Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anna Frith, a housemaid in a village stricken with the plague in 1666, emerges as an unlikely heroine with the ability to adapt and continue to move forward despite unthinkable calamities and death. Her village decides to try to quarantine the plague to the village boundaries and what follows is a year of great sadness, death and misery, but also a change and strengthening in Anna.

I am really impressed with Anna. She is a humble housemaid, her husband and two children die; she grew up with an abusive and horrible father and lives to see many horrors. Where she is at the beginning of the book and where she ends up by the end is quite fantastic. This quote from the book really describes her spirit; "You Anna, have recalled to me what my duties are. . . for you grieve and yet you live, and are useful and bring life to others."

This book is GRAPHIC - not in a sexual way so much, but just in the description of human suffering and death and decay and oozing sores and other yucky bodily fluids. The baseness of illness and bodily functions are described quite vividly here. There are scenes that discuss the plague sores bursting that unfortunately I will always remember. But to me, this makes a great book - being able to describe things so that you can really believe them. And make you thankful for the modern cleanliness and hand sanitzer.

An interesting read based on true events in the village of Eyam, England during the plague. This is really more like 4.5 stars for me.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

The Year of Fog The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the story of Abby, who looks away for a moment and loses her fiancé's daughter. To the sea? To a kidnapper? The rest of the book unfolds as Abby tries to make sense of the loss and struggles forward with an intense drive to find Emma if at all possible.

I don't know exactly how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I felt it was agonizingly sloooow, when I just wanted to know what the heck happened to Emma. On the other hand, maybe this is true to life, because if I lost one of my children, I imagine it would be difficult every day to live with the unknown, the guilt and the remorse and days would go by maddeningly slow as I tried to keep moving forward.

As much as it seemed slow in some spots, the book still held my attention and I wanted to finish and find out what was going to happen. I had to restrain myself from looking at the back few pages to see what was going to happen.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review: The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

The Book of Fires The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book about Agnes Trussel, a girl living in Sussex in the 1700s. She lives with her family on a farm where hard work and sometimes going hungry is the norm. After a man forces himself upon her and she realizes that she is pregnant, she steals some coins from a neighbor and runs away to London. Miserable and alone, she stumbles upon Blacklocks Pyrotechny where she is taken in and becomes an apprentice to the fireworks master, Mr. Blacklock. As Agnes grows bigger and fears that her pregnancy will be her undoing, she has to figure out what her next steps will be to keep her position in a field she finds she has an apptitude for.

I really enjoyed this book. The language is so beautiful and descriptive; I don't think I will ever forget the details of slaughtering a pig on the farm and collecting the blood to make sausage. The smells and sounds are vivid throughout. I liked Agnes and felt for her predicament in a time where the rape of a woman was probably her fault anyway and no one has mercy for a girl with an illegitimate child. Life was rough then. If you didn't have money, or a job, you really didn't have many options. I also liked Mr. Blacklock and I liked how he took mercy on Agnes.

The ending was different than I was hoping for, but still great. I will look forward to reading more of Jane Borodale's works in the future.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Review: The Uptairs Room by Johanna Reiss

The Upstairs Room The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
Read for the 2010 Challenge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thoughtful look back at her experiences during World War II, Johanna Reiss tells the story of Sini and Annie, Jewish sisters in Holland who spend nearly three years in hiding to avoid capture by the Nazis.

This is a sweet, if you can call something about this subject sweet, innocent story told through ten-year-old Annie's eyes. At first she doesn't understand the war and why people start to treat her differently just because she is Jewish. She talks about the stars that they have to start wearing on their clothes and the tree where notices are posted that "tells them they can't work anymore" and other demands that grow in seriousness.

When they are first taken in to hiding, Annie doesn't really understand it and hates the boredom and stiffness of a life lived in an upstairs room, but she bears it with patience and optimism. She finally gets the chance to read the "real newspapers, not just the ones that tell lies" and reads of the concentration camps and what is really happening and then in this realization she promises to never complain about having to stay away from the windows and hide again.

I was touched by the kindness of the family who takes in the sisters and others that help them even though they could be executed for it. It speaks to the human spirit that I find to be generally good and has the courage to act. This is a special read that shows the terror of the war in a meaningful way. I really liked the story told through Annie's eyes.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review: Last Kiss by Jon Ripslinger

Last Kiss Last Kiss by Jon Ripslinger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A classic Romeo and Juliet type tale where the unsuitable farm boy is in love with the higher class beautiful rich girl whose father doesn't approve. Then when Lisa is found dead, the finger is pointed at Billy who was the last one with her.

This book was pretty good. The plot was fairly predictable but has some unexpected twists at the end that keeps it somewhat new.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Revew: Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett Fever Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This sequel to Suite Scarlett really disappointed me. The stuff that I liked in the first book - the quirky brother, the bratty little sister, the novelty of living in a hotel just got annoying in this one. It felt like so much filler to try to get to the end of the book and then I was left with a major cliffhanger that ticked me off. That said, I will read the next book to see what the heck is going to happen, but this wasn't my favorite.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.


These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.

I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...