Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audio, 18 hrs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is a sequel to The Shining, starring Dan Torrance who was just a young boy in the first book.  In this novel, we learn about the life Dan led after the infamous events at the Overlook Hotel.  Dan has struggle most of his adult life against addiction to alcohol, like his father, but in many ways, the alcohol became a way for him to hide from his gifts.  As he copes with his addiction, he finds solace in that he can help those leaving this world for the next go peacefully.  Eventually, he becomes known as Doctor Sleep in a small New Hampshire town at a nursing home.

Meanwhile, Abra Stone, a gifted twelve-year-old girl, has caught the eye of the members of the True Knot who are human and not-human.  The True Knot seems to be an unstoppable force that are sucking the life force out of those with special gifts, but they haven’t yet met their match.  This novel is a slow builder, but in true King style, the characters are varied and dynamic.  Blending not only the supernatural with small town creepiness, King creates an atmosphere that is at once familiar and other worldly.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King is an adventure and otherworldly with interesting characters, but there were times during the audio that my mind wandered.  The narrator, Will Patton, does a great job of creating voices that are nuanced enough to be separate entities in the performance.  I enjoyed the audio performance, but felt as though Dan’s flaws lost their impact along they way — does that mean his character evolved or that they were forgotten? — and Abra has gone from a scared Shiner to a formidable foe awfully quickly.  There are some story arcs that are quickly wrapped up and others that seem glossed over, leaving readers to fill in the gaps.  However, in terms of a sequel, written so many years after the first book, King has created a book that could be read wholly on its own, but is richer if readers have read the first book.

About the Author:

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 359 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a brilliant coming of age story that examines not only how tough it is to be a young boy — a young Mexican American — but also how these boys struggle with cultural stereotypes of what becoming a man should be.  Dante is an optimistic boy who sees the beauty of the world all around him, while Aristotle (Ari) seems himself as a loner and a pessimist.  These boys meet one summer in 1987 in El Paso at a local pool, and Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim.  Dante loves the water and he wants to share that love with someone who could become his best friend.  These boys are exploring their lives, learning that their lives are not their own, but often dictated by the parents who care for them and they wonder when they will get to create and be in lives wholly their own.

“There is a famous painting, Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper.  I am in love with that painting.  Sometimes, I think everyone is like the people in that painting, everyone lost in their own private universes of pain or sorrow of guilt, everyone remote and unknowable.  The painting reminds me of you.  It breaks my heart.”  (page 185)

In Ari’s home, his brother is dead to them because he is in prison, but Ari knows that he must have loved him and doesn’t understand why there are no pictures of him in the house, why he is never spoken of, and why he doesn’t know what happened to him.  This void is huge and hard to fill, but he’s also impacted by the silence of his father, a Vietnam veteran forever changed by a horrifying war and other deeply felt losses.  Dante’s family is different, it is affectionate physically and emotionally, and his parents are well-educated intellectuals.  But there are secrets here too, secrets held close by Dante, who only wants to share them with someone who could understand — Ari.  Being 15, these are in between childhood and becoming men, and that is a tough time for any adolescent, but its even tougher when you are confused about who you are and who you want to be.  Dante and Ari’s friendship is far from easy, but the understand one another.

“‘Sometimes don’t you just want to stand up and yell out all the cuss words you’ve learned?’
‘Every day.’
‘Every day? You’re worse than me.’ He looked at the hail. ‘It’s like pissed off snow,’ he said.
That made me laugh.” (page 104)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is an award winning book for great reasons. It is never forced, it is as easy as a friendship between two boys can be, but it also tackles that harder issues that we as a society continue to struggle with. At its heart, it is a beautiful love story, one that will stay with readers long after turning the last page. Another contender for the Best of 2014 list.

***I want to thank Beth Kephart for her review of this book in August.  She always has the best recommendations.***

About the Author:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.  He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

76th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

Giggle Poetry Reading Lessons by Amy Buswell and Bruce Lansky

Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Paperback, 96 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Giggle Poetry Reading Lessons by Amy Buswell and Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter is a guide for educators and parents who have students in grades 2-5 who struggle with reading and comprehension.  In the introduction, the authors state that no matter how good a remedial program is, it cannot improve readers’ skills if they are disengaged.  Rather than require these struggling students to read text they find boring, why not create a program with texts that students don’t want to put down — the premise of this book.

