Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

October Reading

Apparently, I haven’t taken my own good advice lately, because what I’ve read in the past month has equaled not much. My blogging time has been taken up with the 31 Days of Picture Books and I’ve had a blast with it. I have managed to squeeze in a few adult reads, though.

The Silver StarAt the beginning of the month I  read The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls. This novel was an interesting combination of To Kill A Mockingbird and The Glass Castle, Walls’s first book, a bestselling memoir. Here’s the plot summary of The Silver Star from goodreads.com:

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, a woman who “found something wrong with every place she ever lived,” takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears many stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Because money is tight, Liz and Bean start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town—a big man who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Bean adores her whip-smart older sister—inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist. But when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts and makes friends, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz.

Jeannette Walls, supremely alert to abuse of adult power, has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

The Silver Star reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird because of two child characters, Bean and her cousin, and because of the unfairness of the small town’s judicial system. Though the issues brought up don’t have much to do with race, they have a lot to do with gender and social status equality. I enjoyed the characters, though I thought them a bit to reminiscent of the main characters in The Glass Castle. The book also had that run down mill town feel that is so poignantly portrayed in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. It’s as if you get a peek into what Empire Falls looked like before everything shut down. Walls does a good job of drawing a reader into her writing by putting flesh on her characters. However, this book was my least favorite of hers because the plot was a tad too predictable. Still, I read it cover to cover in three days and I think most people who like Walls’s work will enjoy The Silver Star.

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and RedemptionI also read Kisses From Katie as part of my 7 Challenge to learn more about poverty stricken countries. Katie Davis writes about her experiences as a very young woman who goes to Uganda for a few months after graduating from high school and cannot see herself staying away ever again. The book is both heartbreaking and heart-swelling. It’s heartbreaking to not just suspect or vaguely hear about Ugandans’ hardships but to really know what life is like for them. It’s important to know, but it’s heartbreaking.  It is heart-swelling to see that one young woman can make so much of a difference if she will stop saying “someone else” and start saying “Me. I will love one person and one more person and bandage one person and one more person and do what I can. Even if it’s never enough, I will do what I can because that’s all I can do and that’s what I must do.” (paraphrase). You must read it, not as a fine piece of literature, but as a bolster for your belief in what one person (read: you) can change if you try. I am so challenged and changed by this book.

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1)Finally, I just finished the Young Adult favorite, Alanna: The First AdventureThis book was written in 1983 by Tamora Pierce, but somehow it didn’t show up on my wide book radar until I started this blog and saw it on so many Top Ten Tuesday lists. I quickly learned that Alanna is a favorite heroine of many book loving girls. And since my real life name is only one letter away from Alanna, I had to read it for myself. (If your curious about why I go by Mia on this blog, check out the About Me page). I put it on my to-read list and then October came. October is historically a month when I crave a good fantasy adventure book. Last October, I discovered The Hero and The Crown and thoroughly enjoyed it. The year before that, it was Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale. I think I can trace this feeling that Fall means fantasy adventure books back to when I read the Lord of The Rings trilogy in the fall lo those many years ago. But that would be way to nerdy to admit. Anyway, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t love Alanna. I liked it okay, but I’m afraid I missed the boat when I was twelve or thirteen that would have sailed me into Tamora Pierce fandom. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be reading the rest of the series! Because it’s October, and adventurous fantasy stories are akin to October (write that down).

Now I’m reading Rump: The True Story of RumpelstiltskinSo far, it’s much grimmer than I thought it would be. We all know how the fairy tale ends, so I’m hoping there’s some kind of twist that will make this poor boy Rump into a hero after all. Rumpelstiltskin as a character has always unnerved me. I think the writing style of Liesl Shurtlief is very similar to Shannon Hale’s–pointed and carries the story along at a good pace–but I wish it were a wee bit more descriptive. I’m interested to see how the author weaves the brief mentions of other fairy tales into Rumpelstiltskin’s story. Expect a full review soon.

How’s your October reading going?

Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

August Reading, Part 2, and A Tiny Rant Against Autumn

There’s a crispness in the air that I despise. Yes, I said despise. Sorry, Fall and Football lovers. I love summer and I cannot lie. I do not like cold days. I do not like the mess of leaves all over the back yard, and all the raking…raking…raking. I don’t like watching the summer flowers die. I don’t like heavy clothing and jeans every day.  But really, the biggest problem of all is that my family is not taking our one and only beach vacation until mid-September. Summer, please stay until then!

However! I am trying to conjure up happy memories of hot chocolate and books by a warm fire. Maybe if I start a Fall reading list, I’ll let go of my morbidity towards Autumn. If I can keep finding as many good books in the Autumn months as I’ve found in August, the coming season will be pretty swell.

Here are the books I finished this month.:

1. Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele's Secret (Wildwood, #2) The sequel to Wildwood Dancing, but not nearly as great. Still, a pretty good read, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. Marillier is one of  my new favorite YA authors.

