Month: February 2010

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls — My Thoughts

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Having loved the Walls memoir The Glass Castle, I was excited that she had written a new book about her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  You meet Lily quickly in The Glass Castle, and when I read about her then I wished that the Walls children could stay and live with their grandmother.  She seemed to have money, concern, and STABILITY.  She was not one to skeedaddle.

I was impressed by Lily’s work ethic.  From the beginning to the end of the book she is working.  She works as a ranch hand, a teacher, a maid, a cook, a bus (hearse) driver.  She is willing to do what it takes to provide for her family.  She is honest to herself, has quite the mouth on her, and does not seem to be afraid of anything.  She is a survivor.  She survives floods, droughts, an unfaithful husband, heartache.  It was wonderful to spend 270 pages with her.

While reading the book I wanted to know what went so wrong with Rosemary, Lily’s daughter and the author’s mother.  In Glass Castle we see a mother who is absolutely unwilling to do anything for her children, even though they are starving and cold.  She had a great example of work and dedication, and she absolutely failed to live up to it.  Rosemary seems to have none of Lily in her and too much of her Aunt Helen.

If I had found Half Broke Horses on its own, I would have really enjoyed it.  However, it does dim by comparison to Glass Castle, but most books do!

What I Am Reading: Half Broke Horses

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Review from For the first 10 years of her life, Lily Casey Smith, the narrator of this true-life novel by her granddaughter, Walls, lived in a dirt dugout in west Texas. Walls, whose megaselling memoir, The Glass Castle, recalled her own upbringing, writes in what she recalls as Lily’s plainspoken voice, whose recital provides plenty of drama and suspense as she ricochets from one challenge to another. Having been educated in fits and starts because of her parents’ penury, Lily becomes a teacher at age 15 in a remote frontier town she reaches after a solo 28-day ride. Marriage to a bigamist almost saps her spirit, but later she weds a rancher with whom she shares two children and a strain of plucky resilience. (They sell bootleg liquor during Prohibition, hiding the bottles under a baby’s crib.) Lily is a spirited heroine, fiercely outspoken against hypocrisy and prejudice, a rodeo rider and fearless breaker of horses, and a ruthless poker player. Assailed by flash floods, tornados and droughts, Lily never gets far from hardscrabble drudgery in several states—New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois—but hers is one of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women that will always find an audience.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos — My Thoughts

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What a delightful story. Great characters, great dialogue (I loved every scene that had Linny in it), great book.

Thank goodness this book took a turn. I was worried when Clare called her father that Cornelia was in love with a man who would treat his daughter like THAT and ignore his daughter’s plea for help like THAT. Not that I was crazy about the turn that the book took. As Linny said, the situation was not without its complications, and I cannot help but think of Christmases and reunions to come!! Awkward.

Vivianna’s story was heartbreaking. You hated her and wanted her to go away but you were relieved when she made her way back. I think that she found her way back a little fast — a little too convenient, a little too neat and tidy for a person who has a problem that is never neat or tidy.

What I Am Reading: Love Walked In

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Philadelphia cafe manager Cornelia Brown drifts effortlessly through her unattached life, unapologetic for idealizing romance and breathlessly recommending The Philadelphia Story—to the reader and everyone else. Eleven-year-old Clare is a child of divorce whose mother, a successful party planner, is quickly going to pieces. In alternating chapters of Cornelia’s first person and Clare’s free and direct third, poet de los Santos, making her novel debut, tells the story of their finding each other. That Cornelia, early on, immediately falls for Cary Grant doppelgänger Martin Grace is no surprise; his relation to Clare, revealed a third of the way in, isn’t really either. As she discovers maternal instincts she wasn’t sure she had, Cornelia works up the courage to face her own feelings for Clare with honesty. As Martin exits, Cornelia’s childhood friend Teo enters, but neither makes much impact, and Clare’s rather serious issues get reduced to Clare-did-this, Clare-thought-that episodes. The two main characters exist for one purpose: to enact a cross-generational, strong-but-vulnerable-and-loving, screenplay-ready femininity.

Crossing To Safety — My Thoughts

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What a beautiful book. Having just completed The Book Thief, I thought, only knowing the title, that perhaps this book was about two couples trying to get over some border in some war-torn country. Two couples who were, well, ‘crossing to safety’.

Instead, I found this quiet book about life. Two couples become great friends when their professional lives are just beginning. Both husbands are teachers in the English Department and the wives become best friends.

Though Larry Morgan is the narrator of the tale, the star character is Charity Lang who controls everything (especially her husband) just through the strength of her character. She’s always in control of everything, or at least wants to be. Larry continuously comments on how this affects their friendships and how he thinks this affects Charity’s husband. He’s not always kind to Charity, but it is his narrative, and so he is allowed.

This story spans four decades. This is not a book that focuses on a dramatic argument, a dramatic illness, a dramatic anything, because Larry believes that life is not found in just the drama, but in all of the other moments.

A beautiful book; a wonderful read.

What I Am Reading Now: Crossing To Safety

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From It’s deceptively simple: two bright young couples meet during the Depression and form an instant and lifelong friendship. “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?” Larry Morgan, a successful novelist and the narrator of the story, poses that question many years after he and his wife, Sally, have befriended the vibrant, wealthy, and often troubled Sid and Charity Lang. “Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish?” It’s not here. What is here is just as fascinating, just as compelling, as touching, and as tragic.