Using the poems of Bruce Lansky, which Buswell says have been kid tested, she says that her program accompanied by illustrations from Stephen Carpenter enabled 95 percent of students to demonstrate marked improvement in their reading and 90 percent showed gains in comprehension.  There are a number of tips broken down for both teachers and parents to help their child improve their reading fluency.  There is a lesson plan overview and an explanation of how the lesson supports the goals of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in more than 40 states.

A Brave Little Fellow Named Brian (page 16)

A brave little fellow named Brian
went for a ride on a lion.

When Brian got bit,
the lion got hit.

So now it's the lion
who's cryin'.

There are performance tips on each page where the poems are written out and illustrated, because parents and teachers know that younger readers prefer when you can gesture or demonstrate action beyond raising and lowering the pitch of your voice when reading aloud.  Anything to make the poem come alive can help the readers stay engaged.  While this is geared for readers older than my daughter, she and I have been reading along together for some time, and she’s beginning to recognize words in books we’ve read before.  As she continues on her reading and learning, this book will be an excellent supplement to what we already do and what she will begin doing when she gets to kindergarten in a couple of years.

Giggle Poetry Reading Lessons by Amy Buswell and Bruce Lansky, illustrated by Stephen Carpenter has engaging poems that are funny and unexpected, but it also has substantive lessons that can help students overcome not only their fears of reading but other troubles in their lives.  These poems will help them deal with embarrassing situations, other emotions, and situations that surprise them.

About the Authors:

Amy Buswell is a reading specialist who teaches in West Palm Beach, FL. Her entertaining “reading lessons” have dramatically raised the reading skills and scores of the students who attended schools at which she has taught.

Bruce Lansky has edited a number of poetry anthologies (including Rolling in the Aisles, Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, If Kids Ruled the School, A Bad Case of the Giggles, Miles of Smiles, and No More Homework! No More Tests!), and 3 silly songbook anthologies. Lansky created the popular GigglePoetry.com website for children and the PoetryTeachers.com website for teachers. He also created the Girls to the Rescue series, the New Fangled Fairy Tales series, and the Can You Solve the Mysteries series.

Stephen Carpenter is the illustrator who has helped 16 “Giggle Poetry” books come alive with hilarious illustrations. He lives just outside Kansas City with his wife, Becki, and their sheepdog, Lulu.

The Program by Suzanne Young

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 405 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Program by Suzanne Young, which was our book club selection for July, is a young adult novel in which young people are sent away to The Program if they show signs of suicidal thoughts before committing the act, and in this world, one can never be too careful because suicide is contagious.  At least that’s what the government would have parents and their teens believe.  Every teen lives under a microscope, and the pressure can be unbelievably intense for those who are friends or, especially, related to someone who has committed suicide.  Sloane Barstow is just one teen of many, but her brother committed suicide so she bottles up as much of her anguish and pain as she can so that her parents don’t think she’s suicidal too.  Her only comfort is in the arms of her friend, and her brother’s, James Murphy — a rough and tumble kind of guy who has mommy issues and doesn’t much like school or his dad.

“Teen suicide was declared a national epidemic — killing one in three teens — nearly four years ago.  It always existed before that, but seemingly overnight handfuls of my peers were jumping off buildings, slitting their wrists — most without any known reason.  Strangely enough, the rate of incidence among adults stayed about the same, adding to the mystery.”  (page 9)

The novel is told in first person point-of-view, so if Sloane doesn’t know the reasons or the actions behind the scenes, neither does the reader.  This leaves the reader and Sloane in the dark, especially when she begins to lose parts of herself.  Her relationship with James is hot and cold, mostly because James has a hard time being vulnerable, but her relationship with her parents is even harsher, with her moods constantly negative toward them and them trying to smother her as if that will protect her from getting sick.  There are a great number of issues to discuss, particularly about what it means to be us — do our memories make us who we are or is it something more? Should the government force teens into treatment for suicidal symptoms and their grief over lost loved ones or should they allow them to handle their own emotions?  Is there some other vast government conspiracy at work?

