Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Follow Prisoner Ivan Denisovich Shukhov though one of his days in a Russian labor camp out on the frozen steppe not long after World War II - and one day will be enough.  The life of a Russian prisoner in one of these camps is hard, cold, dreary, and hopeless.  Days trudge on and the men with it...  surviving for the next day, dreaming of finishing their sentence and going home.  They remember happier times with their families; families they know they will probably never see again because even if they live to see the end of their sentence, chances are good that they will either have another sentence added on or they will be exiled and forbidden to return home.

So while this could be just an agenda, or list of events throughout the day and be depressing enough, Solzhenitsyn takes us through the day with Shuktov.  Shuktov is a prisoner eight years into a ten year sentence.  He knows the ropes, he knows how to work things as best he can to fly under the radar with the guards but also win favors from others in his squad.  If you look at this "special" prison as a community, you can see the different layers of power at work, and the shit definitely rolls down hill.  What is interesting is that several of the "upper" layers are also prisoners...  the prisoners are not necessarily bonded together in the brotherhood of their environment.  However, the men of the squad have their own hierarchy as well, but there is more of a bond there.  It was kind of amazing to see the men of Shukhov's squad come together over the work they were doing and taking pride in that work, no matter how terrible the circumstances and tools they were dealing with.

This book was a bit fascinating, but mostly just got me down.  This may not be the Russian for me.... as I think back to Tolstoy fondly.  I am still glad to have read it, but I absolutely need to read something fun and happy now!

*****
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Signet Classics, 1998.  First published 1962.
142 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****


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Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: "Better off Friends" by Elizabeth Eulberg

For Levi and Macallan, it was practically best friendship at first sight.  He was the new kid at school, she - the smart girl asked by the principal to show him around.   And this is the story of the first five years of that friendship - all the ups and downs, the girlfriends and boyfriends, the laughs and cries and drama.  But especially it is the story of how they each question their friendship and wonder if they really are better off as friends - or if they should risk it on the chance for something more?

Macallan was an interesting main character for me.  When we first meet her, she is this young girl - but her history makes her wiser than her eleven years.  Yet, she isn't this little meek thing either....  she's smart, determined, and loyal.  As she matures, she is also fights fiercely on behalf of those who need her support.  I really liked that about her.  Levi also hooked me in - he was a really nice guy with all those fish out of water vulnerabilities and insecurities.  As he matures, he gets a little confused with his priorities and becomes very deserving of a dope slap or two...  but I think we've all been there too.

So, can a guy and a girl be just friends?  Best friends even?  That's where this book goes, and its theme is pretty much When Harry Met Sally... but for today's teens.  I love that movie, and I think this book was a nice reworking of the theme.  It ends up being a quick, light read with some pretty cute moments.  It was exactly the right thing for me to read right now.  I don't want to make it out to be anything more than it is - it isn't the kind of book to blow your mind or whatever, but its nice and cute and perfect if you want a little "awww" in your life.

*****
Better off Friends
by Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2014
278 pages
Source:  Publisher for honest review
*****

 






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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

 How on earth to you write a synopsis for such a novel without giving anything away?  I'll do my best--

In this faraway land of Lords and Ladies, of Knights, Kings and Queens, when dragons are not a too distant memory and seasons last for years, we find the Iron Throne.  King Robert sits upon the Iron Throne, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.  He asks Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell to come and be his second-in-command as he finds few trustworthy people in his court.  He is right not to trust them - his wife, Queen Cersei is a Lannister, a ruthless family who controls many with their wealth and wants to rule the Kingdoms.  The Lannister's have bought many friends, but they have many enemies as well...  The last of the Targaryens, the family who lost the Throne to Robert in battle, are plotting their own return to power.  And in the background, winter is coming.  The long cold season is creeping down from the north, complete with its own set of horrors beyond the cold and the people fighting for the throne are not paying attention.

See, all that and I'm only scraping the surface!  These different and separate drives for power are almost like a multi-player game of chess; incredibly cunning though intensely brutal.  I have, of course, become obsessed with the HBO series based upon these books, but haven't rewatched the previous seasons.  I was surprised at how closely Season One follows this book, but I will say that the book allows for greater character depth which I loved.  I was afraid that I would just start replaying the show in my head while I was reading... but that didn't quite happen.  I did picture most of the adults as the actors - I see now how they really fit their parts.  But the Stark children - including Jon Snow - I see completely differently in the book.  I really see how young they are.  And while I should not have been surprised, I still was a little shocked when I think about the degree to which HBO sexualized this story and the characters.  I mean, I get it - it is HBO and sex sells and all that, but they really took some liberties.  But the basis is there - the reasons why I love this story.  The female characters are strong and intelligent, there are shocking twists to keep you on your toes, and you have to respect all the players - because even the "bad guys" have some good to them.

