing is told from the dog's perspective. If you like dogs, you'll probably like this book. However, even though there is a lot about racing and different race car drivers, which is something I'm not remotely interested in, I never got bored with it. It was never so much that I felt like it took anything away from the story. In fact, it helped me love Enzo even more. By the end, I wanted him to be MY dog, and I'm not really a dog person!

A little more about the storyline - Denny is constantly torn between opportunities to further his racing career and being there with his family. A race car driver often has to be away from his family for months at a time. After his wife's death, Denny is sued by his in-laws for custody of his daughter, Zoe. All of this is told through the eyes of the ever loyal, totally understanding and helpful dog, Enzo. Enzo has complete and total faith in his master to be able to get through these difficult challenges and move on, just like he does during races when something unexpected happens.

I really enjoyed this sweet story. I could have done with fewer swear words, but overall it was a quick read with a feel-good ending One of my favorite quotes from Enzo is towards the end, when he knows he is on his deathbed. "Have I made a mistake by anticipating my future and shunning my present?" Such a good question for us each to ponder every single day.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Nightingale

Author: Kristin Hannah
Pages: 438
Rating: PG-13 (It's war, it's intense, there are 2 F-bombs, and a few other scattered bad words, but not many, most of the swearing is done in French, so unless you know French swear words, it's not a big deal. A woman is raped, there is some torture and of course, people are killed.)

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
FRANCE, 1939
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. World War II is my favorite period of history to read about because I am just constantly amazed at the bravery and toughness that carried these people through such a difficult time. I loved this book because it was all about the "women's war." Towards the end of the book there is a quote that I thought was so awesome. "Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over." I just loved that. Men went out and fought the war, but women fought in their own way. The war was terrible for everyone, not just those who had to fight or who got sent to camps.

I love the realistic-ness of the characters. I felt that they were real people with real stories. Vianne's story is so heart wrenching because she is forced time and again to make the choice over whether to protect her family or try to save her friends and others. She does her best, and sometimes her choices are difficult and cause her a lot of guilt.  Nazi-occupied countries were not fun places to live. The Germans took all the food and resources for themselves and left the people of the countries they occupied to starve and freeze. It was no picnic.

Then there's Vianne's little sister Isabelle, who is determined to do ANYTHING to resist the Nazi's and help free France. She sometimes makes rash decisions, but she is so incredibly brave. She ends up helping to create an escape route for downed Allied airmen that allows them to get safely into Spain and from there, back to England or another Allied country. The one thing I missed in this book was an afterword explaining which parts of the story were true, so I looked it up. It seems as if Isabelle's story was loosely based on a woman named Dedee de Jongh, who really did help hundreds of airmen escape from France. You can read about it here. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/15/AR2007101501218.html

This book is also about love, and about families. Vianne, Isabelle, and their father have never had great relationships with each other. But the war teaches them what is really important and that they truly do love each other and want to help and protect each other.

I highly recommend this book. It's so good you won't hardly be able to put it down, and when you finally do, you'll have a new appreciation for how good your life really is. You'll wonder if you could have been so brave, if you could have endured the kinds of things Vianne and Isabelle had to endure in this book. Even though they are fictional characters, the events that transpired are real, the things they endured really happened. We can't ever afford to forget that.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Author: Brian Selznick
Pages:  629 (but 2/3 of the pages are full page pictures)
Rating: G
Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother's room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories--Ben's told in words, Rose's in pictures--weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful--with over 460 pages of original artwork--Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.

My Thoughts:
 Brian Selznick is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I just absolutely love how his books are so different from anything you've read before. The book looks enormous but it's really more of a short story because so much of it is told only through pictures, which I think is great for kids and is a fun and relaxing way to read a book.

Ben is a young boy who has recently lost his mother and doesn't know who his father is (that's the only reason I would probably be wary of this book for really young children - later Ben finds out who his father was, his parents were never married). He knows that he is very interested in museums and everything to do with museums. When Ben goes through yet another traumatic event he decides to set off to find his father, going by a few small clues his mother had left behind. On his journey he meets a new friend who understands him in a way no one else ever has, and he even reconnects with a long lost relative. It's not a complicated or particularly deep story, but I just love the pictures and the way everything is woven together.