Young’s portrayal of rebellious teens is spot on in her portrayal of Sloane and James, but there is question that builds in the reader’s mind about whether Sloane and James are in love or merely thrown together by mutual loss.  While there are touching moment between the two and it does seem to be love, there relationship does not evolve beyond the mutual lust and desire for one another, and in many ways, it is based on mutual comfort.  Despite the questions about whether The Program is increasing thoughts of suicide among teens that want to avoid it, at its heart this novel is a love story in a dystopian world where kids have little control of their lives, except to run away.  The parents are not as hands on as one would presume them to be in a world where suicide is an epidemic, there is no real explanation of who runs the program or of why the program is so prevalent other than its 100% cure rate, and the last part of the book seems like it was thrown together to explain a subordinate character’s actions in The Program and outside of it.

The Program by Suzanne Young is a fast-paced romance for young adults that raises a number of questions for book clubs to discuss, and it is enjoyable.  For readers looking for a little more about the setting and The Program or other cures that could have been tried, etc., you’ll be left wondering.  The end opens more doors than closes, and its possible that there could be a sequel in the works.  Sloane and James are strong and rebellious, but even they are not immune from the disease or its cure.  Is it better to forget the past and move forward, or should you reclaim as many of your memories as you can?  That’s still the question.

About the Author:

Originally from New York, Suzanne Young moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She currently resides in Tempe, where she teaches high school English. When not writing obsessively, Suzanne can be found searching her own tragic memories for inspiration.

Suzanne is the author of several books for teens, including THE PROGRAM, A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL, and A WANT SO WICKED.  Visit her on Facebook, her blog, and Twitter.


What the Book Club Thought:

Most members agreed that the book was an easy read, while one wanted more hope at the beginning at least for the reader.  Others thought that they were in the situation with Sloane (probably due to the first person point of view) and could understand how a teen girl would be so obsessed with a boy and only think about surviving, rather than what her future could be like once she hit 18.  At some length the book club talked about the lack of hope in the beginning, which some said was intentional.  Another aspect of the book that people discussed at length was Sloane’s seeming acceptance of the pills given to her by the psychiatrist, rather than fighting to keep her memories as she said she would early on.  The underground aspect of the book that shows up later in the book was examined as a possible conspiracy as well as The Program itself.  However, there is another book to this series, so we’re waiting to see what that brings (at least some of us are).  In terms of whether members would take the pill to bring back all of their memories, some said they would without hesitation, while others said they would think about it and one said he probably wouldn’t.  When asked about whether they would place their own kid in the program, a few said that they would not immediately do so, seeking out alternative means and others suggesting that they would immediately do so.

45th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.


All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen

Source: Kindle Freebie
E-story, 47 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen is an e-short story about a young woman, Elise Andrews, who lets her childhood sweetheart go because she cannot bring herself to say “Yes” to his marriage proposal.  Visiting over the Christmas holidays all the way from San Francisco while her father is away on a whirlwind world tour, Elise hears a voice from her past, Janice, her ex-boyfriend Griffin’s mother.  Elise is there to check on the house and visit her Nana in the nursing home.  Chicago is much colder than her new home, but she misses it still.  Growing up without a mother, Elise leaned on Janice quite a bit, and whether or not she was in love with Griffin — with whom she had an on-again, off-again relationship — she’s always felt a connection to his mother.

“Another Janice memory: Her questions tumbled over one another like socks in a spinning dryer.”

Her time in Chicago is short, but she reconnects with Janice, only to feel that their connection is being ripped away.  While the story ends on a hopeful note, it feels like there is more to this story.  What happens to Janice and Elise’s relationship now that she’s no longer with Griffin, and will she and Griffin remain friends even as they both move on?  All Is Bright by Sarah Pekkanen touches upon the connections we make and the love we share with others, as well as how those relationships change over time.

About the Author:

Sarah is the mother of three boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true. At least some dreams – Brad Pitt has yet to show up on her doorstep wearing nothing but a toolbelt and asking if she needs anything fixed. So maybe it’s only G-rated dreams that come true. Please visit her Website.

