June 25, 2012

Troubling a Star by Madeline L'Engle

L'Engle's books always seem to have such poetic names. Troubling a Star, isn't that fantastic? Unfortunately the book wasn't quite as wondrous as the book title, but it was still pretty good. After all, L'Engle is a terrific writer.

Vickie (from the Austins series of which this is book 5) is still trying to find herself in the world. She recognizes that she loves to write, and more specifically loves to write poetry and is taking steps to improve this talent. She also has started visiting with her somewhat boyfriend Adam Eddington's Aunt, who is an interesting lady herself. Aunt Serena once had a child also named Adam who explored the Antarctic before disappearing and being declared dead. Now, Vicky's Adam is also headed to Antarctica to do research. After spending more time with Aunt Serena, Vicky is surprised when her birthday gift from her is to take a trip to see Adam there. But it will be much more dangerous than she thinks as there are people there that think she knows too much information.

Vicky is always a great character. She is so real that I think just about any teenage girl could identify with her. While she may not be "modern" because of the time this book was written, her thoughts are timeless. And she's a nice person. She has her faults but she just tries to be good and enjoy the world around her. Adam confuses me a bit more. I like him, but he's very changeable in his demeanor and thoughts and it can be unsettling. All the other characters are great as well though. Aunt Serena is charming and her cook Cookie is mysterious but kind. They each fill their own role quite well.

I wasn't as amazed by this plot though. Sure it was exciting what with the trip to Antarctica and the side-plot about Vicky in danger. But as well as those two things meshed I just didn't feel engaged in the book and it was a slower read because of it. I guess there was a lot of description I had trouble with, including the two countries that L'Engle made up for the purposes of the story. I can understand why she did make them up, but it made it harder to read as everything else was based in reality. Some of the plot ideas seemed to be resolved too easy too and the ending seemed rushed. It just wasn't the well paced story I've come to expect from L'Engle. But it still is highly appropriate for young adults and it's hard to find any fault with the language of this book.

A nice book and I do like L'Engle. Just not the best of this series or her work as a whole.

Troubling a Star
Copyright 1994
296 pages

June 21, 2012

Poor...but Very, Very Rich by Ruth Lott

**This book was received as a free Advanced Reader's Copy**

Ruth Lott grew up in Southern Philadelphia during a time very much different from the current.  Sure people were still people, families still wanted to be together, and the very bones of society were the same.  But there was a lot that was different as well.  This is her memoir, and actually, in my opinion it is more of a slight history book and genealogy as opposed to a memoir classification.

The first part of the book tells about Philadelphia during the 30's, 40's, and some 50's.  It outlines what the major events were of the day, how families spent time together, where the popular places were to go, and just in general how family life operated.  It also spent some time on the effects of the war on the American people.  Several notable spots in Philly were visited and some of that even remains unchanged today.  The second part of the book gives a history of both side of Lott's family, mainly describing the siblings of her mother and father, and her mother and father themselves.  It delves into uncles, cousins; several generations of people deriving from the same family tree.

Since the first part of the book was more snippets of things we don't really get an in-depth sense of the people, but what is there is very nice.  I enjoyed the short descriptions of vendors and neighbors that made life more pleasant and interesting.  That being said, it was really the second part where all the people are mentioned.  And I think, as an outsider not part of the family, that these descriptions really are geared towards family as they don't hold as much meaning for someone who doesn't know of the people aside from the book.  It was done so hurriedly that I never really got a sense of who was who (and a family tree would have been mightily helpful).  Still, it's remarkable that someone could get all this information down and I'm sure it will be a valuable resource for those interested in genealogy, or those family members of hers who want to know about their relatives.

The first part of the book is what I really enjoyed.  I liked hearing how they celebrated the holidays during those eras and the different activities they did without benefit of a computer or tv, or the other electronic gadgets that take up so much of our time.  Each chapter had a different focus and I have to say that I enjoyed most of them.  I think my favorite was actually the section on Household chores because it amazed me all they did and that there were designated days for doing it.  I couldn't imagine even trying to do half of those things now and still have time to sleep and work.  Truly remarkable.

An interesting book and even as an outsider looking in I enjoyed this memoir of a family in Philly.  There was some things to learn from it and even though the second half really wasn't meant for me, it was a short enough read that it didn't matter.