Author: Marissa Meyer
Pages: 222
Rating: PG-13 (Levana is not a nice person and some of the stuff she does is rather awful)

Pure evil has a name, hides behind a mask of deceit, and uses her "glamour" to gain power. But who is Queen Levana? Long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress in The Lunar Chronicles, Levana lived a very different story--a story that has never been told . . . until now.

My Thoughts: This book is a prequel to the Lunar Chronicles books, which I have also reviewed on here. It was a quick read, and definitely interesting. I thought it was nice to get some back story on Levana. Some people think this book is trying to garner sympathy for her, which I think it does to an extent, but still, by the end, she has done so many bad things, justifying them away as being "necessary" that you don't really feel that bad for her. She's the definition of a crazy person because every awful thing she does she feels as if she has a perfectly good reason for it and it needed to be done, even if it causes her pain and sorrow as well. I feel a little bit sorry for her, but it's also pretty clear that there's nothing that can be done to change the person that she is at this point. She's come too far. 

As far as order goes, if you haven't read any of the Lunar Chronicles books, I suppose you could start here, but I feel it kind of fits in anywhere. Having read the other books, there were things I already understood about Levana, but if you haven't read them it doesn't really matter. By the end of the book you're basically at the point where Cinder begins, so it starts of the series nicely.


Author: Roald Dahl
Pages: 240
Rating: PG

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she's just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It'll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!

My Thoughts: I know this is a really old book, but I've actually never read it before, so I gave it a try. In case you haven't read it, it's a very quick read, good for kids, probably best for mid-to upper elementary students. The first thing I thought when I read it was "Whoa! This book is so outdated!" 4 year old Matilda walks herself to the library and back every day to read books while her mother goes off to play bridge or bingo or something with her friends. The response of the librarian is to "keep an eye on her." Any book written nowadays, that child would be in foster care faster than you can blink!

Matilda's parents are absolutely horrible, and they aren't very nice to her either. She devises clever ways to get back at them for the way they treat her, although I noticed it's mainly her father who gets the pranks pulled on him. Then Matilda goes to school where first of all, she's learning her times tables in kindergarten (was that a thing?) but she meets the headmistriss, Miss Trunchbull, who abuses the students and teachers in her school in a way that would never in a million years be tolerated in a real school.

I never read this as a kid, so I'm just responding to it as an adult and honestly I thought it was a bit over the top. But kids will probably still like it for years to come because the heroine is a child overcoming those crazy adults.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Pages: 530
Rating: PG-13 (There is a little bit of language from soldiers, and a group of girls gets raped by Russian soldiers near the end, but the description is very vague)

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
My Thoughts: I can't say that this book was life-changing, but it was definitely very interesting and enjoyable to read and it gave me a lot to think about. I felt like the author really knew each of his characters and what they were going through. Sometimes the descriptions of things were confusing and I wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about. I will say that I loved that this is a work of historical fiction that seems as if every sentence could have been fact. I sometimes lost sight of the fact that this was a work of fiction and I wanted to tell people about it as if Werner and Marie-Laure actually lived.

The book is organized into very short, 2-3 page chapters that go back and forth between Marie-Laure's and Werner's perspectives, with an occasional interruption from another minor character. This I liked because it made the book easy to read in quick spurts. The book ALSO jumps back and forth in time. There will be several chapters in a row about the end of the war, and then several chapters in a row about Werner and Marie-Laure's childhood. I didn't feel like this was confusing, however. I kind of liked it.

I think my favorite part of this book was the perspectives it showed. I've read a lot of World War 2 books, both fiction and non-fiction and most of the time, the books I've read focused on those who ended up stuck in Germany's horrific concentration camps. This book tells the story of a young boy forced into service in the German military, and a young, blind, French girl dealing with the occupation of her country. I particularly liked Werner's story. Although fiction, it resonated with truth. Werner is happy that his skill with radios saves him from working in his town mines and allows him to attend an elite school for German youth. However, this school is not without its brutality and cruelty, as the boys are taught to hate any sign of weakness in anyone, even their own countrymen, and to believe wholeheartedly in the superiority of the Aryan race.

