Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood

The Lost Sisterhood
Anne Fortier

The Lost Sisterhood

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure--you'll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she's delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.


Review:  First of all, I think the author of this book did an amazing job depicting the life of Myrina, head of the elusive Amazon tribe of women, and tying her story in to the modern day discoveries of the philologist Diana.  I could never write a book this interesting in a million years, and I have nothing but admiration for someone who can.

I wanted to love this book - I like adventure stories about treasure hunts, I like historical fiction, I like books about women, and I especially like historical fiction where women are the main characters in a treasure hunt.  And the story of Myrina's life in ancient Africa, Crete, Troy and Germany was novel and interesting.  But, there were lots of things about this book that drove me nuts.  First, it was WAY too long and convoluted.  Second, the romance between Diana and Nick was inexplicable - she thought he was a villain, then discovered he'd been lying to her about everything, then fell in love with him?  No way, she was too smart for that.  Third, there seemed to be some kind of weird political anti-government and anti-American agenda going on, and it had no place in this novel whatsoever.  And fourth, there were too many coincidences that were just too unbelievable.

I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had focused primarily on Myrina, skipped the romance entirely, and been a good deal shorter!

Rating: 3 stars

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Ivan is an easygoing gorilla.  Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain.  He rarely misses his life in the jungle.  In fact, he hardly ever things about it at all.

Instead, Ivan things about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  But mostly Ivan things about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home-and his own art-through new eyes.  When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
From the book jacket

Becky's Review:  It's hard to really like juvenile fiction books because they seem so young to me but this book was not like that.  I loved that the author told the story from the perspective of the gorilla.  Ivan  is an interesting character and he has depth even though he's a gorilla.  This was an uplifting story of an animal who cares for others and does everything within his power to help his friends.  The chapters went by very quickly and there wasn't much writing on each page.  I did find that a little fragmented but perhaps it was done that way since this book is intended for a much younger audience.  I would definitely recommend this book to kids and their parents.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Marcie's Review: I had NO IDEA that this book was written from the point of view of a gorilla, and I'm not sure I would have chosen to read it if I had known this in advance.  I'm thankful that I didn't know, because I loved this book!  It was so interesting to read about Ivan's perspective on humans, how people talk too much, use too many words, and buy too many ridiculous things.  He was a very observant and intelligent gorilla, and I think adults could pick up some of his lessons about people even more than kids might, making this an appropriate book for all ages.  I was surprised to find myself identifying with a few of the animals in the domain, and even crying about the experiences that they were going through.  Some pages only have a few sentences, and there are pictures interspersed throughout, so I read this book in about two hours. 

The biggest problem I had with this book was that I don't believe animals can have the depth of emotion that was portrayed in this book.  But it was certainly interesting (and educational) to think about how they would feel if they did.

Marcie's Rating: 4.5 stars

On The Island

On the Island
by Tracey Garvis Graves


Genre: Chick Lit, Romance

Synopsis:  Anna Emerson is a thirty-year-old English teacher desperately in need of adventure.  Worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a relationship that's going nowhere, she jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring the sixteen-year-old T.J.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere.  His cancer is in remission and he wants to get back to his normal life.  But his parents are insisting he spend the summer in the Maldives catching up on all the school he missed last year.

Anna and T.J. board a private plane headed to the Callahan's summer home, and as they fly over the Maldives' twelve hundred islands, the unthinkable happens.  Their plane crashes in shark-infested waters.  They make it to shore but soon discover that they're stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first, their only thought is survival.  But as the day turns to weeks, and then months, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.
From the back of the book

Becky's review:  At first I thought this book was just going to be trashy and far too romancey for me but after the first 40-50 pages, the writing improved, the characters developed and the book became much better.  I was really disturbed by the age difference between Anna and T.J. and felt like the romance in this book would be totally inappropriate.  But luckily the characters were legal when the romance started and that made me feel better about the story line.  This was a quick and easy beach read.  There's not a lot of meat to it but it's fun and light.  It is a tad unbelievable at times but I was willing to overlook that for the sake of a fun novel.