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon is a character driven novel about the effects of not only the Second World War on Yohan’s father, but the Korean War on Yohan himself.  Yohan is a young farm hand who is conscripted into the military during the Korean War and he’s from the North; he’s captured after being nearly blown to smithereens and sent to a POW camp run by Americans.  Although Yohan could be considered brave because he defects, leaving his country behind, he’s also scared to connect with others because of the trauma he’s faced.  This quiet novel is about learning to reconnect with others and to accept the past and move on, while still holding close the memories of those you loved.

“That winter, during a rainfall, he arrived in Brazil.

He came by sea.  On the cargo ship he was their only passenger.  In the last days of the ship’s journey it had grown warm and when he remarked that there was no snow, the crew members laughed.”  (page 1)

Arriving in Brazil on a chance opportunity and knowing no Portuguese, Yohan is apprenticed to a Japanese tailor, Kiyoshi, who has his own war secrets.  What little Japanese Yohan knew is mostly forgotten, but they get by on those few words and gestures, as the young man begins to settle into a new life, mending clothes for the tailor’s customers and eventually learning the streets enough to make deliveries.  Yoon weaves memories into the narrative seamlessly, almost as if Yohan himself is pulled into the past and the present dissolves into the ether.  “It was as though the world he saw cracked, revealing memories he had forgotten.” (page 27)

As Yohan slowly adapts to a new life, he finds quiet solace in the company of youngsters Santi and Bai, who are patient as they sell their homemade bracelets or make small trades for food in the marketplace.  Yoon describes the physical limitations of those around Yohan, including his friend from the POW camp Peng, to reflect the disabled state in which Yohan has come to Brazil, and it is only through his relationship with the church groundskeeper, Peixe, that he comes to realize that limitations are only as limiting as you allow them to become.

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon may search through the snow in Korea for anything they can forage to eat, but really it is a metaphor for those of us who live life in isolation either by choice, trauma, or necessity, and how as observers of our own lives and that of others, we are always hunting for that elusive connection.  Yohan and others must learn to make the fateful leap — to connect and to brave the uncharted waters.

About the Author:

Paul Yoon was born in New York City. He lives in Massachusetts and is the Roger F. Murray Chair in Creative Writing at Phillips Academy.


12th book (Korean War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





17th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





27th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 272 pages
I am an Amazon affiliate.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is set during the epidemic of Yellow Fever that hit Philadelphia after the British lost to the Colonists in the U.S. Revolutionary War and a new government was taking root in the new country.  Mattie and her family run a local coffeehouse in the city for the politicians and businessmen, with help from Eliza, their freed black employee.  Mattie has big dream — expanding the family business and bringing French finery to America for sale — but her mother is busy keeping the shop running and saving in case of disaster, remaining cautious because she knows all too well that things can get worse like it did when her husband died.

“I tried not to listen to her.  I had not cleared the wax from my ears all summer, hoping it would soften her voice.  It had not worked.”  (page 6)

Anderson relies heavily on source material to provide authenticity to her story of Mattie and her family, and there’s a nice touch of quotes throughout the novel at the beginning of each chapter.  The characters are well drawn and feel like they’ve stepped out of history, with Mattie and her mother resembling any mother-daughter relationship influenced by teenage hormones and changing times.  The love Mattie has for her mother is tested in the worst possible way when the Yellow Fever strikes home, but the love for her grandfather and Eliza keeps her grounded, focused on what needs to be done.

“They told of terror: patients who had tried to jump out of windows when the fever robbed their reason, screams that pierced the night, people who were buried alive, parents praying to die after burying all their children.

I laid my pillow over my head to protect myself from visions of the dead, but I could not breathe.” (page 106)

Mattie’s fear becomes the reader’s fear as she no longer knows where she is or where her family has gone, and the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding towns become unrecognizable.  The city of brotherly love becomes more insulated and fearful, turning away neighbors to protect their own families and resorting to violence to take advantage of those who can no longer defend themselves.  Anderson pulls no punches in her portrayal of disease, competing medical theories, and the decline of a once prospering city struggling with pestilence.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson is a truncated look at the disease that spread through the city like wildfire, taking the lives of nearly 5,000 people or 10 percent of the population.  The author takes historical fact, including the mass burial of fever victims in Washington Square (old potter’s field), and breathes new life into the tragedies endured by a once bustling and budding city.  Mattie is strong-willed and carries herself forward even when all seems lost, relying on the love of those around her and her own gumption to pick up and start again.