When Werner is finally sent to war, his skills with the radio again save him from any real fighting, as he is on a task force that travels through Germany's conquered countries and tracks down any illegal radio transmissions. Whenever they find anyone with an illegal radio that they are using to broadcast information, they kill them. Werner voices his discomfort about this, since he has been taught that these people are all ruthless terrorists and highly organized criminals, but all he ever sees are simple people in simple dwellings. I just loved that this book portrayed the fact that war is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved, no matter which side you are on. Not all Germans were bad. Not all German soldiers believed in what they were fighting for.

The ending of this book was sad, and surprising. I didn't think it was going to end in the way it did. But I feel like it was very realistic. War devastates countries and lives, and you just do the best you can to keep moving, to keep living and I felt like that's what the ending of this book portrayed. I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in history.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Wind in the Willows

Author: Kenneth Grahame
Pages: 259
Rating: PG - only because the word "ass" is used numerous times - this book was written in an era where that word was simply another word for "fool" or "stupid" and no one thought anything of using it as such.

The adventures begin when Mole, feeling all the restlessness that springtime brings, abandons his burrow to discover the magic of the great river. With the able assistance of Rat, Mole learns to row and swim, and the chums fill their idyllic days with summertime rambles along the river and cozy fireside feasts on crisp nights. The pair take to the open road with the pleasure-loving Toad, track reclusive Badger to his snug lair, and stand together to reclaim Toad Hall from an invasion of stoats, ferrets, and weasels.

My Thoughts: This is a nice little book and each chapter is pretty much it's own little story. Toad's story is woven throughout but mostly, you could just read a chapter at random and have a cute little anecdote. The language used in this book is rather old fashioned, which makes it kind of fun, because I wasn't familiar with all the vocabulary used in it. It's definitely a children's book, although I don't know how many children would actually be captivated by these simple little stories in today's fast-paced world. Which is a shame really. I also wasn't really a fan of Toad. He's really full of himself, and he kind of gets off scott-free in the end, which I didn't love either. But there are a lot of really good lessons about friendship in here.

Scarlet Moon

Author: Debbie Viguie
Pages: 157

Rating: PG - the wolf kills some people and they are found with throats ripped out, etc. Not horribly graphic, but definitely not G-rated

Ruth's grandmother lives in the forest, banished there for the "evil" that the townsfolk believed she practiced. But if studying the stars, learning about nature, and dreaming of flying is evil, then Ruth is guilty of it too. Whenever Ruth took food and supplies to her grandmother, she would sit with the old woman for hours, listening and learning.
When she wasn't in the woods, Ruth was learning the trade of her father, a blacksmith, now that her brother would never return from the Crusades.
Amidst those dark days, a new man enters Ruth's life. William is a noble with a hot temper and a bad name, and he makes her shiver. But the young man is prey to his heritage, a curse placed on his family ages ago, and each male of the family has strange blood running in his veins. Now Ruth must come face-to-face with his destiny at Grandma's house.

My Thoughts: Other than the fact that, as in most fairy-tales, our hero and heroine are madly in love with each other and decide to get married after knowing each other for only a few days, I really enjoyed this retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It has a darkness to it that makes for a really fun twist. I wasn't sure about the ending, the whole thing seemed a little too simple. But, this is a quick, fun, and easy little read, and I enjoyed it more than some of the other retold fairy tales I've read.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

3 in 1 Retold Fairy Tales: Golden, Beauty Sleep, and Belle

Author: Cameron Dokey
Rating: G - all 3 books are appropriate for even elementary girls

Pages: Golden - 181, Beauty Sleep - 186, Belle - 208

Golden Summary: 
Before Rapunzel's birth, her mother made a dangerous deal with the sorceress Melisande: If she could not love newborn Rapunzel just as she appeared, she would surrender the child to Melisande. When Rapunzel was born completely bald and without hope of ever growing hair, her horrified mother sent her away with the sorceress to an uncertain future.

