Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review -- A Violet Season

A Violet Season: A NovelA Violet Season: A Novel by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Source:  Copy provided by the author (I was not compensated in any other way for my review)
Genre:  Historical fiction
Sensitive reader:  detailed descriptions of breastfeeding; prostitution; women's private parts

Steeped in the rich history of pre-turn of the century violet farming, A Violet Season, explores the conflicts and pressures imposed on the Fletcher family, Hudson Valley violet farmers, who are trying to survive on a meager agrarian income.

Patriarch Frank Fletcher has been relegated to a farm manager by his property owning brothers, and is bitter and angry at his demotion. His wife, Ida, in addition to working the farm and greenhouses, also works as a “wet nurse” – nursing other women’s babies in an attempt to earn additional income to keep their family solvent. Their children, Alice, Reuben and Oliver, all teenagers, are doing their part to help their family.

But Frank isn’t satisfied with their efforts or their monetary return – so to maximize the earning power of his family, Frank expels Alice from their home and forces her to work in a brothel on the Lower East side of Manhattan.

What proceeds from Frank’s decision is a family wrecked by lies, abuse, and exploitation.

What initially was a novel about the discord between the Fletcher family, really evolved into a novel about the inequality and subjugation of women.

Author, Kathy Leonard Czepiel, does a heroic job in casting the plight of the Fletcher women. It is crystal clear that in 1898, neither Ida nor Alice had many options outside of their current roles as mother and marriageable-aged daughter.

But the evil by which Frank treats his daughter, all in the name of money, was horrific. I haven’t hated a character in a book this much since the dad in The Poisonwood Bible.

This was a tough book for me – the author’s prose, story thread, and characters were credible and authentic. But when you spend so much of your reading time cursing a particular character and wanting to wring his neck, it’s hard to see the overall scope of the story.

Fortunately, the author’s ending helped soothe the volatile feelings I was experiencing, and gave me hope for both Ida and Alice and their future.

A richly narrated book – but not one that leaves a pleasant feeling afterward.

Thank you to Ms. Czepiel (see-peel) for allowing me to read her novel.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Award Winners!

I can't believe it -- I have actually read TWO of the Youth Media Award Winners!

Shocking is more like it.  I'm so far behind, I'm still reading award winners from 3 years ago!

But I was thrilled when The One and Only Ivan was announced as the 2013 Newbery Award winner for juvenile fiction.  In my 2012 year end "likes and dislikes" I named it my favorite juvenile fiction book of the year.  And Code Name Verity, which was a Printz award honoree for YA literature, was my overall favorite of 2012.

Here is a partial list of the winners:

2013 NEWBERY AWARDThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins)
Newbery Honors:
  • Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
  • Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point)
  • Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Dial)
2013 CALDECOTT AWARDThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
Caldecott Honors:
  • Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (Simon & Schuster)
  • Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray)
  • Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook Press)
  • One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small (Dial)
  • Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (Houghton Mifflin Books)
2013 PRINTZ AWARDIn Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Simon & Shuster)
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion)
  • Dodger by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins)
  • The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna (Red Deer Press)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review -- Warm Bodies

Warm BodiesWarm Bodies by Isaac Marion
My enjoyment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Personal copy
Genre:  General fiction; dystopian; zombie-lit
Objectionable material:  significant language, including F-bomb; gruesome descriptions of attacks; mild sexual innuendo
Ladies of Literature book club -- January selection

Fleshies! Boneys! Living! Dead!

Warm Bodies was my first venture into the zombie-lit genre, and I must say, although I was grossed out at times, I survived the experience.
R is a Zombie. Living in the ruins of a former airport, and feasting on the brains of Living, he is trying to make sense of his existence, since he has no memory of his past.

On a hunt to feed his insatiable hunger, R eats the brains Perry Kelvin, a Living teenager who has barricade himself and his girlfriend, Julie, against the onslaught of a zombie attack. But instead of turning his vengeance against Julie as well, R, who is now experiencing Perry’s memories, life and feelings intimately, saves Julie from certain death.

What proceeds from their first encounter, results in the possibility of R and Julie saving what is left of civilization and the planet.

Isaac Marion has created a brilliant story around a bleak existence. R becomes sympathetic and soulful; Julie indestructible and compassionate. In the hands of the author, their entire relationship and existence rings of authenticity.

And the ending gave hope to the notion that we must do better to love our neighbors and learn to accept those who may differ from us.

Apart from the excessive language and the gruesomeness, I enjoyed this novel. Surprisingly enough!

The movie, Warm Bodies, opens in theatres on Friday. I’m going with my Ladies of Literature book club – can’t wait to see it!

