Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal GIVEAWAY

To Be Sung Underwater: A Novel

Did you miss this review? That's a shame because it was a work of art.

Try reading THIS.

Are you not hooked? Watch THIS.

Wow. Aren't you feeling different? Wait until you read the book. Thanks to Anna at Hatchette Book Group, I have two copies to offer to lucky, LUCKY readers!

Children and Fire: A Novel by Ursula Hegi

Children and Fire: A NovelChildren and Fire: A Novel by Ursula Hegi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Though more than fifteen years have passed since Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River captivated critics and readers alike, it retains its popularity, is on academic reading lists, and continues to be adopted by book groups.

Also set in Burgdorf, Germany, Hegi’s Children and Fire tells the story of a single day that will forever transform the lives of the townspeople. At the core of this remarkable novel is the question of how one teacher—gifted and joyful, passionate and inventive—can become seduced by propaganda during the early months of Hitler’s regime and encourage her ten-year-old students to join the “Hitler-Jugend” with its hikes and songs and bonfires. Membership, she believes, will be a step toward better schools, better apprenticeships.

How can a woman we admire choose a direction we don’t admire? So much has changed for the teacher, Thekla Jansen, and the people of Burgdorf in the year since the parliament building burned. Thekla’s lover, Emil Hesping, is sure the Nazis did it to frame the communists. But Thekla believes what she hears on the radio, that the communists set the fire, and she’s willing to relinquish some of her freedoms to keep her teaching position. She has always taken her moral courage for granted, but when each silent agreement chips away at that courage, she knows she must reclaim it.

Hegi funnels pivotal moments in history through the experiences of individual characters: Thekla’s mother, who works as a housekeeper for a Jewish family; her employers, Michel and Ilse Abramowitz; Thekla’s mentally ill father; Trudi Montag and her father, Leo Montag; Fräulein Siderova, midwife to the dying; and the students who adore their young teacher. As Ursula Hegi writes along that edge where sorrow and bliss meet, she shows us how one society—educated, cultural, compassionate—can slip into a reality that’s fabricated by propaganda and controlled by fear, how a surge of national unity can be manipulated into the dehumanization of a perceived enemy and the justification of torture and murder.

Gorgeously rendered and emotionally taut, Children and Fire confirms Ursula Hegi’s position as one of the most distinguished writers of her generation.

My take: This is my first experience with this author and it was incredible. She paints pictures with her words, one brush stroke at a time. Concisely and clearly, she reveals the conflict and the shocking resolution, which - as a reader, you know that shortly after this day World War II will begin.

The book is many stories twisting together and introducing different characters. The main protagonist is Thekla, a German teacher who has finally secured a position in a Catholic school. The day is in 1934. Thekla is teaching the boys in her class through example, first hand experience, and redirecting their attention so the children will not tell on each other or turn in their own parents for not being patriotic.

Thekla's day progresses while we flash on her memories, her ideas, and her made-up conversation with Sonja Siderova, the converted Christian from Jewish teacher who was put on administrative leave once her Jewishness was uncovered.

The book flashes a lot on different times which is not confusing. There are actually 2 distinct times that alternate. The book starts with Thekla teaching her boys then flashes back to 1899 when Thekla was but an illegitimate fetus in her mother's womb at a Catholic home for unwed girls. It is here that we come to understand her mother, her father, and her biological father who plays a part in Thekla's upbringing without her knowing his true role.

Foreshadowing is beautifully weaved through the pages as the reader understands that the burning of the Reichstag, one year earlier, is only the beginning of the many fires. The most moving is a quote by Heinrich Heine: "That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also."

