Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I read very few Young Adult books anymore.  If I do pick one up, it is likely because it has gained such popularity in youth culture that I was to familiarize myself with what my students are reading.  The last YA series I read was Twilight, which I found well written but disappointing after all of the hype.  The description of the Hunger Games didn't appeal to me at all.  Set in the future in what used to be known as North America the main character Katniss volunteers to take part in the Hunger Games as a stand in for her younger sister.  The idea behind the Hunger Games is that 2 young people (a boy and a girl) from each of the 12 districts are pitted against each other in a fight to the death.  The winner gets to live and brings riches home.  This does not sound like my kind of book.  In fact after the disappointment of Twilight, I was reluctant to even consider reading this book.  It was only because an old college friend of mine raved about these books.  She couldn't put them down.  Generally, we agree on choices of fiction.  And I wouldn't have thought her to enjoy these books by their description.  So I put a request in at the library and got the call this past week.
Well, I couldn't have been more wrong about a book.  This book is fantastic!  Very engaging.  So much so, that I wish I hadn't just requested the first book from the library, but instead picked up the series for my own library.  I'm hoping to get the next two books when I'm out running errands tomorrow.  There have been only two other series of books that I wanted to read consecutively with urgency like this, the first being the Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers and the second being the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson.  Absolutely well written, riveting fiction.  I'm very glad that my students are reading these books too!
Thank you S.K.!

March by Geraldine Brooks

March was recommended to me by my old college roommate, Ang.  Ang is someone I trust in book recommendations (though we don't always agree completely, we do enjoy letting each other know about good books we have found and think the other would like - love Good Reads for that!).
If Ang hadn't recommended I pick this one up, I may never have heard about it.  Once I did, I have to admit that I was skeptical.  March is the untold story of the absent father from Little Women, gone to war in 1861.  I'll begin by saying I don't like classics being touched.  It's the same reason I haven't read Scarlett, although Gone With the Wind is one of my all time favorites.  If a story is meant to be told, the author will tell it themselves.  However much we love these characters they are the babies of the author who kindly shares them with us.
That being said, March is the exception to the rule.
March is an amazing book and Brooks is an incredibly gifted writer.  This is not someone who just happened to enjoy Little Women and decided to write about it on a whim.  This is someone who loved Little Women and researched Alcott's life.  Most know that Alcott based the March family on her own family.  Jo representing Alcott herself.  Brooks took it upon herself to research Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott.  He was a teacher and abolitionist.  The story bases itself on his life beliefs, though Brooks' character of March is his own man.
March leaves his Concord home at the beginning of the US Civil war.  He is a Chaplain for the Army with great sympathies for the slaves of the south.  
This book is very, very good - no other words for it.  It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006.  It is a very adult story with frank depictions of war and slavery, so I would not recommend it for a child or teen reading Little Women, but as an adult, it's marvelous.
Thank you Ang, for this one! 

Learning by Karen Kingsbury

This is the second of the Bailey Flanigan series by Kingsbury.  It picks up right where Leaving left off.  Bailey is set to go onstage on Broadway.  Cody is working through his first teaching/coaching job at a small town high school.  Like Leaving, this book bounces back and forth between the two stories.  As both characters begin to develop friendships and intense feelings for other people, you have to wonder where Kingsbury is going with all of this.  I have to admit that there were parts of this book that had me cringe and hope that Kingsbury was going to set right.  Kingsbury's books are Christian fiction and sometimes I find a piece that just doesn't sit right with me (even though I am a Christian myself).  I don't know if it's the idea of Christian characters playing into Christian stereotypes that I don't like or what, I can't seem to put my finger on it.  There was one part* in this book that redeemed a lot of that for me and gave me hope that Kingsbury can be a good ambassador for Christ through her books. 
Like Kingsbury's other fiction, I find these books to be fairly quick, enjoyable reads and look forward to the next 2 books in the series.
(*Bailey's attempt to lead a Bible study with her co-workers)

Leaving by Karen Kingsbury

Leaving is book 1 of the Bailey Flanigan series by Karen Kingsbury.  Those familiar with Kingsbury's work will know Bailey from the various Baxter series.  I believe that this is the 5th series of books that are set in Bloomington, Indiana.  Bailey Flanigan is now a young adult, a college student intent on pursuing her dream of acting on Broadway.  Intertwined with Bailey's story is that of Cody Coleman, a young man who spent part of his teenage years living with the Flanigans.  He and Bailey have a romantic past, but Cody has done his best to distance himself from her in order not to hurt her.  He is an Iraq war vet, a college student finishing his teaching degree, wishing to coach high school football and mentor those the way he was mentored by Bailey's father.
I think if you are to really read and enjoy Kingsbury's books I would go right back to the first series set in Bloomington and work my way through them from there.  Because the characters are so closely related, I think it's much more enjoyable to start at the beginning and read all of their stories, not just pick up and try to fill in gaps as you go along.   I'm sure this series would be fine to read on it's own as well, but I prefer it the other way around.

