We Have Moved!

We have moved our blog to the new CHB website! Check us out over there to find our latest stories and reviews!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

World Book Night: The First Batch

I’ve read through the first five of my thirty-three unread World Book Night titles. It’s an exciting year so far and I can’t wait to move further down the list. I haven’t read anything Earth shattering yet but there are some solid books to look forward to.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is exactly my kind of scary (as in not scary at all but with a high creep factor). Using a series of very strange and very cool vintage photographs Riggs tells the story of Jacob’s discovery of Miss Peregrine’s orphanage. Jacob’s great grandparents died in Poland as the Third Reich entered Eastern Europe, but before that happened they sent their son (Jacob’s grandfather) to a special home on an island off the coast of Wales. There Miss Peregrine took care of children orphaned by the war and hunted by monsters. As Jacob looks deeper into his grandfather’s past he discovers that Miss Peregrine’s was not a home for ordinary orphans and the monsters his grandfather fought were more than just Nazis. It all gets a little overthetop, but it is a lot of fun. Riggs built the novel around actual found photographs; this creates a few narrative difficulties, but makes for a unique reading experience.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is more sentimental than my usual fare, but I so enjoyed this novel. I got caught up in everything that I wanted for the characters and it was often difficult to stop reading. Ford stays away from soapboxing and moralizing in this tale of love in the time of Japanese internment and tells a somewhat deceptively simple story of first loves, family obligations, betrayal, and loyalty. A really enjoyable read and the book I will be handing out on April 23rd!

I am a long time fan of A Prairie Home Companion. I was so excited to read Pontoon because while I love Garrison Keillor’s radio show I had never read any of his Lake Wobegone novels. This book just didn’t do anything for me. I would venture to say it is the weirdest book I have ever read. A lot of descriptions of weird sex, sad people, and outlandish events. Sure some of it is funny but most of it is just absurd.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow is probably the book on the list that I will like the least, but I have gotten used to the one dark mystery novel on the list each year. I chose to do this one in audiobook and that was definitely one of my better decisions. It is narrated by Edward Herrman who is quite possibly one of the best audiobook narrators ever (Richard Gilmore forever!). So, Presumed Innocent is a piney romance novel with a murder at its core. I have dubbed it a Sex-Mystery; is this a genre? Interesting fact: conversations with other readers have shown me that this novel is the 1987 version of Gone Girl – a megabestselling dark mystery with an explosive twist. Everyone read it and everyone talked about it. Not for me but good going WBN book pickers; I think this one will be popular on the 23rd.

It feels strange to say but I had no real emotional response to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and I typically like this type of memoir for all the feels it provides. I enjoyed reading about her progress, following her as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in order to kick heroin and become the person she needed to be. I admired her strength as a person and talents as a writer, but on the whole Wild did not move me. I’m going to chalk that up to too much hype and expectation. I will definitely be reading more of Strayed’s work though.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reading Group Selections - January 2014

The best books for reading groups are the ones that foster discussions - whether your book club members are boisterous or more subdued, talking about books is what those meetings are all about! Picking just the right book is always a thrill; love it or hate it - book club books are the ones that stand out.
Here are a few recent releases that would lead to great discussions in any book club!

The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who—after setting her family's farm on fire to kill her abusive father—seeks refuge in an 1840s Shaker community.
The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol
Le Divorce meets The Elegance of the Hedgehog in this hilariously entertaining mega-bestseller from France.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
A masterful twist on the serial killer tale: a violent quantum leap featuring a memorable and appealing heroine in pursuit of a deadly criminal.
Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders, in Abani's suspenseful work.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Michelle Reviews: The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze is a high middle grade speculative fiction novel that is simply fantastic. Basically, this novel tells the story of a privileged young white girl in 1960 Louisiana who is transported to 1860 where her ancestors mistake her for a slave. I sometimes make blanket statements about my reading habits, such as “I don’t really like sci-fi.” And then a totally awesome book comes along and welcomes me into the genre. Apparently, I need more speculative fiction in my life. I haven’t read very far into this subgenre, but when you have books like this one as well as Octavia Butler’s Kindred or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go leading you in it is hard to resist. I so value works that pull me out of my typical reading zone. 

Sophie is thirteen years old in 1960 when she is pulled away from her home in New Orleans after the divorce of her parents. With her father in New York City with his new wife and her mother in school, Sophie is brought to spend the summer with her maiden aunt and bedridden grandmother on their sprawling estate. Sophie is not the idea of the genteel southern lady that her mother and grandmother believe she should be. She is almost constantly chastised for spending too much time in the sun. Being outdoors, climbing trees, and reading fairy tales are not proper activities for a young lady, but Sophie cannot resist the lure of the maze that runs through her grandmother’s back yard. Once she reaches the center of the maze a mysterious creature greets her, she makes a hasty wish for adventure, and finds herself in the year 1860 back when her family’s estate was a thriving plantation. Upon seeing her deeply tanned skin, curly hair, and disorderly clothing her ancestors assume she is a slave sent from a neighboring plantation.

