behind the beautiful forevers

title: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

author:  Katherine Boo

genre:  Non-fiction, poverty, slums, Mumbai, corruption

suggested by: John G.

dates read: September 24th – September 29th

review: 3.5 out of 5 stars

summary:  Annawadi is a slum in Mumbai, technically owned by the Airports Authority of India.  Many children drop out of school to help their families by working, breaking rocks, collecting and selling garbage and recyclables, and any other odd jobs they can pick up.  Written in a novel format, Boo mainly follows two families, the Husains, a family of eleven, and the Waghekars, run by Asha who is trying to become the first female slumlord.  Life has its ups and downs for the slum dwellers and for three years, Boo documents it all.

personal thoughts: This was too depressing.  There seemed to be no relief for these families, which I guess is part of the point, to show how much change is needed in places like this.  It seemed that everyone was corrupt, from the slum dwellers, to the police, to the hospital workers.  No one was above asking for bribes.  I just got tired of reading about the suicides, the backstabbing, the awful way everyone lived and treated each other.  I wanted to see just one person rise about their terrible conditions and do well.  I suppose that’s real life for you; I need to read a happy book.

favorite quotes:
“Annawadians now spoke of better lives casually, as if fortune were a cousin arriving on Sunday, as if the future would look nothing like the past.” p. xvii

“The clamminess around his collar seemed imperfectly correlated to the weather.” p. 50

“when they spoke, it was with the curious formality of people who shared the understanding that much of what was said did not matter, and that much of what mattered could not be said.” p. 172

“Among the poor, there was no doubt that instability fostered ingenuity, but over time the lack of a link between effort and result could become debilitating.” p. 219

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uncle tom’s cabin

title: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

author: Harriet Beecher Stowe

genre: Fiction, slavery, freedom, faith

dates read: September 21st – September 24th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe are the slaves of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, kindly Kentucky slave-owners who have fallen on hard times and are forced to sell Tom to pay off debt. The trader who has come to collect decides that he also wants to buy Harry, the young son of Eliza and George. Overhearing the fate of her son, Eliza flees with Harry. Unable to capture her, the trader takes Tom south to be sold at auction. The story follows Eliza and Tom as they reach for freedom and reunification of family.

personal thoughts: I knew this would be a tough read, given the subject matter. What I didn’t expect was to laugh out loud at some of the things the benevolent narrator would say. The dialogue between slave owners who had different philosophies on slave management was very interesting and frustrating. Each side was (of course) convinced that theirs was correct and I think Stowe was respectful of both sides of the argument. I loved how much faith played into each story, how those who were Christian did their best to live out their beliefs (for the most part).   Tom’s faith was especially inspiring and beautiful. Loved this book.

favorite quotes:
“he really seemed somehow or other to fancy that his wife had piety and benevolence enough for two-to indulge a shadowy expectation of getting into heaven through her superabundance of qualities to which he made no particular pretension.” p. 11

“the flashing eye, the gloomy and troubled brow, were part of a natural language that could not be repressed,–indubitable signs, which showed too plainly that the man could not become a thing.” p. 14

“There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.” p. 99

“who, sir, makes the trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public statement that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he?” p. 150

“So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women?” p. 152

“’Religion! Is that what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion?   Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, then even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath.” p. 208

“But at midnight,–strange, mystic hour!–when the veil between the frail present and the eternal future grows thin,–then came the messenger!” p. 335
 

the iron king

title: The Iron King

author: Julie Kagawa

genre: Fiction, fantasy, fey, faeries

suggested by: Kara W.

dates read: September 16th – September 17th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Meghan Chase lives a ho-hum life. When she was six her father just disappeared, and now almost 10 years later, her family lives on a pig farm in a hick town. Her mother has re-married and while Luke is a nice guy, Meg doesn’t feel any special bonds with him, though she adores Ethan, her four year old step-brother. Feeling invisible at school, except for her best friend Robbie, Meg is not looking forward to much from life.   Strange things start happening, Meg starts seeing weird creatures, and suddenly Ethan is kidnapped.   Discovering that her best friend is not who she thought he was, and that Ethan was taken by faeries, she and Robbie set off to rescue him.

personal thoughts: At first I thought this was a book I had read before called “Wicked Lovely,” also about faeries and the fey world. But I quickly discovered this was a very different story. Sometimes Meg did annoy me with her fragility and inability to pick up on things, how she seemed slow to adapt to her environment. But I suppose that’s pretty accurate for a 16 year old girl. I really liked Grimalkin, the strange cat companion who seemed to appear when he was most needed. I’m intrigued by the overarching story and plan to return to the series next year.