After sixteen years of raising Rapunzel as her own child, Melisande reveals that she has another daughter, Rue, who was cursed by a wizard years ago and needs Rapunzel's help. Rue and Rapunzel have precisely "two nights and the day that falls between" to break the enchantment. But bitterness and envy come between the girls, and if they fail to work together, Rue will remain cursed...forever.

My Thoughts: I put this book first because it was my favorite of the three and had the most imaginative retelling. I mean, come on...Rapunzel isn't supposed to be BALD! I feel like the summary above did a really good job of telling about this book so I don't have much to add, but I really loved the message this book contained about true beauty being on the inside and that true love is something you have to work at every single day. There was one quote from the book I particularly liked. "That is what love is. A possibility that becomes a choice. A choice you keep making, over and over. Day after day. Year after year. Time after time." Honestly, this is the best Once Upon a Time book I've read so far. I just loved it. Such a sweet little story and so good! Definitely worth the read.

Beauty Sleep Summary:
With these seemingly innocent words, the fate of a newborn princess is sealed. For years the king and queen despaired of ever having a child. When Aurore arrives, though the entire kingdom celebrates, not all are overjoyed. They use her christening as an occasion for revenge, and her young life is overshadowed by a curse of death almost as soon as it has begun. Those who can, intervene, but evil has a way of holding fast. A sleep of a hundred years following the pricking of a finger is the best that can be done.
And so Aurore grows up. Forbidden princesslike tasks of embroidery and sewing, she explores the great outdoors, reveling in the flora and fauna that surround her castle home. Then one day she meets a handsome stranger in an enchanted wood and begins an adventure the likes of which she never dreamed of.
This is the story of the Sleeping Beauty, here quite awake and given new voice. Taunted by fate, Aurore soon learns that although she cannot sidestep her own destiny, love itself is actually the most powerful magic of all.
My Thoughts: I wasn't quite as thrilled with this one, although the story was different than what I expected. When Aurore turns 16, bad things start happening in the kingdom, and Aurore soon realizes that it's her fault. Until she fulfills the curse, by pricking her finger, the kingdom will continue to suffer. So she runs away to meet her destiny, and it's kind of odd what happens next. I'm not sure I was super thrilled with the way this story was put together, or with the ending, but it was definitely a different version of this story.

Belle Summary:
Belle is convinced she has the wrong name, as she lacks her sisters' awe-inspiring beauty. So she withdraws from society, devoting her time to wood carving. Secretly, Belle longs to find the fabled Heartwood Tree. If carved by the right hands, the Heartwood will reveal the face of one's true love.

During a fierce storm, Belle's father stumbles upon the mysterious Heartwood -- and encounters a terrifying and lonely Beast. Now Belle must carve the Heartwood to save her father, and learn to see not with the eyes of her mind, but with the eyes of her heart.

My Thoughts: This was my least favorite of the 3 only because the fairy tale stays almost exactly true to the version we all know so well. There's not much variation. The addition of the Heartwood Tree is about the only thing that makes this story different from the Disney version, honestly. So...I didn't feel like it was worth the read so much.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Snow Child

Author: Eowyn Ivey
Pages: 386
Rating: PG - There is vague talk of sex

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

My Thoughts: I honestly was not too impressed with this book. It kept my interest, it was very well written, and I was hooked on it for sure, but I kept expecting something really amazingly moving or interesting to happen and it just never did. The ending was disappointing to me. Maybe it was because I was more interested in Faina's story than in Jack and Mabel's, and the book is really about the relationship between Jack and Mabel and how it changes and grows.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Counting By 7s