This did take me about a month to read, and I'm glad for that.  This isn't something to rush through because you might miss something!  But if I hadn't been also keeping up with school work and all, I probably could've read this in about half the time.  I'm going to remember that as I work my way through the rest of the series.  I did read the edition pictured above even though I normally avoid TV or Movie tie-in covers, but it is an oversized paperback.  There is no way I would be patient enough for the small font on the smaller mass market paperbacks!  I'll look for more this size as I read on for sure.  Also, I wanted to quickly mention that the text goes 674 pages - the rest is an appendix featuring the family trees and history of the main characters in the book which is really helpful (especially at the beginning!)

*****
A Game of Thrones 
by George R.R. Martin
Bantam Books,  2011.  First published 1996.
694 pages
Series:  A Song of Ice and Fire #1
Source:  Purchased New

*****






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Monday, April 7, 2014

Audio Book Review: "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad

This novella tells of Steamboat Captain Charles Marlow's experience travelling up the Congo River in Africa.   During this time, Marlow becomes fascinated with the man in charge of the station that is his destination on the river - one Mr. Kurtz.  This station is deep within the African wilds, and Kurtz has been there for some time.  There are troubles to be had with the natives, attacks on the ship, and some shady dealings among the Company managers that are on board.

The story is set during the time of European Colonization of the African Continent.  At first look, the title seemed only to mean the heart of the unknown - the deep dark jungles of Africa.  But I think the book is more than that; it is looking at the motives of humans and a great many are darkly motivated - no matter skin color.  That it is somehow expected that the black-skinned native Africans are evil naturally, and that the good white man is superior.  But here, there are more instances of the white man bearing ill-will on his fellow man.  I have a feeling that literature scholars have probably studied this work for all sorts of symbolism and hidden meanings that I'm just not about explore - but feel free if you are so interested.

This is such a short book that I'm not sure why I decided to listen to the audio version of it.  Oh yeah, KENNETH BRANAGH!  Also, the audio is pretty short as well - roughly 4 hours - and I figured that I'd listen to it in one ride to and from school.  That didn't quite happen (the ride was shorter than expected) so my listening experience was broken up over a couple weeks.  I don't recommend that.  There were some parts of this that I found confusing as it was, and that was only compounded by taking a long break in between listens.  The language is beautiful, and Branagh's narration is wonderful and fraught with emotion.  And while a good part of the adventure was exciting, I still had trouble getting into the rest of it.  I think this will require a reread at some point, but I'm not terribly excited about that prospect and will likely put that off for quite a while.
*****
Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh
Audible Signature Classics, 2010.  First published 1899.
3 hours 51 minutes
Source:  Purchased New
*****




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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book Quotes

As (a small) part of a project for school, I created this little graphic featuring some of my favorite book/library related quotes and thought I'd share it with you.  Enjoy!  Got a favorite book quote you'd like to share?  Put it in the comments!  Thanks!

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Totally Last Minute Readathon! #24in48

This is just a super sloppy very quick post to say that I'm joining in the #24in48 Readathon which starts in....  3 hours.  Nothing like the last minute!

Basically the idea is to read for 24 hours within a 48 hour time period.  You know, because who really stays awake reading for 24 hours?  Oh, you do?  Ok then.  Well, I can't.  I've never been able to pull all nighters - the closest was when I had newborn babies to are for.... and even then, I got a little bit of sleep every night.

This readathon is hosted by A Home Between Pages and you can sign up HERE.

Seeing as how I am signing up for this just hours before it begins - I am most definitely not in any way prepared for this...  so we'll just see how it turns out!  I will be stealing borrowing my son's reading timer bookmark thing to really see how close to the 24 hours I actually get.

Good Luck everyone!  Have fun!
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review: "Half a Chance" by Cynthia Lord

Lucy and her family have just moved - again.  This time to a lake in New Hampshire; but as soon as they arrive, her dad is off for another extended photography assignment.  Lucy, her mom, and their dog are left to unpack and settle in.  Thankfully, Lucy quickly meets Nate - a boy close to her age who spends his summers in the cottage next door to Lucy.  They become fast friends and spend time watching the loons who live out on the island.  In fact, when Lucy finds out about a kids' photography contest that her father is judging, Nate helps her and lets her enter with his name so her father won't know or give her special treatment.  When it comes to entering the contest though, Lucy has some tough decisions because some of the photos show the difficulties that Nate's family is facing...  and that may not be okay with Nate.