Poor...but Very, Very Rich
Copyright 2012
141 pages

June 19, 2012

Daddy Come and Get Me by Gil Michelini

**This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy**

Due to events that have happened in my life, I have decided that should I ever have children, they will more than likely be adopted. I just don't see how I could love a biological child any more than an adopted one, and it seems like a good fit for my life. So reading this book is a preparation of sorts for that.

Daddy Come and Get Me details author Gil Michelini and his wife's journey through international adoption. In this case, they decide to adopt from Guatemala, a choice that was made because of both of their religious beliefs. But it's not going to be easy, most adoptions never are. With governmental red tape, mothers who change their mind, and disapproving family, it was a hard road they took in order to be able to adopt their fourth daughter Gemma. Parallel to this story of their adoption is the fictionalized version of Gemma's biological mother. Michelini gives a plausible story on who she was and why she gave her daughter up for adoption. The conclusion of the story has Gemma uniting with her new family and spending a little time with them. Although I would have liked to have seen a bit more of her adjustment to life with the Michelini family, the main story is largely the process of her adoption.

Michelini tells the story pretty straight-forward. He doesn't skimp when it comes to describing the people involved and he doesn't soften any blows either. In fact, I've seen it said where others would like to hear his wife's side of the story, and in the back of the book he even states that it is her story to tell, not his, but I can see why people would think that. This book is almost harsh when it comes to describing her, at the very least I can call it unflattering. It sounds as if she was having a very rough time and maybe pushed a little further than what she was comfortable with and the author kind of steam rolled her. But at least it seems to have worked out in the end. I also wish that Michelini had spent more time describing some of his other daughters. It almost seems like they fell by the wayside during the story and they're even referred to as "bios" which for some reason to me just read as being more derogatory than description. But that is only my impression. He spends a great deal of time on Gemma (after all this is her story) and her mother and I think they are both wrote very realistically and with compassion.

This book had the potential to be very boring and dry because it involved a lot of procedure and adoption rules and technical stuff. But it wasn't. Since Michelini brought emotions to it it became a journey of sorts and it definitely describes the process of adoption quite well. Surprisingly this turned out to be a religious type of book as well. I actually hadn't expected that, and not being religious myself my initial feeling was "here we go" but it is done in a cohesive way with the family. There isn't preaching, rather it's him relating what he was experiencing and felt during the adoption process in relation to his religion. And even his wife showed quite a bit of faith despite not enjoying the process so it showed her strength as well.

A good book for anyone considering adoption. If the picture on the cover doesn't tear you up the story will probably do it. I definitely had a hard time putting it down and found it very informative.

Daddy, Come & Get Me
Copyright 2011
337 pages

June 18, 2012

The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L'Engle

Madeline L'Engle is a brilliant writer. That being said, this is one of her works that I just don't particularly care for. It's still good, but when you compare it to some of her others, it just isn't as good as those, and that is why I only rate it three stars.

Adam Eddington is a smart guy. He's going to be studying marine biology and is offered the chance to go to the island of Gaea to study with Dr. O'Keefe who has been doing research on regeneration in starfish. But Adam's not the only one who's interested in O'Keefe's work. He finds himself in the middle of a lot of intrigue and mystery and can't really be certain who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. And a beautiful girl just clouds his mind even more.

Adam is a decent character. A little naive but he is unfairly thrown into a whole bunch of turmoil that he just isn't capable of dealing with. I did think it was a little beyond the realm of possibility what his character was asked to do, but this is fiction after all. The O'Keefe's didn't really get to be a big part of this story, at least not to me. Poly did, but she was about the only one we really get a good glimpse at. And at least she was entertaining. For all he is mentioned in the book, I still don't think I know much about Dr. O'Keefe. The bad guys are appropriately menacing and sneaky, and I did appreciate their underhanded ways.

The plot went too quick and too slow in this book for me. All the interesting aspects of the plot seemed to be glossed over and hurried while the stuff I didn't really care about, such as Adam's time spent with Kali seemed to take up a huge amount of the book and was less interesting. It is a young adult book, which could account for the pace, but her other ones just seemed to be so much better. This is part of a series though and I do think it is important to read this book before reading some of the others. You'll lose out on interesting tidbits that could be useful in the coming stories. And as said before, L'Engle is a good writer so this book is much better than some of the other books out in the young adult market right now. It has the building of characters and coming of age themes that seem to be quite popular.

A decent read, and a definite part of the series. I recommend reading if you want to read the rest of the series.

The Arm of the Starfish
Copyright 1965
240 pages

June 14, 2012

The Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen

Paulsen should write more dystopians.  He's good at them.  Even though they're geared towards a younger market, I do think his books appeal to all ages.

