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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, narrated by the author, was our April book club selection. This memoir will have you wondering where child services was for most of Jeannette’s life. Her parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, had three other children and were often negligent in their parenting, and even dangerous — placing their kids directly in dangerous situations or failing to prevent them from being in such places. The family moved a lot in the early days until her mother inherited some money that would have allowed them to live comfortably if budgeted well, but as her parents were very bohemian, practicality was outside their comfort zone.

Each child in this family was forced to find their own way to cope and survive, and some did so better than others. In many cases, the children went their separate ways, but there were times when they defended on another from their parents and from those willing to abuse them. Clinging to one another was an option, but eventually, West Virginia’s harsh landscape and judgment on outsiders forced the older children to seek their fortunes in New York City.

Walls has some tales to tell and many of them sound like they couldn’t possibly be true — did she really cook hotdogs by herself at age 3? While I wonder about the recollection of some events, I see that her point is not the chronology but the need for her to survive on her own most of the time, even though she had both parents at home. The kids acted more like adults on some occasions and when the kids called them out for it, they were punished because they were expected to respect their elders no matter what.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls at is core is a story of hope and survival. Walls should be commended for her bravery in speaking about her childhood, especially after hiding it for so long as she climbed the ladder in the world of journalism. Well written and engaging, this is a memoir that will have you regretting anytime you fought with your less bohemian parents.

RATING: Quatrain

What the Book Club Thought:

Everyone finished the book and thought the writing was very fluid. They were appalled by how the Walls’ children were treated by their parents and how the mother and father neglected their responsibilities on so many levels. There were moments in the book where some members wanted more information, particularly about the youngest child, but agreed that maybe Jeannette did not have memories of her youngest sister’s plight beyond what she wrote. This book was well discussed and raised a lot of issue as to whether the parents had an over-arching philosophy for how they lived their lives or whether it was merely selfishness. Very good discussion book.

About the Author:

Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, she graduated with honors from Barnard College, the women’s college affiliated with Columbia University. She published a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, in 2005.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Source: School library
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is currently the oldest U.S. Supreme Court justice, but she’s also a woman who understands what it is like to be told she cannot do something because she is female or because she is Jewish. Even as these moments must have been disheartening and made her sad, she persisted and resisted. These are phrases that are common in today’s world as many women are finding their voice and standing up for greater equality for all — men and women alike.

Imagine a time in history when women were told to find a husband instead of go to college or even law school. Imagine being one of 10 female students in law school where there were 500 men in one class. Imagine doing your best and there were still impediments to getting the job you wanted. These are the obstacles Ginsburg dealt with as a young woman and mother, but these are also the same obstacles that many minorities still face even in the 21st Century.

When reading this book with my daughter, she thought it was weird that Ginsburg was told she couldn’t be a lawyer because she was a mother and that she wouldn’t pay attention at work. She also thought it was mean that Jews were not allowed in certain places.  My daughter’s world is different in many ways, but in many ways still the same. I loved how Levy portrays Ginsburg’s tenacity without preaching and how she makes her relateable to elementary school kids, but does not talk down to them.

Ginsburg’s career and its law speak may be hard for some kids to understand, even the word “dissent” may need explanation. But this book will open a dialogue with children. I love that Levy has created a downloadable curriculum guide for classrooms, as well as the Glorious RBG Blog.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley, is a wonderful addition to my daughter’s library at school, and funny enough, I purchased her a copy for her upcoming birthday this week.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for people of all ages, particularly young people. Before becoming an author, she was a newspaper editor with American Lawyer Media and Legal Times; and before that, Levy was a lawyer with the Washington, D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (now called WilmerHale). She lives in Maryland with her husband, Rick Hoffman.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public library
Hardcover, 272 pgs.
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***This is the final book in a trilogy. I recommend reading the first two books before this one.***

Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a stunning conclusion that bring Isabel and Curzon full circle in their own struggle for freedom as the country nears the battle at Yorktown and the end of the American Revolution.  Isabel and Curzon have been searching for her younger sister Ruth for months after fleeing Valley Forge and Bellingham, who had held Isabel in chains once again.  They are slowly making their way south to find her sister with their forged papers of freedom.  Tensions between them have grown, and Isabel fears being abandoned by him, even as she knows that he wants to rejoin the Patriots’ cause against the British.