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mother Daughter Book Club -- Tuesdays at the Castle

Tuesdays at the Castle (Castle Glower #1)Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Source:  Personal copy
Genre:  Juvenile Fiction
Objectionable material: None

Princess Celie is in a quandary: her parents have disappeared under questionable circumstances, her brother (and heir apparent in his father’s absence) has been forced from authority at the hands of his advisors and an evil prince, and her beloved castle – that transforms to suit her needs and her family’s – has been spellbound and has become dormant.

What is a princess to do? In Celie’s case – she vanquishes the evil overtakers, she sends rescue teams out to find her parents, she organizes the family staff to help in the revolt – and she’s only 11.

This was our mother/daughter book club for January – and the girls (and moms) thought it was delightful!

Celie is spunky, creative and tough; she has an assortment of interesting characters that surround her – but the true gem is the magical Castle, which transforms itself to accommodate the family, guests, and most importantly, Celie.

It wasn’t a perfect book (story lines that didn’t connect or make sense) – but it was fun.
No decision yet on our February book!

Friday, January 18, 2013

January 2013 Book Club -- Cross Roads

Cross Roads
Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young
Did Not Finish (barely started)
January Book Club choice

I didn’t read this.

I managed 15 pages and gave up.  It was horribly written.  And from what I gather from those who did finish it, it didn’t get any better.

The entire group thought it was bad – but surprisingly, like a Phoenix, a remarkably good discussion emerged from an unpleasant reading experience. My book clubbers know how to create a discussion out of most anything!
So, 2013 didn’t start off so well – our books can only get better – because they can’t get any worse!
Our February selection -- Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review -- The Rent Collector

The Rent CollectorThe Rent Collector by Camron Wright
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Received copy from author (I was not compensated in any other way for review).
Genre:  General fiction
Objectionable material:  None

When my house, my closets, my kitchen, becomes cluttered and dirty – I often refer to it as a dump.

Nothing compares to the life of Sang Ly and Ki Lim, for they quite literally live in Stung Meanchey, the largest city garbage dump in Cambodia. Living in homes (shacks? cardboard boxes? sheds?) built from rescued salvage, thousands of families subsist and survive off the trash from the capital Phnom Penh.

Camron Wright has written a remarkable, fictional account of the life of Sang Li, her husband Ki and their son, Nisay. Inspired by his own son’s film work in Cambodia, Mr. Wright envisioned how the lives of this particular family would be, if they had nothing more than one basic need: literacy.

Within that framework, Mr. Wright has crafted a truly wonderful story about the influence one particular neighbor and their “rent collector,” Sopeap Sin, has on their future. A former teacher and educator, Sopeap’s life as a scavenger in Stung Meanchey is far different than what she had as a professor teaching the classics to her students. But due to the political and military evil of the Khmer Rouge, she too has been discarded like the refuse she sorts.

This was a robust novel full of unique and memorable characters. I loved following the arch of how lives were transformed through friends, family, stories, and education, even in the midst of such disgusting conditions.

I was skeptical of this book – the novels I’ve read from this particular publisher have, in my experience, been flimsy, manipulative and, well, poor reading material.

The Rent Collector is none of the above – it was a gem.

Highly recommended for book clubs.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Review -- Love's Winning Plays

Love's Winning Plays: A NovelLove's Winning Plays: A Novel by Inman Majors
My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars
Source:  Library copy
Genre:  General fiction
Objectionable material:  language, including F-bomb

Raymond Love, a low level graduate assistant for a non-descript SEC college football team, has been assigned to “babysit” Coach Woody – the longtime defensive line coach who is known to go “rogue” on occasion – while on a caravan across the non-descript southern state, to meet boosters and discuss the upcoming football season.

Love’s Winning Plays, by Inman Majors, is a novel full of stereotypes and clich├ęs about the world of college football:

• Love and Sparkman – both GA’s -  one a buffoon (Sparkman) – one a coach’s kid, who has potential, but no connections (Love).
• CVD or Head Coach Von Driver – figure head of the football team, who doesn’t know his staff and subsists on motivational sound bites.
• Coach Woody – obnoxious, beer-drinking, Dick Butkus-type, old timer, relives his playing days through old film and stories.
• Head Coach’s wife – southern belle socialite, with a penchant for cocktails and a sharp tongue.
• Gorgeous co-ed, Brooke, who happens to be the daughter of the Athletic Director
• Athletic Director: more concerned about the appearance of the football team than the integrity of the football team
• Sports writer: emasculated male, who at one point wanted to be an athlete, but was either too small, or not good enough, so he has to write about it instead.
• Boosters/fans: think they now it all, but not really.
• Rich boosters: think they can buy access and wins.

I love college football – I am a coach’s daughter, after all. And even though characters like the above exist (stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason) – I thought it was an empty, shallow, one dimensional football and love story.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Review -- Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source:  Birthday present
Genre:  General fiction
Objectionable material:  use of F-bomb

What do a former award winning architect, a Microsoft guru, a crumbling manor house, a super gifted tween with a heart defect, a crazy neighbor who invades your property, an international personal assistant, the Russian mafia, and a cruise to the South Pole have in common?