The book is beautifully written, drawing upon symbolism while Thekla grapples with her stance. She believes she can continue to sit on the fence. She can believe what she chooses and enjoy her moral standing while enforcing the new laws of the land that continue to constrict the freedoms of individuals. Thekla eventually discovers that those who get too close to the fire, will get burned. Even the fence sitters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini


From Goodreads:  Paranormal gets a Greek twist. Helen Hamilton has always known she’s different from the other teens on tiny Nantucket, but it’s not until Lucas Delos moves to town that she realizes they are both Scions--descendants of Greek gods--and that their two families have for centuries been engaged in a deadly blood feud. As Lucas teaches Helen to use her powers, which include flying, controlling lightning, and an immunity to weapons, the two grow ever closer--but can never be together until they find a way around the curse that’s destined to keep them apart.

My Take:  So I was expecting a little bit of Romeo and Juliet and got a whole lot of Greek mythology that I didn't hate like I did in A.P. English.  So glad.  

So like Percy Jackson, Helen is a product of a coupling of human and god.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - Do not copulate with a god.  Or fairies.  It just makes everything complicated for the child and is a breeding ground for a Greek tragedy.  So Helen didn't know she was a demi-god, she just knew she was good at a lot of things.  In fact, some things that she doesn't admit to anybody during the book which is probably a really good thing.  

So there is in-fighting and the demi-gods form clans or exclusive clubs and try to kill off all the other children of other gods and what is left is one family only.  At least that's what they think until they move to Nantucket and find Helen.  When demi-gods of other gods try to hook up, the 3 furies - the old, creepy, chanting ladies start a small riot and incite the demi-gods to try to kill each other.  So the product of Zeus and me and Apollo and you will fight worse than our own children.  They break things, fly off occasionally, and make holes in cement.  

Unless there is some kind of a bonding issue that occurs when the two nearly die or something.  

There is a common antagonist who comes in the form of Lucas' cousin.  He's a wild card and discovers where the family are living (they are trying to get out of the killing business) and runs across Helen who bears a striking resemblance to Helen of Troy.  Oh, and Lucas takes after some guy named Paris.  Wow.  This is looking bad.  Especially when those who do not learn from Greek tragedies are doomed to repeat them.  

It ends in a cliff hanger.  I can't wait for the next installment.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

4 stars
Mostly clean read
Lot of violence

Friday, May 27, 2011

Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern

Don't Stop Now

Goodreads: On the first day of Lillian’s summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny’s home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny’s family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil, and she decides to head out to Oregon, where Penny has mentioned an acquaintance. And who better to road-trip across the country with than Lil’s BFF, Josh. But here’s the thing: Lil loves Josh. And Josh doesn’t want to “ruin” their amazing friendship.

Josh has a car and his dad’s credit card. Lil has her cell phone and a hunch about where Penny is hiding. There’s something else she needs to find: Are she and Josh meant to be together?

My take: This is just one of those quirky books that you enjoy from the first word to the last and realize that not only was it an enjoyable read, there is a message that corresponds to Lil and Josh's Quirky Adventure. Life is not, after all, like a box of chocolates, "but a big, long journey with a whole bunch of bumps and twists, and freaky roadside attractions, that no matter what, lead us to somewhere." Huh. That would have been a really nice place to end this review. Alas, I have more.

"I hate brushing my teeth in a public sink. Spitting. Blow-drying my face when there are no paper towels." Deep.

""She told me I was a really good friend,' I say, staring ahead at the buffet, the cornucopia of foods blurring into a flavored rainbow.

'Bit**,' Josh chides. 'How dare she?' He talks through the cake bits in his mouth."

"Can you imagine" - Josh saunters up next to me to marvel at the town that once was - "the streets of Deadwood? No law. A six-shooter on your belt and a prostitute on your arm?" Josh looks whimsical, as if he's reliving his past life's glory days.

"So we drive toward the sunset, windows down; Elvis reruns fill the air. We drive as the stars bloom on the vast fabric of navy sky, passing miles of nothing, as bugs can't help but throw themselves at our windshield."

If you want a deep, complicated, and filled with angst protagonist, keep walking. This isn't the book you want to read. If you want to like the protagonist because she is clever, intelligent, witty, and so is her side-kick, highly recommend it.