Becky's rating:  3 1/2 stars


Marcie's review:  When I started reading this book, I knew it was a romance between a 30 year old woman and a teenage boy; I'm glad I did, because otherwise I would have been so disturbed by the idea of that that I would have put the book down.  And this turned out to be a quick and enjoyable read, so I'm glad I stuck with it.  I was relieved to discover that their romantic relationship didn't actually start until T.J. was 18, but the 13 year age difference still made me cringe when I thought about it.  Having said that, I always enjoy stories about castaways, and so I was eager to see how this unusual couple survived on their deserted island.  There were definitely parts where the reader had to suspend disbelief, and the author skipped over some aspects that I'm sure would have been challenging - like how did they manage to collect enough drinkable water during the dry sesason?  In addition to the details of their survival, I appreciated seeing the characters grow and mature, especially towards the end of the novel, but I was not thrilled with the frequency of the descriptive sex scenes.

Marcie's rating:  3 1/2 stars

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat
author: Anna Branford
illustrator: Elanna Allen

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat

Genre: Chapter Book

Summary (from the publisher):  Violet is back with a little bit of helpfulness and a whole lot of heart in this third book of the effervescent Violet Mackerel series.

Violet is the smallest in her family, and has a special affinity for Small Things everywhere. So when she finds a tiny ladybug in the garden, she expects she knows how it feels. It probably has to go to bed before all the others, and whenever it finds out something interesting (like that your ears keep growing all your life even when you are old), the bigger ladybugs probably say they already knew.

Violet wants to help the ladybug, so she names her Small Gloria, puts her in a jar, and feeds her cheese toast. And then Violet wakes up to a horrible surprise. But thankfully, even as Violet learns a hard lesson about natural habitats, she realizes how nice it is to share her own habitat with a big sister.


Amelia's Review:  This book was just ok.  It wasn't as interesting as the other books that I like to read.  But I liked learning about ladybugs.

Marcie's Review:   I am trying to get Amelia to branch out in reading, so I made her read this book in the car on the drive to Glen Carbon before she could read a Boxcar Children book.  I think her low rating reflected her anger in not being able to read the book she wanted to read.  I will have to think of a new way to encourage her to read different types of books that will result in her actually liking them.

I really liked this cute chapter book about a seven year old girl who helps her sister with a natural science fair project. While this is ostensibly a book about science and habitats, it is also more importantly a book about siblings.  I loved how Violet described her siblings (her 11 year old sister Nicola is "always grumpy" and her 13 year old brother is "going through a stage") and my heart melted when the younger sister tried to cheer up the older sister, and the older sister let the younger sister help with her project.  I also appreciated that Violet isn't a total girly-girl; she loves nature, bugs, birds and her rainboots, just like most little girls (and chapter books about girls don't often reflect that).  The illustrations are also charming.   There isn't much action in this book, but I thought it had some funny parts (although possibly kids would miss them).

Interestingly, this book was clearly not written in the US, which resulted in a few out-of-the-ordinary words, like petrol.  As I was reading it, I caught a few other tricky words, like queasy, in addition to the science words, like larvae and pupae, which could make this book a little challenging for some seven year olds (I assume that is the target audience).

Amelia's Rating: 2 stars

Marcie's Rating: 4 stars

The Invisible Girls

The Invisible Girls
Sarah Thebarge

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Twenty-seven-year-old Sarah Thebarge had it all - a loving boyfriend, an Ivy League degree, and a successful career - when her life was derailed by an unthinkable diagnosis: aggressive breast cancer. After surviving the grueling treatments - though just barely - Sarah moved to Portland, Oregon to start over. There, a chance encounter with an exhausted African mother and her daughters transformed her life again.

A Somali refugee whose husband had left her, Hadhi was struggling to raise five young daughters, half a world a way from her war-torn homeland. Alone in a strange country, Hadhi and the girls were on the brink of starvation in their own home, "invisible" to their neighbors and to the world. As Sarah helped Hadhi and the girls navigate American life, her outreach to the family became a source of courage and a lifeline for herself.

Poignant, at times shattering, Sarah Thebarge's riveting memoir invites readers to engage in her story of finding connection, love, and redemption in the most unexpected places.