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 American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

Also Reviewed:

9th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

The Descent by Alma Katsu

Source: Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster
Paperback, 352 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Descent by Alma Katsu is the third and final installment in The Taker series (there could be spoilers), and it will blow readers away with its creativity, nuance, and multilayered story.  Book series tend to taper off for readers in terms of depth of story and the ability to surprise, but Katsu’s Taker series has transcended levels with each installment.  Exploring the darker side of humanity, tackling the idea of redemption, and exploring what it means to love and commit to something or someone who is a virtual mystery.

“Frightening things lurked in basements, and the fortress was no exception.  My knees went a little weak as I set off, but before long I managed to find a staircase.  Removing a candle from one of the sconces, I descended the stairs as quietly as possible, only too aware that any noise I made would rattle and rumble down the cavernous stairwell and let anyone within earshot know I was coming.  A slight draft wafted up from the bottom, which was lost in darkness.  The breeze carried a bitter tang of rot and decay.” (page 210)

Despite her fears and frightful beginnings with Adair, Lanore has been fighting her connection to him, but when nightmares surface about her childhood love, Jonathan, being tortured, she has little choice but to seek out the man she fears and desires.  Adair and Lanore have a relationship that is a force unlike any other, and while their relationship can be deeply satisfying, it can be frightening.  While her own walls have kept her from trusting and falling completely for him, Adair’s had time to do his own work to make himself worthy of her.  Tip-toeing around their feelings, Lanore and Adair also must confront the outside forces working against them, conspiring to not only keep them apart but also seeking revenge on Adair for his past transgressions.

Lanore McIlvrae has said herself that her immortality has made her immune to the emotional response many feel at the point of death, and even as she descends into the underworld, her fears are muted.  Confronting demons and her own past transgressions give her pause on her journey to save Jonathan, but she only begins to fear the worst when she comes face-to-face with the deadliest of nightmares — a god scorned.

Beyond the intricate relationships and the dark and unexpected past of Adair, Katsu has taken the time to weave in elemental powers, myths and legends, and witchcraft and magic so seamlessly that the world becomes real.  Her characters are dynamic and flawed, but at the same time redeemable — but only if they make unselfish choices even at the risk of losing their own lives and souls.  Shifting from Adair’s past in 1200s Italy and other time periods, Katsu provides a clearer picture of one of the most enigmatic and enthralling characters in this mind-bending novel.  She has crafted a novel that peers behind the veil between the human and spiritual world and demonstrates that even gods can make mistakes.  A stunning end to a brilliant trilogy.

About the Author:

Alma Katsu’s debut, The Taker, has been compared to the early work of Anne Rice, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining the historical, supernatural and fantasy in one story. The novel was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by the American Library Association and rights have sold been in 16 languages. The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, was published in June 2012, and the third and final book, The Descent, will be published in January 2014. The Taker Trilogy is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster and Century/Random House UK.  Katsu lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu.  Visit her Website, Facebook page, and Twitter.

2nd book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this is set in Italy.



2nd book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Source: Borrowed from Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 460 pages
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Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir about his young life and his coming of age.  The memoir does not gloss over the hardships he and his family face, nor does it leave out the bad things McCourt did as a child to survive.  It’s heartbreaking to see how a father can shun his responsibilities in favor of alcohol, while leaving his wife little recourse but to beg for charity on a weekly and daily basis just to feed her young children.  Angela, his mother, becomes a shadow of herself with the trials they face, especially as some of their youngest children perish from starvation and disease in America and even at home in Ireland.  Beginning in America, Angela meets a young man and falls in love, but he’s not the man she thinks he is and soon discovers that he is plagued by the need for drink.  Their hardships continue even as they are sent back to Ireland by relatives in the New World.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all.  It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.  Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”  (page 9)

Living in a time when women were not allowed to work and when men were not expected to hand over their wages to their wives or to have their wives with them when they got paid — because his father takes the wages when he’s paid and eventually comes home with nothing — becomes a heavy burden on the family.  This leaves his wife to beg the grocer for credit so she can buy necessities for her family, and in Ireland it is worse because with a husband from the North, he’s unable to get a job in the first place.  Even when he does get a job, he often loses it by drinking late into the night and then sleeping in the next day.  These circumstances make it difficult for her and the family to stay healthy and even survive.