Parental warning:

Language and swearing: Moderate. Usual farm words and a couple of diety.

Further language: Moderate. Josh is a little on the crass side, although not excessively so, he's a boy who talks potty talk.

Sex: If I shared that part, I might ruin the conflict resolution. But if sex does occur, it would only complicate the conflict. If sex does occur, it is not explicitly described.

Content: There is a reason Penny has run away. Slight spoiler *Gavin is physically abusive*

Overall feeling at the end of the book? Satisfied, light in spirit, I want to be Julie Hapern's electronic BFF so we can email clever prose to one another.

And now, for your entertainment, I present highlights from Josh and Lil's Quirky Adventure:

Wonder of the Plains
It's a corn palace. Made out of corn.

So there's a whole museum full of these creepy dolls.  All sizes. All shapes. All creeps.

House on the Rock: Carousel Room 3
This garrish carousel is tiered and protected by angels. When I say "angels," I really mean store mannequins lovingly dressed up as heavenly hosts. Creep Factor somewhere in the Doll Museum and Bride of Chucky.

Badlands Scenery
The Badlands. Haven't you always wondered?

Inferno Cone
Craters of the Moon. An actual national park made out of lava rock.
I was underwhelmed, too.
I'll take Hawaii, thankyouverymuch.

Old Faithful Geyser Photos
Old Faithful.

Kevin Costner's signature, "Deadwood."
It's all Hollywood magic. Nothing of interest is really here.

Portland's secret coffee shop. This one is amusing. This is just the bathroom.  Apparently, there are tables that shrink and grow, slide into the wall, etc.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chamelia by Ethan Long Review

ChameliaChamelia by Ethan Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet Chamelia! Chamelia is a chameleon. Most chameleons like to blend in, but Chamelia prefers to stand out. She just loves being the center of attention. But when standing out means being left out, can Chamelia learn to share the spotlight?

Very cute and simple illustrations that young minds can enjoy without being overwhelmed. Great teaching tool for balancing individuality and social norms.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchelle Moore GIVEAWAY

It's early summer when Ginny and William's peaceful life in Vermont comes to an abrupt halt.

First, their daughter Lillian arrives, with her two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up for a weekend visit, which extends indefinitely when Jane ends up on bed rest. When their youngest daughter Rachel appears, fleeing her difficult life in New York, Ginny and William find themselves consumed again by the chaos of parenthood - only this time around, their children are facing adult problems.

By summer's end, the family gains new ideas of loyalty and responsibility, exposing the challenges of surviving the modern family - and the old adage, once a parent, always a parent, has never rung so true.

The Arrivals, by Meg Mitchell Moore
Reading group guide
  1. The Arrivals deals with three generations of family: grandparents, adult siblings, and the children and babies of those siblings. With which of the first two generations did you identify most strongly? Why?
  2.  Referring to the amount she is depending on her parents, Lillian says to Rachel, “I have children. I need more help. Different help. It’s a whole different world, once you have children.” Is this a true statement? Why or why not?
  3. Jane’s summer is overshadowed by the impending financial crisis, which is threatening her job. How does your knowledge of what is going to happen to the country as a whole at the end of the summer of 2008 change the way you viewed Jane as a character?
  4. Talking to Lillian about her job, Jane says, “I’m happiest when I’m there.” At different points in the book, various characters worry that once Jane has a baby the world will judge her for her devotion to her job. Ginny thinks Jane can’t be a good new mother and a good professional at the same time. Are these concerns valid? Why or why not?
  5. Was your reaction to Stephen’s plan to be a stay-at-home father similar to the reaction of his parents? If so, why are we still holding on to those ideas?
  6. Ginny and William vacillate between embracing their children and grandchildren and feeling overwhelmed by the disorder they bring into the house. Do you think this summer will affect the way they view themselves (and each other) as parents and grandparents?
  7. How does Rachel and Olivia’s relationship shift during the course of the book? How do you think that relationship will change Rachel when she goes back to her life in New York City?
  8. The concept of forgiveness figures prominently in the book. How does Lillian’s friendship with Father Colin help her to forgive Tom’s infidelity? Discuss which other characters need to forgive one another, why, and how they go about it. Does anybody fail to forgive?
  9. When Olivia goes missing, Lillian berates herself for being a bad parent. Is this feeling justified? Why or why not?
Look interesting?  Want it?  Fill out the form below!

