Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder

In the early 1700s, Peru was still a frontier-land.  There was a small foot bridge that crossed a narrow deep valley in the Andes, a bridge made of woven vines and had stood since before the Incas.  That is, it stood until the day it broke - plummeting five people to their death.  The lone witness to the tragedy was Brother Juniper, who then thought that this would be the perfect example to prove the existence of God's will.  He undertook a study of the five lost souls to determine if they deserved to die by an act of God, or if it was an accident and God plays no part in deciding such things.

It is an interesting question to explore in a novel, and the way Wilder did it here earned him the Pulitzer in 1928.  It is broken down into five parts:  the first describing the bridge and the tragedy that follows as well as describing Brother Juniper.  The next three parts carefully tell the story of the bridge's victims while the final part reintroduces Brother Juniper and concludes the story.  I must say that the part that tells the story of Esteban really got to me the most.  There was something so beautifully sad about Esteban and everything that led up to the bridge.

The five lives taken on the bridge were from all different parts of Lima's society.  All different goals, all different experiences up to that point and all were taken the same way at the same time.  It does present a case study if you will, for Brother Juniper's desire to create a proof of faith for the world.

This is a short little book that only takes a few hours to read.  It did take me a beat to fall into Wilder's writing style, but it is really very accessible and beautiful writing.  I'm glad I read this, and not just because it helps fulfill several reading challenges for me.  In fact I read this as "A Forgotten Classic" for the Classics Challenge....  even though it won the Pulitzer and is really a wonderful read, it has less than 19k ratings on GoodReads.  Hopefully this little post will put it back on people's reading lists!  Oh, and I love the new cover (see below)!

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder
Perennial Classics, 1998.  First Published 1927.
133 pages
Source:  Purchased Used


Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: "Dumplin'" by Julie Murphy

Willowdean is Willowdean.  She does not pretend to be something she's not.  She's perfectly happy in her body, even if her former beauty queen mother thinks she should lose a few pounds.  She and Ellen have been best friends forever.  But this past year, Will sees things changing.  She and Ellen are drifting apart, and she really misses Aunt Lucy - who was practically her second parent until she died unexpectedly.  And then there is the boy at work, Bo, who seems like he might genuinely like her, and she likes him back - but she also is suddenly self-conscious about herself.  Its not like her at all.  So what does she do?  She takes all her confidence and enters the annual beauty pageant - along with a couple friends she didn't know she had.

Willowdean is not a perfect character....  she makes some questionable choices, and even leads a very nice boy on all while saying she doesn't want to lead him on.  It isn't very nice of her, especially when she seems so brutally honest with everyone else.  But she has a strong sense of self, and an inner confidence that I wish I had.  She owns her body, and stands up for herself.  I really liked that.  This book is pretty funny and amusing too, which I very much enjoyed.  I want to mention specific scenes, but I don't want to spoil the fun for you!

I also appreciated that even beyond having a main character that is not necessarily thin and gorgeous (or thin and girl-next-door pretty), there are other typical YA Lit "norms" that are not included.  The majority of the families are not two parent & happily married.  No one is "rich" or well-off.  Not everyone in the school is going off to college.  And its all okay.

by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2015
375 pages
Source:  Library


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book Review: "Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson

The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, has delivered the perfect follow up to her very funny debut Let's Pretend This Never Happened.  Of course she did - she's hilarious and quirky and true to herself.  Where her debut was very much a memoir, this book has a different theme.  Here she is talking and relating her experiences with her various mental illness diagnoses.  She is brutally honest about her personal issues with depression and anxiety, as well as self-harm and others.  She deals with a lot on a daily basis, but its clear that she trusts and can find support in her loving husband, daughter and her various doctors.  She also finds support in her public, the tribe that follows her on Twitter or her blog... and she is clearly very appreciative of that support.  Through all of this, she keeps up her sense of humor and invites the reader to laugh along with her.

I think what I got most out of this book was a better understanding of how some of these different mental illnesses work together and against a person.  I am not dealing with any of the issues on the same scale that Jenny is, but I find myself understanding my own 'quirks' a little better.  I know that I do things to myself with which I find both comfort and shame (not completely harmful, but is damaging in a way).  I never really understood that other people probably have the same sort of things.  But in Jenny I see this on a bigger scale and I get it.  I totally get it.

Also, Jenny works italics and ALL CAPS and bold words like nobody's business.