2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read my reviews (yes, there are two of them) here and here

3. The Artist’s Daughter

I really liked this memoir. Read my review here

4.  Slash Your Grocery Budget & Eat a Whole Foods Diet With Aldi by Carrie Willard

I read a slew of nonfiction this month. I consider it a slew, anyway. The main reason was that Ella came down with a stomach bug on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t leave her side without her getting upset. So while she dozed, I read all the free e-books I’ve been downloading to the Kindle app on my phone. I find these free books on moneysavingmom.com, but I usually download them and then forget about them. I was grateful to have them this weekend, though.

Slash Your Grocery Budget was a great book for people who shop at Aldi or are considering shopping at Aldi. It includes menus and recipes—features that equal awesomeness in any nonfiction book. I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I plan to. Look for this book to show up in my next Saturday Cooking feature.

5. A Simpler Season by Jessica Fisher

With the chill in the air and the impending hours watching football, I’m feeling like now is a good time to start planning some projects for Christmas. Last Christmas I had all kinds of ideas and hardly any of them got done. I’m okay with that; my kids were 3 and 1, we had a nice holiday season that was not as stressful as usual, we celebrated what mattered. Still, I’d like to be a little more involved in the details this year. A Simpler Season was a good starting point for me to think through those some of those details. Will you still find me in Target two days before Christmas? Probably. But hope springs eternal.

6. How to Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donahue

A departure from the norm for me, but in a fun, not-too-terrible, romantic comedy kind of way. Read my review here.

Now I’m working on East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. For school with Ella, we’re reading In Grandma’s Attic. I can’t tell you how much I am loving re-reading my favorite children’s chapter books with Ella. We tried The Bobbsey Twins, but it was a little wordy for now. Maybe in a year or two. I actually never liked those books much, but they seem cute to me now.

Tell me what should go on my Fall reading list! I need a long, cheering list to console me over being robbed (robbed!) of summer.

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Wildwood Dancing Review

I read Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, because another book blogger (whose blog I can’t find anymore…woops…) said it was one of her favorite books of all time. It was published in 2007, but I had never heard of it before a few weeks ago. I looked it up on goodreads.com and decided it was a good time for a fairy tale style book. And I was right. I devoured this book. Lost sleep over it, in fact. This is the first book I have read by Marillier, and I’m already onto my second.

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)Wildwood Dancing is loosely based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale, with many changes and additions. Set in Transylvania, in a castle in the fabled Wildwood, the book opens on a family of five daughters saying goodbye to their father for the winter. He must leave for better climates due to health concerns. He leaves Jena, his second eldest daughter, in charge of the family and family merchant business. In a time when women were not considered worthy of much education, Jena’s father goes against the grain in allowing his daughters as many educational opportunities as possible in a small village setting.

Jena and her sisters, Tatiana, Paula, Iulia, and Stela, are saddened by their father’s departure, but they are cheered by a secret they have long shared: they have a portal to the Other Kingdom. What is the Other Kingdom? It’s where the fantasy characters of fairy tales live–dwarves, trolls, fairies, and many other non-human beings. Every full moon, Jena and her sisters are able to access the portal into the Other Kingdom for the dance held at full moon. They do not wear out shoes, but they do have secret stashes of ball gowns. This arrangement seems perfect, but there is a darkness hovering over the family related to the Wildwood. As a little girl, Jena and her two cousins, Costi and Cezar, experience a tragedy that changes the courses of their lives more than they realize. The darkness deepens when the Night People come to the forest. The Night People resemble vampires, but they are not exactly the same. The book is set before Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, and I really admire Marillier for knowing her history on this one and going back to the original folklore.  Jena’s family becomes entangled with the Night People and disasters in the village make Cezar, Jena’s power hungry and vengeful cousin and neighbor, suspicious and enraged. It’s up to Jena and her sisters to put to rights all that has been upset between the Other Kingdom and the world in which they live.

Unlike some fairy tale re-tellings, Wildwood Dancing becomes an intricate story in the hands of Juliet Marillier.  She makes more lively and lifelike characters, researches thoroughly the area where the novel is set, and teaches readers Romanian words along the way. The additions of a magical pet frog, cunning or charming non-humans as dancing partners for the sisters, and smart and educated “princesses” (really merchant daughters) transform the Twelve Dancing Princesses into a riveting tale. This is a book I stayed up late to finish. It is fanciful and fun. I would add it to my list of Great Books for Teenage Girls, and recommend it to anyone who likes a fun fairy tale story. I’m currently reading the companion novel, Cybele’s Secret, which so far is not quite as good, but still a fun read.

And if you’re wondering if I’ve become a Young Adult fiction or fantasy junkie, rest assured–I have not. My next review will be of the 1927 release Islanders by Helen R. Hull. So stay tuned for a more serious book review in the next few days.

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