Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Mother Daughter Book Group -- Theater Shoes

Theater Shoes
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Book source:  Public library
Genre:  Juvenile fiction

Life’s a bummer – Sorrel, Mark, and Holly’s mother is dead (although we never learn when or how), their father is missing in action during WWII, they are living with their paternal grandfather, who also dies, then they are shipped to London to live with their maternal grandmother (whom they have never met) only to learn they are a part of a theatrical dynasty (think Barrymore or Fonda) and are required to follow in their familial footsteps.

Theater Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986) was a fussy, confusing, mess. I’m usually endeared by tales of orphaned children and their tales of survival – which are usually quaint and surrounded by nannies and other caregivers. However, I found nothing likeable in the book. I had to re-read passages over and over again, just to get the gist of what was going on. In fact (insert confession here), I didn’t finish the last 6 chapters, because, well, I. Couldn’t. Read. Another. Word.

But regardless of how I felt – the girls loved it. Daisy Daughter (I mean Rosie Girl) was like her mother and fought thru this book (and this was her book choice!), but the other girls loved reading about Sorrel, Mark, and Holly’s theater classes, their experiences on stage, their relationship with their grandmother, and their life during the war.

Which is why it’s about the daughters, not about the moms. In fact, if it had been left up to me, I would have given the book 1 star – but after our discussion I’m giving it 2, because the discussion made up for what the book lacked. And Daisy Daughter came up with some really good discussion question, of which I am proud.

Haven’t decided on our February choice yet…will post soon!

Friday, January 20, 2012

January Book Club -- The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Personal copy
January Book Club choice

Child abandoned on a ship, two continents, a lost identity, an English estate, creepy relatives, a “forgotten garden” -- the perfect equation for a luscious, twisty novel!

Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden has all the elements for a cozy read, in a big chair, by the fire (OK, I didn't have a fire, but read it anyway!). She beautifully weaves elements of Gothic tradition with brilliantly described landscapes and characters.

Nell is surprised by her father with a secret on her 21st birthday – she is not his. This sets in motion a spiral downfall of memories which Nell tries to put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. She nearly attains her goal – but the arrival of her granddaughter, Cassandra, puts an end to her search, and she dies without the knowledge of the origins of her birth.

The author, in alternating chapters of past, recent past and present, tells Nell’s story and that of Cassandra, who takes up Nell’s quest to determine their combined heritage. It leads Cassandra to a forsaken cottage on the grounds of and English estate, and there she finds her answers.

This was the perfect book club choice! Our group devoured it and had a tremendously fun discussion! One of the few books in recent memory that kept me guessing until quite literally the last page. Bravo to the author for keeping me on the edge of my page until the very end.

My only complaint was the alternating time periods was a bit confusing in the beginning – enough that I had to make a list of characters and what century they came from.

Highly recommended for book groups.

Our February choice: The Pact by Sampson Davis et. al.

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream

Summary: They grew up on the streets of Newark, facing city life's temptations, pitfalls, even jail. But one day these three young men made a pact. They promised each other they would all become doctors, and stick it out together through the long, difficult journey to attain that dream. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt are not only friends to this day-they are all doctors. This is a story about the power of friendship. Of joining forces and beating the odds. A story about changing your life, and the lives of those you love most...together.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review -- War Horse

War Horse (War Horse, #1)
My enjoyment rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy
Genre:  Juvenile Fiction
Sensitive reader:  Descriptions of battlefields and war, but nothing particularly graphic.

Joey works on a farm. But on the eve of WWI, Joey’s responsibilities change…he must train for the battlefields and trenches in France. We learn from Joey about of the horrors of war, the power of friendship, the basic necessities of food, shelter and rest. Joey is an integral part to those around him, and they depend on his strength and endurance. And even in the darkest depths of despair, Joey provides a light to those with whom he comes in contact. Joey is often mistreated, but he doesn’t hold a grudge. He has been trained for a job – and he perseveres.

Oh, did I mention, Joey is a horse.

Author Michael Morpurgo has written a tender story about the love of a horse and his keeper, Albert, who loses Joey to the British Army, but pledges his life to find him again.

It was a concise, but powerful story that follows Joey’s journey through his “tour” of duty. It shows the heart and power of an animal during arduous circumstances.

I loved reading this from Joey’s point of view. It made the story that much more special.

Highly recommended.

*(I have not seen the movie -- will be interested to see how Spielberg transforms Joey's story for the cinema).

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Review -- So Big

So Big
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Source:  Library Copy
What's in a Name Challenge 4 (Size)

“Cabbages are beautiful!”

Once these words are uttered, you are intimately aware of Selina Peake DeJong’s view of life and the world around her.

Raised by a father who taught her that life was an adventure – Selina takes a job as a country teacher in High Prairie, a farming community that serves the bustling metropolis of Chicago at the turn of the century. She meets Dutch settlers who work the rich earth south of Chicago to feed the expanding population. The adventure she envisioned for herself did not manifest itself, as she marries a local widowed farmer, Pervus DeJong, gives birth to her son, Dirk (nicknamed “So Big”) and lives a demanding life trying to make their small farm profitable.

Author Edna Ferber then masterfully weaves an amazing story of a working mother, who does everything within her ability to make the life of her son better than her own.

This was an AMAZING book and so beautifully written. For a piece that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, I was surprised at how “modern” it felt: struggling families, the plight of the single mother, the importance of a good education, following your dreams, being true to yourself, and finding the beauty in everyday life.

It was also a visually precise book – I quite literally mapped the entire Chicago area of that time period in my head, based on her descriptions and narrative.

And the ending – one of those that make you want to scream, “no – you can’t end it there!” But knowing it was the PERFECT way to end it. It was just right.