The Transall Saga finds Mark, a teenager on his first camping trip by himself.  He's not out long when a brilliant tube of light transports him to what he thinks is another world.  Here things are just off, animals are different, vegetation is different, and the people while similar, aren't like they were where he came from.  But after facing numerous hardships with these people, he grows to like them.  But a man called Merkon isn't too keen on Mark, and isn't afraid to do everything in his power to rid the world of Transall of Mark.

Mark's a pretty cool guy.  We only get a little bit of description about him, but it's enough. I get a very good sense of what he looks like and his actions speak loudly enough for him.  He's a pretty good guy and cares about others.  The rest of the characters weren't nearly as fleshed out as Mark, but they certainly add to the story.  Megaan especially was great as she was a strong person and had quite a few flaws making her real.  I think the other girl, Leeta, got kind of left in the dust when compared to Megaan, but we can't all be special.

The plot is dystopian, which I love.  Anywhere where the main character is sent somewhere where things aren't quite right and people are living primitively is interesting.  And the bad guy in the Merkon was pretty menacing.  I do think that the ending was a bit rushed, and I would have liked to see the book longer with more detail, but for a young adult/children's book, this is probably pretty good for the detail. 

Definitely one of the better ones by Paulsen in my opinion.  I've read some stinkers from him, but this one is not one of them.

The Transall Saga
Copyright 1998
248 pages

Dragons in the Waters by Madeline L'Engle

I love L'Engle, she's one of my favorite writers. And most of her novels are quite good. So when I rate this one three stars, really it is in relation to her other works, not that it is actually a mere average book. It simply isn't as good as her other ones.

Dragons in the Waters introduces us to Simon. Having lived with his 90 year old great aunt for several years, Simon has grown used to being poor, but rich in education as she is a very smart lady. But now she's releasing him to go on a trip with a cousin who has bought an expensive heirloom painting from them. Simon doesn't trust the cousin much, but he'll get to experience a little bit of the world and have some adventure. Along the way he meets Poly and Charles O'Keefe who will be traveling on the same boat. They become fast friends which is fortunate when dangerous things and murder start happening on the boat. Simon is in trouble, but being stuck at sea there really isn't a lot he can do about it.

Simon was ok as a character. It was hard to connect to him compared to L'Engle's other characters in her books. He was likable I guess, just not relatable. Poly was a little better. She was a bit of a show off and just seemed like one of those really good friends you roll your eyes at once in awhile. Charles, like most of L'Engle's characters named Charles, was just a bit different with a "gift" of sorts. All I can say is, whoever the real Charles was must have been a very special person. The bad guys weren't around much in this book. They stayed in the back story and as such weren't as menacing as they could have been.

This book kind of drug on a little bit. Sure there was some excitement, but a lot of things were just implausible. For instance, I never really could figure out why the cousin even wanted to take Simon along. And the explanations in the book just didn't really cover that well. The dialogue between all the characters was just a little more stilted as well, although I love how L'Engle has the children talk like real people with a brain in their heads. It's refreshing. The plot was decent, it involved a lot of intriguing facts and ideas that aren't commonly used in books. I appreciate the uniqueness of it.

Not a bad book by any means but not one of L'Engle's better ones. I still enjoy reading anything by her though.

Dragons in the Waters
Copyright 1976
330 pages

June 12, 2012

The Moon By Night by Madeline L'Engle

I think it's very hard to find a book by L'Engle that is bad. And this book just furthers that point along, it is very very good for being a young adult novel. There's just so much information and wisdom packed into the series that it's hard not to like them.

The Moon By Night is the 2nd book in the "Meet the Austins" series. I've read all the books out of order and as stand-alones (A Ring of Endless Light was perhaps my most favored book through my teenage years) and it's never really bothered me or kept me from enjoying the book. That being said, I always do recommend reading books in order. This particular book has the main character Vicky as a fourteen year old going on a camping trip with her family. Along the way she meets the exciting and terrible Zachary Gray who dazzles her and frightens her all at the same time. Her family doesn't approve of the friendship, but quietly lets her sort things out as she is trying to grow and figure herself out at this point in her life. And the camping with her family too brings them a sort of closeness and respect that makes her appreciate them more.