“There was no way of figgering what he saw when he looked at me, for he’d gown skilled at hiding the truth from his eyes.  Time and hard travel had much changed us both.” (pg. 4)

“‘Don’t forget how to be gentle,’ she warned.  ‘Don’t let the hardness of the world steal the softness of your heart.  The greatest strength of all is daring to love. …'” (pg. 39)

In the chaos of war, these young people are eager to hide themselves in the confusion and use it to their advantage, but danger continues to cross their paths.  But even when they find Ruth, there are further battles to be had as southern men continue to hold onto their slaves and purchase new ones to run their plantations and use those slaves — women, children, and men — very ill.  They are forced to hold onto their stories for strength and to turn to one another in quiet to rejuvenate their resolve.  Isabel and Curzon have been together on their own for a long time, and when Ruth and Aberdeen join their band and head northward, both need to adjust and learn to be flexible.

“‘Why bother? You won’t know what you’re planting?’

‘Not until they sprout, I won’t,’ I admitted.  ‘But I’ve got to start with something.  Once they grow and bloom, I’ll know what to call them, and eventually the garden will be orderly.’

‘A fool-headed way to farm,’ he grumbled.

‘Tis a fool-headed way to grow a country, too, but that’s what we’re doing.’

‘Now you’ve gone barmy, Isabel,’ he said sourly.

I walked over to the blanket, gathered the small handful of the good seeds, and sat back down next to him.

‘Seems to me this is the seed time for America.'” (pg. 271)

Anderson’s trilogy provides an intimate look at life as a slave, life as slaves on the run, and people simply searching for their own lives in the midst of a country in turmoil.  Ashes (The Seeds of America Trilogy) by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid conclusion filled with reconciliation and hope.  With the promise of freedom brought to the fore by the Revolution against the British, it allows all who are oppressed to dream of something more.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous ALA and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists.

Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and on her tumblr.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible: 5+hrs.
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The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, read by herself and her daughter Billie Lourd, is a memoir about her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her rise to fame.  Based upon the diaries she found of her time on the set and during her tryst with her co-star (the Nerf herder), Fisher looks back on her teen self, who dropped out of drama school in London to be in the film, and how her time on the set revealed her insecurities.

Of the three memoirs I’ve read by Fisher, this is the best told by her with the fewest digressions and haphazard comments.  Like the previous two, there is a rehashing of information about her parents and their celebrity, etc., but it is not as bothersome as it may be reading the other two because the focus here is more on Fisher herself and her own experiences as a young actress on a movie set.  She was clearly young, and despite her celebrity family, had very little set experience and it showed.

Including her actual diary entries read by her daughter and Fisher’s recounting of her fan experiences, the memoir is funnier because it is closer to her real life experiences and less like a comedic sketch she created from her experiences.  The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher was fun, introspective, and endearing.  Readers will love that she keeps some things private and that she can find connections with complete strangers in autograph lines.  She was a woman who had deep empathy for others, which likely stems from her family and life experiences after her iconic performance.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 4+ hrs.
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Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher, which she narrates, is a much more linear memoir than Wishful Drinking, which was narrated more like a series of comedic sketches. Fisher has turned more introspective about her life, her memory, and the relationship to her parents, particularly her father and her one-time step-mother Elizabeth Taylor.

Some of these stories are similar to ones that she told in her previous memoir, but there are new anecdotes about Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor. In many ways, the two books could have been combined. What is new here is her reflections on her life, shock therapy, and her parents. Fisher has given a great deal of thought to her escapades and how she, like her father, is happy and loves to live life. She lives and loves hard, like he did. There is a sense that laughter is important to her and how she deals with the not-so-pleasant events in her life.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher is a much more measured examination of her past addictions, her Electroconvulsive Therapy, and the side-effects of parental abandonment and fame. She does a lot less woe-is-me type stories in here and focuses on her learning experiences and her own examinations of her life and how she has lived it.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 3+ hrs.
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Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, who narrates, is an entertaining listen even as the story is no where near linear and Fisher often takes detours to tell her tales. In some ways, this memoir is more like a comedic routine, leaving readers wondering if the events are true or merely anecdotes she tells to make her readers pay attention. From the marriage scorecard to the chart of Hollywood inbreeding, Fisher has a unique way of examining her life as a child of Hollywood stars. In midst of her wacky examinations, it is clear this would work wonderfully on stage as a show, which is how writing the book began (in her words) — it also works well on audio.