Treasures From the Attic Giveaway and Blog Hop

Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop
Co-Hosted by Page Turners Blog

The Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop is hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & Page Turners. It will take place from May 25th to 31st.

And up for grabs from Amusing Reviews is 2 copies of

Treasures from the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank's Family

The story is one that is envisioned by many: a relative, an old woman who has lived in the same home for a lifetime, passes away, her death prompting the inevitable task of sorting through her effects by her surviving family. But in the attic in this particular house, a treasure trove of historic importance is found. Rarely does this become an actuality, but when Helene Elias died, no one could put a price on what she left behind.

Helene Elias was born Helene Frank, sister to Otto Frank, and therefore aunt to Anne Frank. Ensconced upstairs in the house she inherited from her mother, and eventually passed on to her son, Buddy Elias, Anne’s cousin and childhood playmate, was the documented legacy of the Frank family: a vast collection of photos, letters, drawings, poems, and postcards preserved throughout decades—a cache of over 6,000 documents in all. 

Chronicled by Buddy’s wife, Gertrude, and renowned German author Mirjam Pressler, these findings weave an indelible, engaging, and endearing portrait of the family that shaped Anne Frank. They wrote to one another voluminously; recounted summer holidays, and wrote about love and hardships. They reassured one another during the terrible years and waited anxiously for news after the war had ended. Through these letters, they rejoiced in new life, and honored the memories of those they lost.

Anne’s family believed themselves to ordinary members of Germany’s bourgeoisie. That they were wrong is part of history, and we celebrate them here with this extraordinary account.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal

To Be Sung Underwater: A NovelTo Be Sung Underwater: A Novel by Tom McNeal

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I don't know how to review this book. It was deeply moving and I don't have a category to neatly slide it under. The writing is absolutely beautiful and the experience of reading the book is visceral. Reader's Digest version misses the symbolism and the gathering of different threads to be mulled over later and braided together. But here it is, anyway:

Today Judith is a 44 year old woman working in television/movie editing. She is married to Malcolm, a man she met at Stanford and a mother of Camille. Malcolm is a banker. Camille is a teenager who is a success story waiting to happen. She grew up in Vermont until her mother's midlife crisis shortly after the disintegration of the marriage. Her mother became a certified hippie who didn't wear a bra, had friends over until all hours and enjoyed wine and casual sex. Judith wanted out. Judith went to live with her father in Nebraska. Judith was 14.

In Nebraska, Judith is living with her college professor father who is possibly having multiple forays with women but he is discreet. He and Judith enjoy a close relationship and they quietly know they love one another. He provides for her needs and encourages her dreams of Ivy League colleges. Judith is not close to anybody in particular except a girl named Deena. Besides her time with Deena, Judith is simply biding her time, drinking in the redneck behavior and writing her life story into a movie inside her head.

When Judith graduates from high school, she is reacquainted with a man (age 24?) named Willy Blunt who loves his beer, finish carpentry, picnics in the backwoods, and dreams of being anything but a farmer like his father. That relationship is strained. Judith and Willy have a summer of a torrid love affair with situations popping up that would change the course of both of their lives. No, there are no unplanned pregnancies or the usual YA drama. This is not a YA book.

Late in the summer, after a particularly surprising and violent turn of events, Judith is suddenly accepted to Stanford on the day Willy proposes to her. Judith accepts the proposal and promises to return after a year to marry. She then gets on a train and that is the end of Judith and Willy.