Vicky is a great character. And she's so great because she's real and she reminds me of myself at that age. It's hard not to feel special in a family as unique as hers, and even more difficult is learning to appreciate yourself for who you are. She also has a natural appreciation and innocence about her that is refreshing. So even though her teenage years are happening during the 60's in this book, she feels like she could be your best friend in any time period. Zachary I'm not as fond of, but I don't think he's supposed to be a likable character. Girls are attracted to the troublesome dark type of guys and he fits the bill for that. I've been guilty of falling for a few guys like that myself until I realized I much prefer a sunny personality. Her family seems close-knit and while there is one sexist comment in regards to her father preferring that women don't wear pants, I excused it as the time period of the book and tried not to dwell on it too much.

The plot is simplistic. It's a camping trip with a family and a somewhat love story. But what I think really makes this book stand out is that the theme of growing up is predominant in it. It could allow someone the same age as Vicky to really relate with her and get inside her head. And that's what makes it a valuable read. The writing is good, although there is quite a bit of religion incorporated into the book and I got tired of it in parts, but there was also a lot of poetry thrown in and I did appreciate that. I'm not much of a poetry person but L'Engle always seems to find poems that fit perfectly into her books.

A very good read, as is the rest of the series. I highly recommend all of the books for Meet the Austins and some of L'Engle's other works as well.

The Moon By Night
Copyright 1963
255 pages

Ladies in Waiting by Laura Sullivan

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I would call this average teenage literature. It had some girly characters, dashing heroes who aren't quite as good as the women, and a plot that just makes the grade. It wasn't a bad book per say, but I just couldn't find it original.

Three Elizabeth's have come to court to serve the new queen who has just married King Charles II. Each Elizabeth is pretty different in her own right though. Beth is a quiet timid girl who is very beautiful but has little hope of finding a suitable match because she is poor and has a horrid mother. Eliza is very independent with a father who wants to marry her off when she'd rather be writing plays. And Zabby is just wanting to go after scientific pursuit. She is more comfortable in a laboratory than the ballroom of the Queen. But they become fast friends and even when trouble strikes, they prove to be loyal to each other.

I think out of all the girls Eliza is probably the best. She has a fierce spirit and isn't afraid to be herself, and even manages to be pretty clever. Zabby was too wishy washy for me. I understand being enamored with someone but it can make her behave quite frightfully at times. Beth is nice, but a little too quiet to be believed sincere. I found King Charles a bit unbelievable too. And even more unfair in the book is that every man in it seems to be a bad guy. Sure there are a few girls who are too, but I don't think I can recall one decent guy in the whole book. And I'm just not fond of a book when that happens.

The plot is ok but I do have to think that this book might be set up for a series because it felt unfinished. We have all this built up and things are just kind of quickly rushed through at the end and a lot of things are left unexplained or raise questions. If it's not a series, than I think the author should have gone back and maybe answered those questions. Of course I guess it's good that I want to know the answers, because that means this book somewhat grabbed my attention. The writing was geared towards a younger audience I think, but it read easily and quickly. The language used didn't fit with the time for the most part, but the author did use some period speech, although it should be warned that there's “rough” language in this book as well.

Not the best book out there but it was mildly entertaining. I would like to see a sequel, if such a thing is in existence.

Ladies in Waiting
Copyright 2012
328 pages

A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis

A Slender Thread

This is not what I thought it was going to be. I expected a more crafty type of book, still, this one had some pretty powerful themes and messages going on. And it did pull you in.

Margot is an artist that works in a gallery, having given up her own art. Her older sister Lacey has settled down, had twin girls, and is a weaver and teacher. But when Lacey is diagnosed with a progressive illness their lives change. This illness will take away Lacey's speech, and her capacity for understanding language, and she's already showing numerous symptoms. Margot is torn between wanting to help her sister, who has always been there for her, and her relationship with Oliver, a man she's been seeing for awhile and who's a temperamental artist himself. Not to mention Lacey's husband Alex has become very needy, and he and Margot have some history. Add in the twin daughters Toni and Wink and their assorted issues with graduating high school and getting ready to go to college and the family has found themselves very out of sorts in a time where they just want everything to be normal.

I like Margot. I think she's got a mind of her own and she's learned not to let anybody push her around. That being said she does tend to be overly dramatic and gets sucked in by other peoples problems sometimes. It's like she never gets any rest. Lacey, because she is the sister losing her speech, I didn't feel as attached too. We only get a few glimpses into her personality really and it just makes it hard to relate. Sure I felt sorry for her, but it was a detached sort of sorrow. I did like the twins, Wink and Toni, they seemed to be the most realistic of all the characters. Alex and Oliver, the men of the novel put in a poor showing as they both seemed very ego-centric. Which I thought a little unfair since they were the main representation of the male characters in the book.