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Pages: 378
Rating: G

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

My Thoughts: While this book is getting raving reviews all over GoodReads, I didn't think it was that memorable. It's a quick read, since the chapters, paragraphs, and even the sentences are very short and choppy. It's constantly switching viewpoints between Willow's 1st person narrative and literally every other character's 3rd person.  I didn't find that particulary annoying, but I just thought this book would be different. There wasn't a lot of descriptive language, a lot of the events are kind of unrealistic, and it all just kind of felt hazy, if that makes sense. I was kind of interested in the plot line of a 12 year old genius trying to find her place in the world, but it's really more about a girl trying to deal with the fact that she is suddenly an orphan with no other family in the world. She didn't really need to be a genius to make the plot any better (or worse). I thought it was an ok book, it did keep my interest, but mostly because it was just such a quick read. I wasn't dying to finish it and I didn't feel moved or forever changed by this book. It's a good teen novel though.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Pages: 406
Rating: PG-13 (It's war. It's graphic. It's violent. It's mature. However, there is another version of this book that is written specifically with a teen audience in mind, if you want your kid to read it but don't think they can handle this version.)

In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

My Thoughts: This book was FASCINATING! In the author's note at the end, Hillenbrand makes the point that when we learn about WWII in school, the main focus is on the European war, which is kind of strange considering that it was Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor that got the US into the war, and our atomic bomb drops on Japan that finally and officially ended the ordeal. How come we never really learn about the war in the Pacific? I had no idea all the crazy stuff that was going on. I mean, yes, Hitler and his minions were pure evil and they were doing terrible things, but crazy crap was going down in Japan and the Pacific Islands too. Here are some amazing things I learned that just shocked me.

1. "Between November 1943 and May 1945, 70% of the men listed as killed in action died in operational aircraft accidents, not as a result of enemy action." How sad is that? We lost tens of thousands of men before they even left for foreign soil, just in training accidents or routine practice flights. The book says that in the air corps, 35,946 men died in non-battle situations. So, so sad.

2. Being in the air corps back then was basically signing your own death sentence. An airman was required to fulfill 40 missions before finishing their tour of duty. There was a 50% chance of being killed before completing that tour.

3. Japan was a BRUTAL enemy. Their prison camps I think were actually worse than Hitler's concentration camps. Although Japan didn't have gas chambers in which they routinely gassed prisoners, they did have doctors conducting gruesome medical experiments on prisoners, and they had something called the "kill-all order." If it looked like the Allied forces were getting close to whatever island a Japanese POW camp was located on, the guards would murder every single prisoner. And in several camps, that's exactly what they did, sometimes in gruesome and sadistic ways.

Louie (from the book) made it farther than most airmen that crashed in the ocean. He survived being adrift at sea for over a month. But then he got stuck in a POW camp, and your chances of survival there were slim to none. One particular guard was so brutal that he would beat men until they passed out, then revive them by throwing water on their faces or patting their foreheads with a damp cloth, and then continue the beatings. Another time, when Louie was caught for a minor infraction, this guard required all the prisoners to punch Louie square in the face. If the prisoner did not punch hard enough, he had to keep punching until this guard was satisfied with the force. The only thing that saved Louie from the "kill-all" policy was the atomic bomb. The war ended just weeks before the prisoners in Louie's camp had been told they would all be executed.

It's just an incredible story, and I think everyone needs to read it. These men went through so much, and it continued after the war. We know a lot more about PTSD now than they did back then, and these poor men suffered without relief. Many turned to alcoholism or drugs. Some committed suicide. The war did not end in their minds and in their dreams. I can't even imagine having to go through such a difficult trial.

And we as Americans currently have no idea what it's like to be in such a crisis. We don't know what it's like to have everything rationed, because the war is taking over every resource. Back then, almost every family in America had lost a father, son, brother, uncle, or cousin to the war. I sincerely hope we never have to go through something like that again. But, we need to not forget what those people suffered. And Louie's story is repeated over and over again for each of the thousands of men that suffered through WWII, whether they survived or not. We don't even know the stories of many of the men who died, what horrors they experienced. It's very humbling.