Crossing to Safety is about loyalty and survival in its most everyday form–the need to create bonds and the urge to tear them apart. Thirty-four years after their first meeting, when Larry and Sally are called back to the Langs’ summer home in Vermont, it’s as if for a final showdown. How has this friendship defined them? What is its legacy? Stegner offer answers in those small, perfectly rendered moments that make up lives “as quiet as these”–and as familiar as our own.

High Country (South Jordan Book Club Selection for February)

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Book Cover Summary: A terrible car accident left Laura fatherless, injured, and at a loss for many memories of her life before the accident. But when she and her cousin Bruce are going through their Aunt Alice’s papers after her death, Bruce finds a certificate that will change Laura’s life forever: a marriage certificate. With her name on it. The doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to remember a lot of things, but how could she forget getting married?

Laura is shocked ever further when she finds out that she is heir to a fortune and her father’s ranch, High Country. As she discovers the secrets about her past that Aunt Alice had kept so well hidden from her, Laura is determined to get back what is rightfully hers. But trying to regain the beautiful house and land from a stubborn cowboy. Paul “Mac” Burgoyne, who claims to be her husband, is more than she bargained for.

In this gripping novel, best-selling author Jennie Hansen presents a fresh set of realistic, entertaining characters who learn the importance of forgiveness, faith, and love in the face of discord and misunderstanding.

My thoughts: There are great pieces of literature that stay with you long after you finish reading, and then there are “fluff” books good for a Sunday afternoon. This is a fluff book.

Getting beyond the cliche of the amnesia and surprise trust fund, this book is full of ‘misunderstandings’ that make a 50 page novel 231 pages. Deep Sigh. Most of them involve the cute neighbor girl and around the fifth ‘misunderstanding’ you are left wondering how dense two characters can be.

And I have to comment on the main male character, Mac. He’s a good looking cowboy who tends to pick up Laura and whisk her away to varying locations. It’s just not realistic. When was the last time you were whisked? Whisking just does not happen that often, unless you are Laura and Mac. And then there’s a whole lot of whisking.

This book will not change your life, but it may entertain your Sunday if you are looking for a love story. With a lot of whisking.

The Book Thief (Provo Book Club Selection)

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From Amazon: Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book–although she has not yet learned how to read–and her foster father uses it, The Gravediggers Handbook, to lull her to sleep when she’s roused by regular nightmares about her younger brothers death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayors reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesels story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.

My thoughts: I greatly enjoyed this book because I liked all of the characters. It’s a horrible time where neighbors are turning each other in and even children are turning in parents, but these characters are just good.

Leisel is a strong girl who has endured too much sadness by the time she is nine and is given to a foster family. Thank goodness she finds strength and love from her foster father.

I love her foster father: Papa. He is a magnificient man. His kindness and his fairness are without bounds, even in the most difficult of circumstances. It gets him in a lot of trouble, and you just love him more for it.

I cried through the last 50 pages, but I loved who came to the Police Station for Liesel. When they came I thought, alright, everything is going to be fine. And then her surprise visit to the Tailor’s shop — does she marry him?? I guess only one person knows, and he’s not talking.

The Life of Pi (Maryland Book Club Selection for January)

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From Amazon: Yann Martel’s imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting “religions the way a dog attracts fleas.” Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (“His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth”). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don’t burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat’s sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: “It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion.”

My thoughts: Once I was done, this book was fascinating to me. I had to go back and read the section where the Orangutan came aboard. I had to reread the section where the Orangutan dies. I had to reread the section where he comes upon another man stranded and starving like he is. And the short, short chapter where he acknowledges his mother’s birthday with a song — heartbreaking.

It is the ending that makes this book. If the tape had not been found, if the story had not been told, if it was a story about a boy and a tiger, this would be just another implausible adventure story.

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian

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Review from Amazon: Forced to watch his father escorted out of their lives by Turkish police, his brothers shot to death in their backyard, his grandmother murdered by a rock-wielding guard, and his sister take poison rather than be raped by soldiers, 12-year-old Vahan Kendarian abruptly begins to learn what his father meant when he used to say, “This is how steel is made. Steel is made strong by fire.” Up until 1915, Vahan has lived a cosseted life as the son of a wealthy and respected Armenian man. But overnight his world is destroyed when the triumvirate of Turkish leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha, begins the systematic massacre of nearly three-quarters of the Armenian population of Turkey, 1.5 million men, women, and children. Soon Vahan is an orphan on the run, surviving by begging, pretending to be deaf and mute, dressing as a girl, hiding out in basements and outhouses, and even living for a time with the Horseshoer of Baskale, a Turkish governor known for nailing horseshoes to the feet of his Armenian victims. Time and again, the terrified and desperate boy grows close to someone–and loses him or her to an appalling, violent death. Through three years of unspeakable horror, Vahan is made stronger by this fire, and by perseverance, fate, or sheer luck, he survives long enough to escape to the safe haven of Constantinople.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. It is an easy, fast read because it was prepared to be a youth book for teen readers.

It truly is a ‘forgotten’ time as the Armenian holocaust in rarely discussed and certainly has not gotten the attention of the Jewish holocaust. It was so fast and deadly calculated. The German Jews were subject to long spells of discrimination and hatred before the camps. This book tells of a wealthy family who had everything until one day they came for all of the adult male leaders. And then they came back for the young men. And then they came back for the women and the children. It was done so quickly; no wonder it is a Forgotten time.

The author’s uncle was the inspiration for this story. It is a relief that this is a fictionalized account because, while reading, you cannot believe that all of this happened to one person!

It was prepared as a youth book, but I would read it first before referring it to a teen.