Since I thought this was going to be a more craft-centered book judging by the cover and title, I was a little disappointed at how little weaving actually played into the book. Each chapter had a little line about weaving, and occasionally it mentioned Lacey's projects. But that was it. The main focus of the book was rather the “slender thread” between the two sisters and their relationship growing up through the years. But there was a lot of drama in this book. I did think that some of the relationships seemed a little unrealistic, especially Margot's and Oliver's. They just didn't seem well suited to each other even though the book tried to convince you that they were. And the ending of the book was just a little too neatly tied up for my tastes.

A sad read but it does have a lot of emotion. Not a bad one if you're into a book that's mainly about characters and their relationships.

A Slender Thread
Copyright 2010
321 pages

The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

The Shunning is the first book in a trilogy by Beverly Lewis. Make sure that you are going to read the other two books if you plan on reading this one. It isn't really built to be a standalone novel.

Katie has a hard time fitting in to her Amish lifestyle. She loves music, and fancy things, and finds it hard to put these things away from her life as she should. And she needs to learn to do so quickly, because she is about to marry the Bishop of the church, and these sins have no place in his household. But as her marriage approaches Katie starts uncovering secrets that her mother and father has been hiding, and these secrets could change her life forever.

Katie is probably the best character in this book, which is good since she is the main character. She has a feisty way about her and you really can identify with what she's going through. She's genuine and her struggles seem very real. The other characters I wasn't as taken with. Especially the majority of the men in this book. I realize that the Old Order Amish stress the importance of obedience and that men are the head of the family, but the guys just seemed too over bearing in this book. Just a little bit of light in their personalities would have been nice.

I do think this book really does a great job of explaining the Amish way of life. Having known several Amish (but never having been one myself) it seems fairly accurate, and since different sects have different practices, it may exactly fit an Amish community that exists. Some of their ways seem harsh, like the Shunning the book takes its name after, but it's a different way of life. Because this is an Amish fiction book, religion plays heavily into the writing but it's not really preachy. Rather the religion that is described in this book is tough and unyielding and filled with scripture verses. The plot itself is fairly common, a young Amish woman not being content with her lot in life and wondering about the outside world. But at least with such a decent protagonist it doesn't get stale.

Definitely an interesting Amish read. And one with an ending that will make you have to pick up the next two books to see what happens. 

The Shunning
Copyright 1997
282 pages

June 03, 2012

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska by Jane Jacobs

I have mixed feelings about this book. While I feel that Hannah Breece, a schoolteacher in Alaska in the early 1900's did a remarkable job there I also feel that this book drug on a little bit and that she was a bit too prideful.

Hannah moves to Alaska on a teaching assignment to educate the "native peoples" there and also improve living conditions in the villages. She actually teaches in several different villages and travels around quite a bit. She has some experiences with the weather and animals in addition to her travels and it provides for an exciting time for her. Mix in poor supplies and schools, but an eager group of children who want to learn and she has her duties cut out for her, but she is eager to do all she can.

Hannah is the narrator of this story as it comes from her writings, so it is no surprise that everything centers around her. And she is pretty fair to herself, but I also feel that she probably gave herself a lot of credit for things she might not have even effected. And I did rather get tired of her preaching about how dirty the "natives" were on their own and her stand against alcohol. I realize that alcohol is a problem for a lot of people, but she seemed to take it to a whole new level. I truly believe she was probably for Prohibition in the States. Religion too she had a certain way she liked things done and by golly her ideas had better be followed by the villages she is in. But I am being a little harsh. She helped a lot of children learn and did improve living standards and brought in food for people in bad winters. So she's done a lot of good.

The book, as said before, is Hannah's journal of sorts, put together in a complete timeline. And while it was interesting to read, sometimes it was so bogged down in detail that the book ran a little slow. And she glosses over exciting events and tells more about supplies and such. I imagine she didn't expect for it to get published, but it boggles the mind that she would consider how many desks a school has a bigger priority than the brutal winters that she faced and her near death experiences. Everyone has their own priorities I guess. And it should be warned that some of her descriptions of the "natives" can be potentially insulting, as a result of the time period. The 2nd part of the book is a history and commentary on the book that helps explain the time period Hannah lived in and some the people she interacted with.

An interesting book, about an interesting woman, but a little dry at times. Definitely a good read for someone interested in Alaska and rural teachers.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska
Copyright 1995
288 pages