As I said, I was thrilled to discover that there is another version of this book written especially for teens/young adults. I would highly recommend that to you if you have a teenager or if you just don't want to invest yourself in this longer version. But seriously, read it. It's incredible.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Secret Keeper

Author: Kate Morton
Pages: 481
Rating:  PG-13

During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past. Clue by clue, she traces a secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds thrown together in war-torn London—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—whose lives are forever after entwined. A gripping story of deception and passion, The Secret Keeper will keep you enthralled to the last page.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed reading this book but it went a little bit too slow for me. I didn't enjoy how it kept going back and forth between Laurel's life in the present and Dorothy's life during WWII. I would have preferred just reading long stretches of Dorothy. And by the way, the crime is...Laurel watches her mother stab a man with a knife and kill him. The scary thing was, the man knows her name. I still really did enjoy this book, it was really interesting. And I do have to say, the ending was not what I expected. I got to a certain point and I thought, ok, ok, I know how this all pans out. But I was dead wrong. It will surprise you.

Hidden Talents

Author: David Lubar
Pages:  213
Rating:  PG
Martin Anderson and his friends don't like being called losers. But they've been called that for so long even they start to believe it. Until Martin makes an incredible discovery: each of his friends has a special hidden talent.

Edgeview Alternative School was supposed to be end of the road. But for Martin and his friends, it just might be a new beginning.

My Thoughts: I really enjoy this little book. It would be good for late elementary or early middle schoolers. Martin doesn't know why teachers always seem to intensely dislike him. He has been expelled from nearly ever school he's ever been to, and is eventually sent to Edgeview. Which is no picnic. There are bullies, the kids there are all sorts of weird, and there's no way out. It's the end of the road. Until Martin discovers that his friends each have a special power. One is psychic, another is telekinetic. With these special talents, they set to work changing the way their school works, and how everyone thinks of them as well. It's a very interesting read, and Martin, as the narrator, is very entertaining and funny.

Until We Meet Again: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Holocaust

Author: Michael Korenblit and Kathleen Jander
Pages: 300
Rating: PG-13 (It's the Holocaust, some scenes are a little traumatic but there was nothing I considered to be overly graphic)

Summary: 1942. A small town in Poland. Two Jewish families flee to hiding places, hoping to evade deportation by the Nazis. At the last moment, 17-year-old Manya makes the heart-wrenching decision to leave her family and join her sweetheart, Meyer, also 17, with his family. For three long years, Manya and Meyer endure the loss of their parents and siblings, separation from each other, and the horror of concentration camps, including Auschwitz - but are helped at key points by courageous Polish Catholics and are constantly sustained by their faith and their love for each other. Co-authored by the couple's son Michael, this absorbing and suspenseful narrative reads like a novel, yet tells a true story of love and horror, sacrifice and courage, with a conclusion that is truly miraculous.

My Thoughts: I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. I believe it was one of the first Holocaust books I ever read, and got me completely hooked on reading survival stories. I was just so amazed at this incredible story. Manya ends up bringing her brother Chaim with her to hide with Meyer's family, saving his life. Her family's hiding place is discovered and her entire family killed. The really miraculous part is that Manya loses contact with Chaim and neither is able to find each other after the war. For 30 years, they each assume they are the only surviving members of their family, until Manya's son stumbles upon Chaim living in England. Meyer's family also goes through several losses, and he retains only one brother. Their story is so incredibly amazing. In a time where so few Jews were lucky enough to stay alive, somehow, this pair manages it, and they find each other in the end. I can't even imagine going through something so terrible, losing my entire family, and wondering if I will ever see the people I love ever again. It's just incredible. If you're going to read any book about the Holocaust, seriously, read this one. Manya and Meyer beat the odds when the odds were unbeatable. And it never ceases to amaze me.