They are all dysfunctional, quirky, struggling, and brilliantly crafted characters in Maria Semple’s hilarious book, Where’d You Go Bernadette.

Bernadette Fox’s biggest problem seems to be her rancorous relationship with her neighbor over an abundance of blackberry vines. But what starts out as pesky gardening issue, turns into a woman desperate to find herself, her lost career, and an opportunity to rebuild her family.

Told in epistolary form, Bernadette and the rag tag crew that inhabit the pages, take us on a Rube Goldberg-like journey – the reader never knowing what will happen next, where you will end up or how it will end.

Truly, I haven’t read something so different, unique, and entertaining in a very long time!

Caveat: If you were to purchase this book – make sure you have the LAST 3 pages! In my edition – there was a printing error and the last three pages were missing!!! Ahh!! I stayed up until 1am to finish this, only to get slapped with no ending at all. The publisher acknowledged that it was a manufacturing problem, and is sending me a complete copy. Thankfully, because this is a book I would like to pass around.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sometimes I write other things

Soiree January 2013Little Rock has an outstanding local magazine, Soiree, dedicated to the arts, entertainment, and local "vibe" of our Capital City.
In the most recent issue -- I was a contributor for their "A Day in Little Rock" feature.  Although intended to be a daily literary look at life in Little Rock, it ended up being a reflection on our "day" in the hospital with our youngest son, Max.
It's not what they queried, but they published it nonetheless.  And for that I am grateful.
If you have a chance, please check out my thoughts here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What I liked and what I didn't in 2012

I'm late.
2012 ended two days ago.
But here are my bookish reflections on the 50 books I read in 2012 (Goodreads says I read 52 -- my own list says only 50 -- not sure where I'm off -- oh well).
Favorite classicTheir Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston -- how I missed reading this in high school or college is a mystery -- my comments at the time "Thank you for the privilege of marveling over your brilliant words."   5 stars.
Favorite Mother/Daughter book club selectionThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine -- wow -- this one hit home -- a fictional account of two friends, one white, one black, who are confronted with racism and the closing of the public schools in LR.  5 stars.
Made me laugh out loudThe Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett -- if you are a royalist like me -- this was a witty, delightful reimagining of what Queen Elizabeth would be like if she was a bibliophile.  Loved it (except for the one sexual reference -- so unnecessary).   4 stars.
Favorite book club pick & epicSomeone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill -- what I said at the time:  "If you want to get lost in a difficult story and life of an incredible woman, open your soul to Aminata.  You’ll be glad you know her name."  5 stars.
Favorite juvenile fictionThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate -- my thoughts at the time:  "Ms. Applegate has given us a glorious example that our animal friends might know more about endurance, hope, and faith than their caregivers do. And Ivan is the one and only one to help them all."  5 stars.

Favorite YA fictionBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys -- I love WWII historical fiction and this was no exception.  My thoughts:  "In harrowing detail author, Ruta Sepetys, brings to life the forgotten story of Stalin’s obliteration of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, & Lithuania) during WWII. This was an illuminating account of what happened to nearly 20 million Russians, primarily doctors, authors, professors and other intellectual and political dissidents, who were shipped to Siberia under Stalin’s fascist regime."   4 stars (and not to be confused with the OTHER gray book!)

I hated but everyone else lovedThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce -- I thought it was so bad I didn't even review it. 

Favorite memoirCall the Midwife by Jennifer Worth -- the PBS miniseries of the same name is based on Mrs. Worth's memoirs -- I loved this book!  My thoughts:  "This was a glorious book. Her storytelling was superb. I was immediately transported to post-War London, walking foggy streets, among ramshackle buildings and immense poverty. But among the ruins, is a group of midwives, The Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus, who care for the greater population of women of the East End."  5 stars

Biggest let downThe Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian -- I had such HIGH HOPES for this book!  But alas, "for me, this was a huge disappointment."  2 stars

Overall favorite of 2012Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein -- when a writer can make me audibly respond while reading -- you know it's good -- "It is fretful from the first page to the last. I even audibly GASPED during 'Verity’s' graphic narrative. Be patient in the beginning. It’s not an easy book to read, and the 1st person/3rd person narration is a bit tricky – but it is well worth it."  5 stars

So there you have it.  My winners and losers of 2012.

Goals for 2013
  • I gave up on Challenges last year -- it was such a liberating experience!  I will never do one again!
  • Read 52 books -- one a week.  I'm not as prolific as most bloggers -- but I do what I can do.
  • Read because I want to read.
  • Get caught up on my last 3 "review requests." 
  • Keep Mother/Daughter book club in tact!
Finally --

Keep calm and read a great book!