FYI - Kingsbury's Books set in Bloomington in order:

Redemption Series (Baxter series #1)

Firstborn Series (Baxter series #2)

Sunrise Series (Baxter series #3)

Above the Line Series
Take One
Take Two
Take Three
Take Four

Bailey Flanigan Series
Loving (March 2012)

Anchored in Love, A Tribute to June Carter Cash by John Carter Cash

June Carter Cash seems like such a fascinating woman to me.  She grew up in poverty until her family found success recording and performing in the late 1930's/early 1940's at the age of 10.  She performed throughout the rest of her life.  She was known as a comedienne and performer.  She was a singer and a songwriter.  She discovered and encouraged new talents in the music scene.  She performed with some of the greats of the 20th century.  She was married 3 times in her life, twice divorced in an age when divorce was a very shameful thing.  She was a mother.  For all of her grand accomplishments in her own right, she is most famously remembered as the love of Johnny Cash's life.
I was looking for a book that would help me to know her story.  This is the one I was drawn to.  It is written by her son, John Carter Cash.  It reads like a family memoir, drawing upon his own memories and those of others who knew her best.  Some is in her own words.  A very fascinating, intimate look at a great woman.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

I jumped right into this one after finishing Sarah's Key by the same author.  My expectations were up as I really enjoyed the last book.  I feel pretty let down by this one.  It was okay.  I kept waiting for it to go somewhere that it just never really got to.  There were some plot points that seemed pretty irrelevant to the story at hand that would have made great stories in themselves, but it was pretty all over the place and kinda depressing really. 
This is the story of Antoine Rey, a Parisian divorcee who decides to take his sister away to their childhood vacation spot for her 40th birthday.  It starts off well enough, but the big family secret that they discover doesn't seem so big and matter so much in 2012 (though it would have in 1974 when the story flashes back to).  It wavers from there.  I wouldn't recommend reading this one.  Okay for a rainy afternoon if you have nothing better to do.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Early November?  Really, it's been that long since I posted on here?  Come to think of it, I've been re-reading a lot of older books, so yeah, I guess it has been that long.  So my first book of 2012 is Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay.  I have to say, I feel completely out of the book world to have missed this one.  You know when the book already has a movie out, that's on DVD, you've missed the boat.  But nonetheless, here's my take.
I picked up this book yesterday with some Christmas money purely because it looked interesting.  I hadn't heard about it before, kind of.  Something about it looked familiar and I found out why later on in the day.  I was chatting with my mom briefly and asked if she'd read it.  She reminded me that I bought it for her for Christmas.  It was one of the books on her Amazon wish list.  Right, I felt a little sheepish there.  I remembered getting her the book set in Russia (Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie) but forgot the other book I had picked off the list.  She had had Sarah's Key recommended to her by a new friend in Toronto.
About the book.  For those who, like myself and my mother are just discovering it for the first time.  This is the story of Sarah, a little French girl taken in the 1942 Paris roundups of Jewish families, who were later sent to die at Auschwitz.  Just as Sarah is about to be taken with her parents, she hides her little brother in a cupboard, locking it and promising to return for him.  As she faces atrocity after atrocity it is her determination to free her little brother that keeps her going.
Intertwined with Sarah's story is the story of Julia, an American turned Parisian reporter uncovering the story of the Paris roundups for the 60th Anniversary Commemoration. 
I know it is going to sound trite, but this book really is a page turner.  It's a haunting tale that keeps you wondering what is going to happen next?  What happened to Sarah?  Will she make it?  If you have a good chunk of time it is the kind of book that you can read in a day (or over an evening and a morning like I did).  I just flew threw it.  Sarah's story is one that will stay with me.  Tatiana de Rosnay's writing is so lifelike, that you feel you are part of Sarah's life, and Julia's as well.  At the end, I had to remind myself that they were just fictional characters.  Though, Sarah's story is one that needed telling.  It's a sad, sad reminder of a part of history that has mostly been ignored, swept away because it is from a shameful era.  Thank goodness that de Rosnay has opened up the light onto those who suffered and died in France during the Second World War.  May they no longer be forgotten.
I highly recommend this book to you.  There is a book club guide at the end and it is a novel definitely worth reading and discussing.  I'll be looking for the movie this week, I hope it holds up in comparison.