27 years later, Judith is wondering about her husband's fidelity, her career satisfaction, and what happened to Willy and Deena? She does some digging and they are reunited. During this phase of the book, my heart hurt. It absolutely ached. What had been done couldn't be undone but they spent quality time together until the end of the book which haunts me even now. I didn't hate the ending, it simply disturbs me.

So - rather than continue my own diatribes, I am simply going to write some questions that would be interesting to address if this book were chosen for a book club WHICH IT SHOULD BE - especially by a group of women over the age of 35.
  1. Judith is editing films. How is this ironic? If you could edit your own life, what would you cut out, extend, or gloss over? Pick one event from your own life and rewrite it (Okay, that's an essay question. Perhaps the rest will go this direction. I haven't thought this out, yet). 
  2. Malcolm is not clearly vilified. Do you believe he was cheating on Judith? What difference would it have made for Judith to know for certain?
  3. Why did Judith marry Malcolm? Compare and contrast Malcolm and Willy.
  4. In an alternate, hypothetical story, Judith does not go to Stanford. How would the story be different? Would Willy still be an alcoholic? Would he still be a successful contractor? What foreshadowing is evident for Willy's life 27 years later?
  5. Willy never learns to swim. Judith is comfortable in and out of the water. She adapts easily to her surroundings (see question 6). One scene has Judith swimming and begging to teach Willy how to swim. He refuses. She asks key questions - what if his life depended on it? What if her life depended on it? He said he would jump in if her life depended on it. How does this statement relate to his last decision in the book?
  6. Could Willy have adapted to a life outside of Nebraska? How would that look in 2 years? 10 years? 27 years?
  7. Is it possible for someone to get over the one true love?
  8. How could Willy's life have been different? Could he have gone to college some place? Could he have been a lawyer? Could he have had a life outside of Nebraska without Judith?
  9. Compare the parent/child relationships of the characters; Judith/her father, Judith/her mother, Willy/his father, Willy/his mother, Judith's father/grandmother, Judith/Camille, Malcolm/Camille. Does history repeat itself in any of these relationships?
  10. Why is the story about Judith's parents and the single car crash with the other couple significant?
  11. Where is your first true love? Do you still think of him/her? Would you sacrifice your life today to be with him/her? How would your life be different?
There is so much more to discuss in this book. I honestly still don't know why the title was chosen. This is simply one of those books to take your time reading and pondering.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

IMM (5/22/11)

If you find this In My Mailbox, you are an amazing friend. No link from Story Siren this week because she snagged an airplane ticket to New York City and is attending BEA.

Hate her.

So, here's what we have this week. And last week because, darnitall, I'm just so lazy about this but carry a built complex.  Here we go.

Take a deep breath:

For review via ARC, trading, borrowing, begging, buying, and stealing.

Don't you be judging me. I have sins that run much, much, MUCH deeper.

A Young Wife: A NovelDan Ariely'sThe Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home (Hardcover)(2010)Russian Winter: A Novel (P.S.)To Be Sung Underwater: A NovelDon't Stop NowChameliaA Conflict of InterestBroken Wings: A NovelState of WonderThe Greatest Music Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from Music History to Astonish, Bewilder, and StupefyBefore I Go To Sleep: A NovelSometimes It HappensTreasures from the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank's FamilyChildren and Fire: A Novel The TakerMoonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's MemoirThe House that Mouse BuiltThe Little Women LettersThe Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High SchoolHex Hall Book OnePast Perfect

What I read this week:

ForbiddenSometimes It HappensTo Be Sung Underwater: A NovelDon't Stop NowPerfect ChemistryThe Final Note: A NovelThe House that Mouse BuiltChamelia

Please feel free to click on the images above of the list of books I read this week. I've linked them to Goodreads so even though the blog post isn't up, my review is on Goodreads. I'm sorry, people. I really love to hear my own thoughts. And I really hated some of these books. And I really loved some of the others.

Have great week!  2 giveaways coming up this week!

Treasures from the Attic: The Extraordinary Story of Anne Frank's FamilyThe Arrivals: A Novel

Peace out!