This is a great middle grade novel that addresses well with issues that many kids of this age group are dealing with.  First, Lucy is the new kid in town.  It can be very scary to be in that position, no matter how many times it has happened.  She is put in a situation where there are kids her age right next door - but they have a friend who feels like competing for their attention. There is a tension there that is easily recognizable, and it is dealt with clearly and positively.  Second, Lucy has an absent father.  Her parents are still married, but her father leaves for long periods of time, and sometimes Lucy feels less important to him than his work.  Also, she doesn't think he can really see the talents she has.  The author shows how this works out in Lucy's twelve year old mind, and shows strategies for working through and communicating these feelings.  Third, Lucy's only friend here in this new place is going through some family issues that are difficult to understand and difficult even for the adults to decide the best course of action.  This is dealt with sensitively, and demonstrate the different ways that you can be a good friend.

And while all of these issues are worked through in this book, it doesn't feel didactic at all.  It is an entertaining story, full of life and wonder and authenticity.

I will absolutely recommend this to middle readers (4th-6th grade or so) in my library looking for realistic fiction books about friendship, being the new kid, nature and photography.

*****
Half a Chance
by Cynthia Lord
Scholastic, 2014
218 pages
Source:  Publisher for honest review
*****
Links to Amazon:


Half a Chance
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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: "Hollow City" by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City picks up exactly where Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children leaves off. The children are in a boat, rowing away from their little Welsh island and toward...  well, they aren't sure exactly.  But they are looking for help for Miss Peregrine, who seems to be stuck in bird form.  They decide to head toward London, in hopes of finding another ymbryne (there are rumors that there is still one not captured by the wights) that can save Miss Peregrine.  There are many dangers ahead, because while the children find more peculiar people and animals...  it is hard to tell friend from foe.

It is always hard to read a book that is meant to be the second in a series, especially a series.  So often, the book ends up feeling more like filler - where not enough really happens except some plot and absolutely nothing is exciting until the end, just to hook you into the next book.  This was absolutely NOT the case here.

I find this world so mesmerizing...  it is so dark and nearly hopeless that I can't help but be in love with it somehow.  The journey the children take here seems to have a few detours that may seem a little indulgent or extraneous.. but really serve to impart some information necessary further down the road.  I kind of get lost in the peculiar world, learning the history and meeting new peculiar people.  Take another look at the cover - that is one of the amazing photos shown throughout this book.  It is eye-catching and memorable, isn't it?  You want to know this girl's story, right?  I was about half way through the book before I realized I hadn't come across her yet, and then was still wide-eyed as she was revealed.  The entire story is just at that level of amazement, and horror when you learn more about her and what the children are up against.

The ending is fantastic!  It comes up quick and abrupt, but is filled with some very interesting possibilities.  I can't wait to see what comes next in this series!

*****
Hollow City:  The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Quirk, 2014
396 pages
Series:  Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #2
Source:  Publisher for Honest Review
*****
Link to Amazon:


Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
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Monday, March 31, 2014

BIG NEWS!!

This has been me for the past week!

Your regularly scheduled book review has been moved to tomorrow in order to bring you this 
big news announcement.....

As will be officially announced at work today - I am moving up to the Young Adult Librarian position!

Our former YA Librarian has moved on to another library in our consortium (not too far away though - so hopefully we can still meet up from time to time).  I am super excited for her because she is awesome at what she does and deserves all the good things.

But I'm not going to lie - my brain went straight from being sad that she was leaving to wondering who would take her place?  Which naturally went to - why couldn't it be me?  I talked with my husband and decided to go for it - at least ask to be considered and not be too upset if someone else applied with more experience, etc.  After all, I had a job in the Children's Room that I loved - so I didn't have much to lose.  I love the library I work in, and because everyone else does too - these opportunities don't come around too often.  I had to go for it.

And so it goes - I will start a several week long transition period in which I will get to know the collection, the community & school contacts, and the teens themselves so that I am fully in the position before Summer Reading starts.  Also, this gives the Children's Department time to fill my position.  (If you are looking for a part time Library Assistant position in a Children's Room of a public library  in NE Massachusetts - let me know!)  I am going to miss working so closely with the staff of that department - they are all such wonderful people.  I'm going to miss the kids too - but I'm not going too far!  Just upstairs!

I am so excited for this new opportunity and the challenges that await me.  I'm still wrapping my head around it all.  Life is going to get a little crazy around here for the next year or so (which I'm sure will be reflected here as well) but I can't wait!

This is why you go after your dreams kids - they just might come true.  
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