The Truth About Forever

Author: Sarah Dessen
Pages: 374
Rating: PG-13 (Some language, underage drinking)

Summary: A long, hot summer. That's what sixteen-year-old Macy Queen has to look forward to. Her boyfriend, Jason, is going away to Brain Camp. She's stuck with a dull-as-dishwater job at the library. And all of her free time promises to be spent studying for the SATs or grieving silently with her mother over her father's death. But everything changes when Macy is corralled into helping out at one of her mother's open house events, and she meets the chaotic Wish Catering crew. Before long, Macy ditches her library job and joins up with the Wish gang: bighearted Delia; quiet, introspective Monica; and fun-loving, fashion-conscious Kristy. But best of all, there's Wes - artistic, insightful, and understanding Wes - who gets Macy to look at life in a whole new way....

My Thoughts: I really enjoy Dessen as an author. I own several of her books, and I think they're great teen novels. Macy has not really had it easy since her father died suddenly of a heart attack. Her relationship with her mother is strained, as they both have different ways of dealing with grief, and it is not helping them to connect. I love how this story explores a teen girl's efforts to discover who she really is and what kinds of things she wants from life through the lens of tragedy. Macy has to learn that life is not always going to be under her control. It won't always be perfect and predictable. And that's ok.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson

Author: Heidi S. Swinton
Pages: 528
Rating: G

To the Rescue is the much-anticipated official biography of President Thomas S. Monson. Beginning with President Monson's family heritage and his early years in Salt Lake City, it includes his vocational preparation and his career in the world of journalism. More important, this inspiring book recounts his lifetime of Church service. Called as a bishop at the age of twenty-two, as a mission president at thirty-one, and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at age thirty-six, he has traveled the globe to minister to the Saints for more than fifty years. This book shares many of his personal experiences, from his visits behind the Iron Curtain to his contributions on the Scriptures Publication Committee and in the missionary and welfare areas; it also provides up-to-the-minute information about his work as Church President. Filled with wonderful photographs and little-known accounts, this biography is a portrait of a leader who ministers both to the one and to the many, and who is completely dedicated to doing whatever the Lord prompts him to do.

My Thoughts: I've been slowly reading this book over the last several months, and finally finished it. SO GOOD. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the life of a man I have admired and loved ever since I was a child. President Monson is unique in that he has spent the majority of his life in full-time service to the church. But yet, he has always listened intently to the Spirit, and reached out to individuals. He has never allowed himself to get lost in the prestige of his calling or the importance of his work. He always makes time for the small things, to visit old friends, to make new friends, and to speak at the funerals of the many people whose lives he has touched. He never lets meetings to be run become more important than an individual who may need a minute of his attention.

After reading this book, I had an even deeper respect for President Monson than I ever have before. I would say to anyone who questions the way the church is run, read this book. Once you learn about the kind of man President Monson is, there is no question left in your mind but that he cares for each person individually, and that he is doing his absolute best to run the Church the way the Lord would have it done. He is seriously an incredible man, and I felt inspired as I read it to try a little harder to reach out and show kindness to others. If I have the feeling to do something nice for someone, I shouldn't second guess it or rationalize the thought away, I should just do it. I don't know, maybe that small act is the answer to a prayer.

One of my favorite quotes was towards the end and I think perfectly encapsulates the type of person that President Monson is. "Some people, if they are really prominent, he will treat very kindly but he probably won't visit their homes. But if you are the lowly of the earth, he is likely to drop in any time." He truly cares about each individual he meets. I highly recommend reading this book. You'll want to be a better person, trust me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Chronicles of Narnia

Author: C. S. Lewis
Books in Series: The Magician's Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Horse and His Boy; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; The Last Battle

The Magician's Nephew: On a daring quest to save a life, two friends are hurled into another world, where an evil sorceress seeks to enslave them. But then the lion Aslan's song weaves itself into the fabric of a new land, a land that will be known as Narnia. And in Narnia, all things are possible. (This is the story of how Narnia is created, and also how the white witch came to be in Narnia.)

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.

The Horse and His Boy
 On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself. (This one is the most disconnected from the rest of the books, in that it is about a random character who never surfaces in any other stories. But it was still interesting.)

Prince Caspian 
The Pevensie siblings travel back to Narnia to help a prince denied his rightful throne as he gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 
A king and some unexpected companions embark on a voyage that will take them beyond all known lands. As they sail farther and farther from charted waters, they discover that their quest is more than they imagined and that the world's end is only the beginning.