Sophie’s reaction to being labelled “colored” is immediately met with more question than fear. “In 1960 white people were white people and colored people were colored and nobody had any trouble telling them apart.” The beauty of Sherman’s novel lies in this sentiment. The Freedom Maze is a novel about the complexity of heritage and race. And it is written on a middle grade level. What Sherman has done here is amazing. Writing about Sophie and her family in 1960 she creates an atmosphere of subtle and even casual racism (that will be familiar to today’s readers because it still very much exists). Then she has that juxtaposed brilliantly against the utter cruelty of Sophie’s family in 1860 and the new family that creates itself around her.

Growing up in a racist white household in the 1960s was rather idyllic. One could revel in the Old South while drinking sweet tea and reading Gone with the Wind. Sophie didn’t worry about the plight of “colored” people. She never had to; she never had to confront her assumptions about the lives of those different from her or her own privilege. Spending six months in 1860 exposes Sophie not only to the realities of racism in the slavery era south but to those that have lingered on 100 years later into her own time. Living among the slaves, seeing the truth of their lives, the depths of their feeling, and all the ways in which she absolutely related to them exposed her for the first time to just how similar she was not just to these individuals of a different race but even of a different time. The revelations about the truth of her heritage (not to divulge too many plots points, but Sophie’s dark skin and curly hair stem from somewhere) and her modern family’s willful blindness awaken in Sophie both a coming of age and a coming to compassion.

The Freedom Maze is a deeply layered and complex story, and it reads so easily and hits perfectly at the level for its intended audience. I am frankly amazed by Sherman’s abilities and cannot wait to read more of her work. I strongly urge you to read this important and wonderful book and share it with your kids/students/friends/the neighbors’ kids. Kids notice race, they notice difference, and they notice what is ‘other.’ It is so important for them to see stories that unite us in a common history that admits we are flawed but we are human and we are equal. We are the same in our difference.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Michelle Reviews: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

When I received a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory, I also received a letter from her about just how personal this novel was. A new novel by Anderson will always be cause for excitement but reading this letter raised my anticipation of TIKOM to eleven. The novel is about a young girl dealing with the fallout of her father’s sufferings with PTSD, and, as Anderson explains, she suffered in the same way. The horrors her father witnessed at Dachua have haunted him and the rest of their family since 1945. In her letter Anderson writes “while this book is in many ways more personal for me, I believe it is universal in that it is for anyone who had to grow up too fast, or who found the adult world utterly baffling.”

Our narrator, Hayley Kincaid, opens the novel by showing us exactly how disconnected she is from her world. She is in detention (reading Slaughterhouse-Five, probably the most famous book about PTSD) and railing against everything. Life, authority, all of it. She has created for herself a black and white world of freaks and zombies; freaks are the dangerous ones who feel life and thus sadness. Zombies turn off feeling to fit in…to be happy. Here’s the thing about Laurie Halse Anderson…this part of the novel that doesn’t really seem integral to the plot explains so much about Hayley and teenagers as a whole and turns out to be the major message of the novel. Hayley, like all the sad, lonely kids, has created a dichotomy that she can understand. She can’t be happy because she won’t be plastic (to appropriate a term from Mean Girls); she won’t be zombiefied. It takes the bulk of the novel for the real lesson to sink in; we all have problems and it takes sticking together to work through them. There are no freaks and there are no zombies; we’re all just pitiful, pitiable humans.

Hayley has established herself as a hardened individual, but we quickly see just how afraid she is. The consequences of Hayley’s father’s PTSD (everything from substance abuse, impulsive anger, deep depression, and on) have been affecting her since the death of her grandmother (Hayley’s mother died when she was young. Her life is a tumult of loses). As Hayley nears her high school graduation the disruptive manner of their life together comes to a head.

The novel focuses on Hayley and her father, but it is a novel about letting people in and Anderson has peopled with characters capable of giving love to Hayley and those who need her love as well. She watches as the perfect life of Gracie, her only friend, falls apart. She sees the effects of substance abuse on the family of Finn and new friend and possible love interest. She witnesses the return of her stepmother. At first Hayley refuses to acknowledge the pain of the people in her life. Not through any selfish means but by lack of understanding. Their pain is their own fault, or something they can control or ignore. The pain Hayley’s father (and in turn Hayley) carries around cannot be ignored. He carries the pain of everyone who died in combat. When Hayley opens herself up to the depth of the pain in the lives of others she can finally let them in.
At the end of the novel after Hayley and her father have danced with death, she is able to look at Finn and see the possibilities of life. Of creating something new instead of living in constant fear of the past. The novel ends with Finn telling Hayley, “when we get scared or lonely or confused, we’ll pull out these memories and wrap them around us and they’ll make us feel safe … and strong.” Finally, Hayley is able to create new memories that allow her to grow.

The Impossible Knife of Memory is a sad novel but it is full of the hope that we can place in each other. Like Anderson’s groundbreaking Speak, TIKOM tells a story that we don’t really want to hear. It tells a story that we need to hear. And Anderson tells it wonderfully.  


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...