Review:  The description of this memoir doesn't indicate that it is a Christian book, but it most definitely is.  Anyone wanting to read this book should understand that before picking it up, because Sarah's relationship with God plays a major part in the story.  I didn't know that before I chose this book, but I ended up loving Sarah's cries to God for help during her battle with cancer, and her attempt to understand why a loving God would inflict such pain on his beloved children.  I found Sarah's struggle inspirational.

I also loved reading about how Sarah saw a need for action and stepped in to help a single mother Somali refugee and her five daughters. How wonderful to be able to have the ability to make a concrete difference in the life of a family!

This book definitely had flaws - the narrative jumped between her life as a child, her battle with cancer and her interactions with the Somali family, and the transitions didn't always flow smoothly or even give an immediate indication of which part of the story she was talking about.  The author's writing reflected more of a journalistic style, which could have been improved upon, but at least made sense since the author wanted to be a journalist.  But I am a huge sucker for inspirational stories about everyday people helping others, and so I am willing to overlook most of those flaws to give this book a high rating.

Rating: 4 stars (5 stars for story, 3 for writing)

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Red Thread

The Red Thread
Ann Hood

The Red Thread

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  “In China there is a belief that people who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible red thread. Who is at the end of your red thread?” After losing her infant daughter in a freak accident, Maya Lange opens The Red Thread, an adoption agency that specializes in placing baby girls from China with American families. Maya finds some comfort in her work, until a group of six couples share their personal stories of their desire for a child. Their painful and courageous journey toward adoption forces her to confront the lost daughter of her past. Brilliantly braiding together the stories of Chinese birth mothers who give up their daughters, Ann Hood writes a moving and beautifully told novel of fate and the red thread that binds these characters’ lives. Heartrending and wise, The Red Thread is a stirring portrait of unforgettable love and yearning for a baby.

Review:  I read this book about Chinese adoption quickly and enjoyed the reading of it, but in my mind it had a few major flaws.  First, the adoption process was portrayed as relatively easy and quick, just some paperwork and then waiting.  I have a friend who adopted a special needs daughter from China last year, and so I know for a fact that it is NOT easy and it is NOT quick.  It is also quite expensive, and the novel didn't touch on this important aspect of adoption.  Second, I didn't like a single one of the couples who were trying to adopt a baby; they were all dysfunctional in some way, and they all seemed to think adopting a baby would solve all their problems.  And the counselor helping them with the adoption encouraged this point of view, instead of suggesting that they get counseling before making this life changing decision.  In fact, I'm not sure that the social workers who do the home studies and meet with the prospective parents would actually accept their applications.  I understand that dysfunctional couples make for a better storyline, but couldn't there have been at least one nice couple?  One couple that I actually thought should get a baby?  I found myself hoping that all the parents would change their minds or get rejected.  Wow, after writing all that, I feel like I should lower my rating....

What did I like about this book?  I think this book brings the specific problem of abandoned Chinese girls into the light, and could encourage people to think about foreign adoption in a different way.  The stories of the Chinese mothers were touching and felt so real that I found myself crying over the poor mothers who were forced to abandon their beloved daughters.  I wish these stories had formed a larger part of the novel.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor
... Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough...Eleanor.

Park... He knows she'll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There's a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises...Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.


Review:  When I went to the library last week, the book display in the lobby was centered around banned books, in celebration of Banned Book Week.  I looked through the selection, thinking that I would love to read a book that had been banned, and I picked up this one since it was already on my to-read list.  A parent organization at a high school district in Minnesota complained about this book, and after reading it, I really couldn't tell you why.  Yes, there is some bad language that I wouldn't want young and impressionable kids to read.  Yes, there is a bit of sex - one character talks about getting to second base, and there is a scene where the astute reader could surmise that possibly the couple had been intimate (nothing is described).  Yes, there is a reference to teenagers hanging out in a garage smoking pot.  So, I would agree that parents or schools should make sure children are mature enough to handle this book - ie, don't let a 4th grader read it.  But is this book appropriate for high school students?  I say YES!  (We'll see if my answer would change when I have a high school reader....)

I loved this story about a weird girl and a geeky boy falling in love with each other.  Rainbow Rowell really gets inside the kids' heads and makes you feel their pain and joy.  I think the lessons this book could impart, about bullying and abuse and friendship, are much more important than the complaints made by that MN school district.

Rating: 4.5 stars