The Silver Chair
Through dangers untold and caverns deep and dark, a noble band of friends is sent to rescue a prince held captive. But their mission to Underland brings them face-to-face with an evil more beautiful and more deadly than they ever expected.

The Last Battle
During the last days of Narnia, the land faces its fiercest challenge—not an invader from without but an enemy from within. Lies and treachery have taken root, and only the king and a small band of loyal followers can prevent the destruction of all they hold dear in this, the magnificent ending to The Chronicles of Narnia.

My Thoughts: I read all the Narnia books back in 4th grade, but barely remembered how they went, so I decided to read them again, this time specifically looking for the religious aspect of the books. Which was a really fun thing to do really. I enjoyed picking out the parallels between Aslan and Christ, each time the great lion shows up in the stories.I personally feel that while each book is a great, adventuresome story, told in a very personal way (Lewis writes as if he is telling each story to you and only you) there really is no way to escape the religious themes of the books. To me, they were SO OBVIOUS! Which is what made the books so fun to read, for me. I would say my least favorite was "The Horse and His Boy" although I still enjoyed the underlying theme of it that Christ is always there helping us along our path, even if we may not realize it.

My favorite book, hands down was "The Last Battle." There is so much based on religion in that book, I can't even begin to start describing it. But it was so good, particularly the end of it. Honestly, while these books were technically written for children, I would definitely recommend them to any adult, especially a religious one. I felt like I learned so many great lessons about faith, loyalty, redemption, and the love of Christ. It was definitely worth the time it took to reread them all.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Author: David Wroblewski
Pages: 562
Rating: PG-13 - I think there was some language and also it's kind of violent in some places. It's very mature, that's for sure.

Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose remarkable gift for companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar's lifelong friend and ally. Edgar seems poised to carry on his family's traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he finds his once-peaceful home engulfed in turmoil.
Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the Sawtelle farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who accompany him, until the day he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved.
Filled with breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a meditation on the limits of language and what lies beyond, a brilliantly inventive retelling of an ancient story, and an epic tale of devotion, betrayal, and courage in the American heartland.

My Thoughts: I really don't know what to say about this book. I think that Wroblewski is a good writer, because there was never a point where I was just plain bored and wanted to put the book down, but I didn't really GET it. First of all, the book is way too long. There are lots of places where the author feels the need to talk about some aspect of dog training or breeding for several pages, and it does nothing whatsoever to further the storyline. It's definitely interesting and different, but I'm not sure I'm happy that I spent so much of my time reading it. Also, the story is supposed to be a modern day retelling of Hamlet....so that gives you an idea of how the book ends. It's very unsatisfying.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Flight Behavior

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages: 433

Rating: PG - some mild language
Summary: Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

My Thoughts: I honestly was not thrilled with this book. I really love Barbara Kingsolver, but I felt like this book wasn't as life changed as it's made out to be. Possibly because I can't relate to the main character. Also, I do have to say that if you're after a book with incredible descriptive language, look no further. Kingsolver can definitely paint amazing pictures with her words. But I felt like too much of the book was focused on these word paintings, and not enough on an actual story.

Kingsolver likes to give her novels a political agenda, and this one is climate change. Dellarobia and her family find that the mountain range behind their house has unexpectedly become home to millions of migrating butterflies. The only problem is, these butterflies are not supposed to be there. A scientist named Ovid Byron comes to stay and study the butterflies and what they might be doing there, and Dellarobia becomes his pupil and assistant in the effort. Dr. Byron's opinion is that climate change is rapidly ruining the earth and killing off animals who are now confused about how their migration patterns should go. It's definitely interesting, to say the least. The point is made that climate change is often denied because it's so big and seemingly unstoppable that we'd rather just not think about it.

You may find this book to be interesting, but I was a little disappointed. However, if you think you might relate to Dellarobia, or if you are interested in learning a LOT about the monarch butterfly, you can give it a try.