Although readers will be surprised at how long this family is able to survive in spite of the deaths and the starvation, they’ll also be surprised at the depth of their own loyalty and love for their father.  Rarely is anything said by the children about their father, though the mother surely speaks her mind about his penchant for the pint and his irresponsibility — to no avail.  McCourt pulls no punches about telling the darkest moments of his early life, including the beatings he took from teachers and family members.  There is still a sense of hope in him even in the most dire of circumstances.

Whether all of the things that happened in the memoir are fact or just his remembrances, there is clearly an atmosphere of struggle that has driven him to make the most of the circumstances he’s given.  He strives to do his best in school, to care for his family as best he can in the absence of his father, and to make something of himself in spite of all he must battle against.  Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is dark and hopeless at times, but there is the light of humor and hope between the lines.  This is a memoir that reads more like a novel.

About the Author:

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, “Angela’s Ashes,” won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. Times Book Award. In 2006, he won the prestigious Ellis Island Family Heritage Award for Exemplary Service in the Field of the Arts and the United Federation of Teachers John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education.

This is my 4th and final book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2013.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 440 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld — our October book club selection — is a steampunk novel set during the onset of WWI.  Alek is whisked away in the middle of the night by his two teachers on a midnight run with one of their Austrian walkers, which they claim is practice for the coming battles.  Meanwhile, in England, Deryn is hoping to join the British military service as a boy even though she has very feminine features and is very light compared to other boys in their young teens who are signing up.  There is fact mixed with fiction, creating a fanciful landscape of genetically engineered animal ships and weapons alongside the mechanized beasts of gears and metal.  Alek is learning to run the walker at night, while Deryn is learning the ropes as a midshipman.  While things take a turn for the worse for both of these young people, both find their gumption to push through and find solutions, though not always the best or most satisfying.

When the story lines converge, it’s interesting to see how Deryn reacts to Alek’s self-importance and how timid Alek becomes in the presence of a science he’s only read about and never come in contact with.  Westerfeld has melded these modern ideas with the past in a way that makes the world he’s created seem like an alternate to the real past.  While the characters are coming of age in the time of war, there is still an innocence about this boy and girl that clings to them, and it’s clear that neither of them truly has a sense of fear when it comes to war — perhaps because of their sheltered lives and that the war they’ve encountered thus far has been minimal.  Both seem to believe that they are invincible, throwing themselves blindly into action.

The subordinate characters are not as well developed, except for Dr. Barlow who is a Darwinist engaged in the science of weaving together living beings.  The interplay between Barlow and the young teens is fun at times, but also enigmatic as each is hiding secrets from and about each other.  Count Volger is an interesting caricature who shines the most in his one-on-one fencing session with Alek.  The real stars of the novel are the Clankers’ machines and the beasts created by the Darwinists.  Westerfeld does weave in some facts, but it’s unlikely that younger readers would see which is fact versus which is fiction without reading the Afterword.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is an adventure that young adults will enjoy for its fast-paced action and teenage bantering.

What the Book Club Thought:

Most of the book club enjoyed the book and seemed to prefer Deryn’s character more at first than Alek, but the ways in which the stories converged was well done.  One member even indicated they would give it five stars because they couldn’t see how Westerfeld could have made it better, at least in structure.  Most of the club said they would be interested in reading the second part of the series.  The mixing of the facts with the fanciful seemed to work with everyone in the book club, though two members had not finished reading at the time of the meeting.  The machines versus the genetically engineered beasts was an interesting angle, but the way in which the story is told demonstrated both sides so well that it enabled readers to see both sides of the story, rather than just see one as the enemy of the other.  This book was well balanced, adventurous, and touched on WWI, though a modified version of it.  Westerfeld also includes notes in the back about what facts were changed and which were maintained, which we felt was a good addition for those not as familiar with the time period.

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.