What shines in this audio are her one-liners and her jabs at Star Wars, but it also is clear that she loves her mother and her daughter. She has a deep love for her family, but she also sees them as part of how she became who she is. And while she does see genetics as part of the problem with her addiction and mental illness, she also indicates that it also is how she chose to cope with those issues. There is a lot about addiction and mental illness, but it is treated with the distance of wit and comedy, leaving the memoir lighter than readers may expect.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher is short and in may ways a bit too light. However, listening to the audio, readers will get a clear sense that she has learned to let go of her tragedies and to move forward even though the road has been rough.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

Carrie Fisher (1956 – 2016) was an American actress, screenwriter and novelist, most famous for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 18+ hours
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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is probably best told by its author. Springsteen is never afraid to speak his truth about his upbringing in New Jersey, the hard relationship with his father, and his incredible drive to become the musician he heard and envisioned in his own mind. Fans of Springsteen will be more aware of the bands he speaks of and the people in the music business than I am, but this did not detract from my enjoyment in his story. In some places the names and bands slow the pace a little, but that might be more of an issue in a print copy than in the audio.

Springsteen is the perfect narrator for his life, and it is clear that as he reads he is taken back in time to those early days as a musician playing in clubs and being told he is no singer. In many ways, this memoir is not about the past and what happened, but about how each experience helped him grow and learn — to be a good father, to be a better musician than even he dreamed, and to reach out to the working class homes of his past. He strove to become as successful as he could, focusing on his guitar skills and his songwriting at first before eventually using his voice to tell the stories in his songs.

He’s always been a storyteller, and he’s telling this story as part of the legacy for his own children. He wants them to know their roots, where they come from … but he also wants to provide them with a sketch of his mind and how he handled things, even when he made mistakes. Readers will love how he praises those who were patient with him, and they will see how he’s not afraid to hold a mirror up to his faults.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is a memoir that gives an inside look into one of the longest surviving bands, the music industry, and one of the most memorable songwriters of all time. The thought he put into each song’s lyrics and atmosphere, and staging, etc., is nothing short of inspiring. It is clear that his early determination to make music served him well.

RATING: Quatrain

***Please visit The 3Rs Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness for an even better review. Seriously!***

About the Author:

Bruce Springsteen is an American songwriter, singer and guitarist. He has frequently recorded and toured with the E Street Band. Springsteen is most widely known for his brand of heartland rock infused with pop hooks, poetic lyrics, and Americana sentiments centered around his native New Jersey. His eloquence in expressing ordinary, everyday problems has earned him numerous awards, including twenty Grammy Awards and an Academy Award, along with an international fan base. His most famous albums, Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A., epitomize his penchant for finding grandeur in the struggles of daily life. He has sold over 64 million albums in the U.S. alone.

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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***Read Leviathan and Behemoth before reading this one.***

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, takes Alek and Deryn to Siberia to pick up the slightly mad inventor Nikola Tesla, who claims to have created an invention that will end the war – Goliath. Alek continues to believe in his destiny as the next leader of Austria and as the only one who can end the war. As machines and manufactured animals come to battle, Alek uncovers Deryn’s secrets, but learns the true meaning of friendship, whom he can truly trust, and what it means to love something more than destiny.

Cumming continues to narrate this series with aplomb and he engrosses readers from the beginning. Westerfeld has created a believable alternate history, although gender issues are sort of glossed over for the most part, even as one of the main characters is a girl. Alek has grown up quite a bit in this story, and Deryn remains the anchor in the story. With appearances from William Randolf Hearst and Pancho Villa, it is clear that the politics of the war goes far beyond the war between machines and manufactured animals for superiority.

Goliath (book #3) by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a whole new world with a war threatening everything past and present. The series is strong throughout and the characters have evolved a great deal in the course of three books, with several close calls. Wonderful series.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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***Leviathan was a book club selection and I’ve finally been able to get back to the series, though this book is our book club selection for June. You’ll need to read the first to read this book.***

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is the second book in a young adult trilogy that is an alternate WWI history rife with steampunk elements. The German Clankers who rely on machines are advancing their war against the British Darwinists, using secretive technology and subversive tactics. Deryn, a young man in the British Air Service, has divided loyalties as he tries to continue hiding his identity from his closest friend, Alek, who is the heir to the empire. The Leviathan’s peace mission has hit a snag, and Alek stumbles upon a resistance in Constantinople even as they find themselves in enemy territory.