But I do have a warning...  I had a lot of trouble reading this book before bedtime.  Mostly because I would get laughing to the point of tears and it is impossible to fall asleep then.  And when I did fall asleep, my dreams were more likely to feature possums, kangaroo suits and crazy happy looking raccoons.  Just look at that cover.

I don't think I've laughed out loud at a book quite as much as I did with this one (with the possible exception of Jenny's previous book or Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris).  I loved it!!
Furiously Happy
by Jenny Lawson
Flatiron Books, 2015
329 pages
Source:  Library


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Check this out: "Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset" Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald

Do the folks at Quirk Books have a treat for you!  I present to you the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset illustrated by Caitlyn Kuhwald.  Seriously, it's paper dolls featuring the one and only Hillary, Madame President.

It's been a long time since I've had paper dolls, and I've had so much fun playing with these already!  And I'm sure that as we get closer to the Presidential Election, I'll have even more fun.  This set includes Hillary and Bill, a few Republican adversaries, a Secret Service Agent, some Supreme Court Justices and a couple Ghosts of the White House.  There are three "sets" on which to set your Presidential Stage too.

I took a couple pictures:

Madame President ready to get to work.  The
First Gentleman, not so much.
When Hillary has to deal with Jeb Bush in her office,
she turns to trusted advisor Oprah for support.

Hillary is not impressed by the ghost of
Abraham Lincoln in the Situation Room.

I love the art on these paper dolls - and the sets.  My first thought though was - where's The Donald?  How about Bernie?  But don't fear!  I found a web address inside this book that will allow me (and anyone else with the book) to download these two paper dolls.  I think I may have to create my own "Debate" set though.

This set will be fun for adults and children!  I mean, Bill comes with his own accessories - like his saxophone!  How cool is this?

Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset
Illustrated by Caitlyn Kuhwald
Quirk Books, 2015
Source:  Publisher for honest review

Monday, November 16, 2015

Graphic Novel/Comic Review: "Locke & Key Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill

Welcome to Lovecraft, MA.  To be more specific, welcome to Keyhouse.  The Locke Family, or really - the four remaining members of the Locke family have just moved in.  This is where Rendall Locke had grown up and where his brother Duncan still lives.  Duncan has taken in Nina and the three kids following Rendall's murder.  But Keyhouse is special.  Keys unlock doors that change whomever walks through them.  And then there is also the Well House, and the echo that lives there....

Joe Hill writes some of the creepiest stories out there, and when you pair his story with Gabriel Rodriguez's art - get ready.  The circumstances surrounding Rendall's grisly murder are explained slowly, not sparing the emotions felt by the three kids or Nina.  The murderer isn't exactly random either, and that leads to even more curious and mysterious questions surrounding this family.  These questions lead to the magical mysteries surrounding the house as well.

I wasn't completely sure about this book, and the subsequent series but I am hooked after this volume.  I am looking forward to reading more - seeing how the family gets out of their current situation and discovering more about the house and its secrets!

Locke & Key Volume 1:  Welcome to Lovecraft
by Joe Hill
IDW Publishing, 2008
168 pages
Source:  Library


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review: "The Bite of the Mango" by Mariatu Kamara

I discovered this memoir while reading The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, which I had read for a book club.  Mariatu shares her story as a young girl caught in the civil war of her Sierra Leone village.  The rebels attacked her village, burned most of it to the ground, killed many but let her live.  They just hacked off her hands first.  She was twelve.

Mariatu's story is horrifying, honest, and inspiring.  When I had told the other members of the book club that I was going to read this - they were shocked.  Why would I want to read something that would undoubtedly be difficult emotionally?  But that is exactly why.  I felt that I didn't know nearly enough about that part of the world and this was one way to access that personal truth of one who lived through the war there.  I knew that it was going to be a hard read, so in a way I was prepared for that.  So, I had to read it.

And it is difficult to read the horrors that Mariatu lived through, but I also thought it was going to be more so.  Maybe I overprepared myself, but I wonder if there was a bit of detachment there in the narrative.  This is written for a young teen audience too, so that be what I was picking up on as well.  Given the intended audience, this is also a fairly short (too short?) and fast paced book.

In the end, I am glad to know Mariatu's story.  It does give me some understanding as to the way of life in that part of Africa and the experience of the terrible civil war there.  I need to read more, of course, but I feel like this was a good place to start.