This is my 72nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 297 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson is the second book in the Seeds of America series for young adults (see my review of Chains, the first book in the series; the third book is expected in 2014).  ***This review could contain spoilers***

Isabel and Curzon have fled New York and the Locktons to seek out Freedom, but when we again meet up with Curzon, Isabel has fled in search of her sister, Ruth, who is known to be in Charleston.  After taking all of the money they had earned, Curzon has little choice but to make it on his own, and in so doing, runs smack in the middle of a skirmish.  During a standoff between a rebel soldier and a British soldier, Curzon makes a fateful decision that has him enlisted as a soldier under General Washington’s command at Valley Forge.  As winter sets in for the long haul, Anderson deftly paints a picture of the desperate times and weather conditions the rebel forces faced, forcing some to go against army rules and steal food from neighboring farms.

“‘We can mine for iron here?’ Eben asked.

‘No, blunderhead,’ Silvenus said.  ‘This camp is a forge for the army; it’s testing our mettle.  Instead of heat and hammer, our trials are cold and hunger.  Question is, what are we made of?'”  (Page 121)

Curzon finds a home among the soldiers, but he still thinks about Isabel and her fate, wondering why she won’t leave his mind.  As the winter digs in, however, Curzon’s luck changes with it once he’s recognized by Bellingham, who thought him dead in Bridewell Prison.  He becomes again that insolent slave looking for freedom and even longing again for the companionship of the army.  He bristles at his new circumstances and even wages an unspoken war against Bellingham until he realizes that his fate is not all that he holds in his hands.  Anderson has created a believable slave seeking his freedom by any means within his grasp, and his ties to Isabel grow stronger as the battle with the British gets closer.

Forge has a dual meaning in that the army’s mettle, as well as Curzon and Isabel’s, are tested, and these characters must forge ahead and overcome the challenges they face.  In a literal sense, Curzon tries to create a counterfeit of himself and pass himself off as a free man to become a soldier, as well as a key’s likeness to turn the lock on freedom.  Anderson peppers the novel with a number of details (having seen Valley Forge recently, these places were fresh in my mind), and she firmly grasps the intrigue of the time, including the use of slaves as spies for the British, and the internal politicking among Congressmen and generals.  Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid second book in a series of young adult historical fiction novels about the American Revolution, and in some ways an even better book than the first for its multiple layers, including subplots and dynamic characters.

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 American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

This is my 5th book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 316 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first in a series of books set during the American Revolution, and Isabel is a young slave who must care for herself and her sister, Ruth, after the death of their mother and their owner.  She quickly finds that the things she had been promised by their owner do not come to pass, and she must prepare herself for new and more harsh owners, the Locktons.  In her new household in New York, where the Locktons have settled from England, she finds that her chores are many and grueling, but that her sister has garnered the special attention of Mrs. Lockton, who dresses her as a doll and requires her to be silent at all times.  New York also is where she meets Curzon, a young black boy working on the side of the rebels, for whom he hopes she will provide intelligence from the Lockton household.

“The bees swarmed again behind my eyes, making the scene grow dim and distant.  The sun was nearing the horizon, casting long shadows across the wharf.  I was a ghost tied to the ground, not a living soul.”  (page 182)

Isabel soon learns that both the British and American rebels are willing to use slaves as they see fit and promise them freedom they have no intention of granting.  Anderson’s young adult novel deftly balances the cruelty of slavery with the sensibilities of young adults, ensuring that the abuse and cruelty is never more than young readers can handle. However, there are some instances that do become graphic, but it is essential to demonstrate the fates that faced a number of slaves, especially those who attempted or even thought about escaping their masters.  Moreover, she easily demonstrates the excess and perfidy of the war and its opposing sides, as the British throw balls in honor of the queen at the same time the rebels are struggling to feed themselves.

“And then, the final triumph.  She used a tiny brush to paint a thin line of glue above each eye.  Madam opened an envelope and shook out two gray strips of mouse fur, each cut into an arch.  Leaning toward the mirror, she glued the mouse fur onto her own eyebrows, making them bushy and thick as the fashion required.”  (page 207)

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is the first in a series, and it ends with a wide open ending in many ways, but at least some of the issues are resolved.  Anderson brings to life not only the issue of slavery, but also of the opposing sides in the revolution and the confusion it brought with it on the battlefield and in the cities not immediately touched by the war.  The confusing reports, the captured cities, the changing of power, all of it comes to life.

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 American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

This is my 4th book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013





This is my 60th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.