Alan Cumming is a stunning narrator; it’s clear that he enjoyed this book and narrating the heart-stopping action of Westerfeld’s alternate history. As the Clankers connive to garner support from Istanbul, the Darwinists seek to appease the government with gifts only to find they are too late. Deryn is quick-witted and eager to prove himself a dedicated soldier, even as he feels a bit of camaraderie and loyalty to Alek and his plight to escape the Clankers. Alek comes into his own away from his guardian, as he is forced to seek out people to trust and to devise his own plans to prevent an all-encompassing war between the Clankers and the Darwinists and get revenge on the Germans.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming, is a stunning middle book in the series, providing Alek and Deryn with ample opportunity to prove themselves brave. Even as secrets continue between them, they remain friends. Westerfeld has a vivid imagination and it comes alive in the prose, especially as read by Cumming. Readers will fall into this world of unbelievable animal creations and giant machines of war.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld‘s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

Source: publicist
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe — which is the 5th book in a series but can be read as a standalone novel — is set in McClellanville, S.C., a small town with a very tight-knit community.  The McClellan family has lived there for generations, but when the shrimp industry dries up forcing Captain Alistair to give up his boat and find odd jobs to make ends meet, the family is faced with tough choices. Miller is 10-years-old and he has little concept of his family’s finances. He goes to school, misses his brother who is at war, and wants a puppy for Christmas. Jenny, his mother, has better news for her family when she learns her oldest son, Taylor, is coming home.

“You might not believe me, but the desert and the ocean are similar. They’re both immense in a way that defies comprehension. I’ve ridden in a Humvee across miles of endless sand under a merciless sun and sailed a shrimp boat on the dark sea when the dawn broke across the horizon, and in both places I felt the vastness. It made me feel small and insignificant. Isolated and alone. Both desert and sea are unforgiving terrain and don’t tolerate fools.” (pg. 10-1)

Monroe’s prose is meditative as it alternates from Miller, Jenny, and Taylor’s points of view. The coming home of Taylor is much anticipated by Jenny, and while Miller is thrilled, he’s still longing for the pup his father has said they cannot afford. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, soon becomes the storm cloud that further darkens the McClellan’s door. The story would only be partly told without all three points of view, as Monroe provides a broader view of how PTSD affects not only the patient but also the family around them.

“He might have been hurt by a bomb, but he made this house like a minefield for the rest of us.” (pg. 158)

A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe is a heartwarming story about how to heal after trauma and how important family support can be for those with PTSD.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe found her true calling in environmental fiction when she moved to coastal South Carolina. Already a successful author, she was captivated by the beauty and fragility of her new home. Her experiences living in the midst of a habitat that was quickly changing gave her a strong and important focus for her books.

Mary Alice Monroe writes richly textured books that delve into the complexities of interpersonal relationships and the parallels between the land and life. Monroe’s novels are published worldwide. She has achieved many lists, including the New York Times, USA Today and SIBA. She has received numerous awards, including several Readers’ Choice Awards.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

Source: the author
Hardcover, 320 pgs.
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My Last Continent by Midge Raymond is an expedition that leaves you feeling the biting cold as it burns the skin and takes the breath away from naturalists like Deb Gardner. Antarctica is a deeply mysterious place, one that travelers may have on their bucket list because they can see icebergs cleaving and wildlife free from human interruption. This environment, however, is not forgiving and many times those who travel there — even for research — can lose parts of themselves or their lives even if they are highly trained.

“The end of the world, the beginning of everything.” (pg. 14 ARC)

Raymond has crafted a novel that takes the harshness of the frozen wasteland and reweaves it into a place of solace for Gardner, a researcher whose family life is not close-knit and who feels closer to the penguins she observes than to people. Her narrative shifts backwards and forwards in time, sometimes a few months and sometimes by a few decades, but readers never leave Deb’s world view. She pushes you to care for the animals and their world, even as it crumbles around them and even as a researcher she is polluting its pristine nature. The dichotomy of her work is never lost on the reader — learn more about their environment and the effects of humanity upon it by being there and observing but through the act of observing, you disrupt the natural way of things (even if only for a few months).

“I feel his proximity like an electric current, a frayed wire, loose and dangerous.” (pg. 93 ARC)

The stakes become even higher when Deb finds that she feels more at home with fellow naturalist Keller Sullivan, a man who knew little until she reluctantly trained him. The nature of their work separates them more than it brings them together, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a mere romance. There are deeper layers — the surface slush must be swept aside.

“But nature has a way of surprising us, of overpowering us, of reminding us that, no matter what we believe and no matter how hard we try, we’re not in control after all.” (pg. 140 ARC)

Sometimes the last continent may be a return to the one you abandoned long ago. My Last Continent by Midge Raymond is engaging and deeply moving. It’s message is clear; we are not so far evolved from our animal brethren and even if we were, we all still need the same planet to build families and to survive.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Midge Raymond is the author of the novel My Last Continent and the award-winning short-story collection Forgetting English. Her writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, Poets & Writers, and many other publications.

Midge worked in publishing in New York before moving to Boston, where she taught communication writing at Boston University for six years. She has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers, Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, and San Diego Writers, Ink. She has also published two books for writers, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

Midge lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press.