The Bite of the Mango
by Mariatu Kamara
Annick Press, 2008
216 pages
Source:  Library


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Audio Book Review: "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Aristotle Mendoza is an angry guy who likes to be left alone.  His older brother is in prison, but no one in his family talks about him - its almost as if he's really dead, not locked up.  Ari's father is locked up kind of locked up too - but more in his memories of the war that he doesn't talk about.  One day he meets Dante at the pool, and based on their names alone - they hit it off and form a nearly instant bond.  Their friendship doesn't come without some major tests though, but together and with their individual personal battles.

I had an unexpected solo road trip a couple weeks back, and just before I left - I saw that my library had this audio book on the shelf.  At 7 1/2 hours long, this was just a couple hours short of my trip - AND I have been wanting to read this for so long now - I snatched it up and listened.  I was blown away.

This is such a beautiful story of a friendship.  Two guys, on the cusp of "manhood" working to figure out their own identity - wanting to write their own life story with their own ideas.  Ari is caged in and feels trapped by the need to be a "good boy" for his parents, who already have one son in prison.  He needs to create rules, and is okay with breaking them only behind his mother's back.  Dante is also figuring himself out and experimenting and falling in love.

This story went places that I didn't expect, and completely loved.  The ending is so perfect that after I listened to it - I went and read it again.  The interactions between the characters are so honest...  I loved the roles of the parents as well.  The narrator handled the different characters so well, and packed plenty of emotion into his performance.  Do yourself a favor and read or listen to this story if you haven't already!!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Simon and Schuster, 2012
359 pages / 7 hours 30 minutes
Source:  Library


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge

So here's the thing.  I've seen these sort of reading challenges around before, but I've never done one.  I'm talking about challenges where different categories are assigned "points" and you need to read books that fit the category and then add up to 200 points or something in total.  I'm saying 200 points here, because that is, in fact, the rule for this challenge:  The Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge.  This challenge already started, but thankfully I track my books well on Goodreads, so I know what I've read so far this month.  I have no clue how I'll do with this challenge (I doubt I'll complete 200 points), but I'm going to give it a shot.  The categories look tough, but I'll see what I can do to figure them out.  I'll track my progress on the Challenges page, as per the usual.

The categories & points are:

5 points: Read a book that has between 100 and 200 pages.
10 points: Read a debut book by any author. (The book does not have to be a 2015 debut.)
10 points: Read a book that does not take place in your current country of residence.
10 points: Read a book that someone else has already used for the challenge.
15 points: Read a book published under a pseudonym 
15 points: Read a book with “boy,” “girl,” “man” or “woman” in the title (or the plural of these words).
15 points: Read a book with a one-word title
20 points: Read a book with a person's first and last name in the title 
20 points: Read a food-themed book. — Submitted by SCSBC15 finisher Jamie @ Whatever I Think Of!
20 points: Read a book with a verb in the title.
30 points: Read two books with the same title (by different authors). 
30 points: Read a nonfiction book and a fiction book about the same subject 

This challenge runs from November 1, 2015 - January 31, 2016.  For more information, or to join in as well - click HERE.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: "Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes" by Jules Moulin

Ten years ago, Professor Ally Hughes had a wild weekend with a hot younger guy (who had been her student) while her 10 year old daughter Lizzie was away for the weekend with Ally's mother.  She and Jake really connected, but Ally's situation with her job and as a single mother made it impossible to attempt a true relationship.... so they reluctantly parted ways.  Tonight, Lizzie brings home this guy she's been seeing for dinner.  And, it's Jake.

This was such a fun book!  I couldn't stop and accidentally read it all in one night.  It is one of those books that makes you smile the entire time.  Each chapter alternates between present day and ten years ago so you can see what happened the weekend Ally and Jake first got together, and then what is happening now - with Jake and Lizzie.  It's a modern fairy tale where you are hoping for the fairy tale ending the entire time.  Oh, and sex.  Lots and lots of fun sexy times.  Oh boy.

So basically, I loved this book.  I loved Jake and I loved Ally.  Lizzie was a great counterbalance, or at least showed a "typical" 20 year old which contrasts drastically with Jake as a 21 year old in maturity.  I would have liked to have gotten to know Lizzie's friend Weather a little more though...  but that doesn't take anything away from the book as it is....  which is just a fun experience!

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes
by Jules Moulin
Dutton, 2015
278 pages
Source:  Library

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