favorite quotes:
“I woke with the mother of all headaches doing a jig inside my skull.” p. 90

“It was like color given emotion: orange passion, vermillion lust, crimson anger, blue sorrow, a swirling, hypnotic play of sensations in my mind.” p. 180

“I smiled, seeing their emotions as clearly as a beautiful painting: blue sorrow, emerald hope, scarlet love.” p. 350

shōgun

title: Shōgun

author: James Clavell

genre: Fiction, Japan, samurai, honor, foreign

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: August 29th – September 16th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: John Blackthorne “Anjin-san,” is the English Pilot-Major of Erasmus, trying to get to the Strait of Magellan and reach Japan.   Originally part of a fleet of five, the Erasmus is the last to survive, and she is barely hanging on. With little to no fruit on board, the crew is suffering from scurvy and are quickly dying off. They find themselves in the midst of a storm, afraid they’ll never make it. By some miracle they do make it to land and reach their intended destination, Japan. After nearly being killed, Blackthrone is seen as an asset for the Japanese to learn about European culture and so is kept alive, while his crew is used to bargain for his good behavior. Eventually, he becomes entangled in the complicated politics of the feudal lords and becomes an important pawn in their game of power. As he learns more about the culture and learns the language, he becomes less a “barbarian” and is seen has a respectable individual to the Japanese.   His ultimate goal is to return home, but will his importance allow him that freedom?

personal thoughts: This was a looong read, over 1,100 pages. It was fascinating to read about the Japanese culture in a different way.   I did feel that it was a little slow, I didn’t enjoy the political parts as much as the rest. Overall, it was very well done. I loved the style of writing, it was all in third-person, but Clavell would sometimes show what characters were really thinking, often different from what was being said. This is very typical of Japan, that a person will say one thing and think something very different. It’s very important to “save face” and to not disturb wa, the harmony that permeates all life. In this, Clavell did an excellent job.

favorite quotes:
“While he had sat and fumed alone and tried to sharpen his brain, the sun bent down and drove the sea mists away.” p. 98

“The door at the far end shivered open.” p. 167

“He had long since discovered that peaceful sleep could provide the answer to most puzzles, and if not, what did it really matter? Wasn’t life just a dewdrop within a dewdrop?” p. 173

“Threads of dawn were mixed with the eastern dark.” p. 230

“’We have a saying that time has no single measure, that time can be like frost or lightning or a tear or siege or storm or sunset, or even like a rock.” p. 293

“The wind veered slightly and a cloud reached for the nimbus of the moon, rain not far off and dawn streaking the sky.” p. 364

“he could hardly see her circling there, riding the thermals so gloriously, and he wished, achingly, that he too could ride the empyrean, away from the iniquities of the earth.” p. 502

the color purple

title: The Color Purple

author: Alice Walker

genre: Fiction, growing up, family, oppression

dates read: August 27th – August 28th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Celie does not have an easy life.  Her father begins abusing her when she’s about fourteen and when her mother dies, the abuse worsens.  She gives birth to two children, who are both taken away from her.  Eventually, she is forced to marry a man who mistreats her and she becomes responsible for his children.  Other women come into Celie’s life and show her that she doesn’t have to suffer under the tyranny of men.  Eventually, she starts to learn this and internalize it for herself.  Her story is told through letters to God and then later to and from her younger sister Nettie.

personal thoughts: This was a tough read because of some of the explicit things that happened to Celie and some of the other female characters.  The development of Celie as she gets older is truly amazing to watch.  While her life is not happy, she carries on and preservers, even though she sometimes wants to give up.  The great love that she has for her friends and family is beautiful.  As much as is possible with a book of this subject matter, I really enjoyed it.

favorite quotes:
“The Lord don’t like ugly, she say.  And he ain’t stuck on pretty.” p. 42

“He clear his throat a lot, like everything he say need announcement.” p. 56

“He looked toward the creek every once in a while and whistle a little tune.  But it nothing compared to the way he usually whistle.  His little whistle sound like it lost way down in a jar, and the jar in the bottom of the creek.” p. 71

“unbelief is a terrible thing.  And so is the hurt we cause others unknowingly.” p. 191

“The years have come and gone without a single word from you.  Only the sky above us do we hold in common.” p. 195, 196

“Man corrupt everything, say Shug. . .He try to make you think he everywhere.  Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God.  But he ain’t.” p. 204

“I went on up to bed.  But sleep remain a stranger to this night.” p. 258

the assassins of tamurin

title: The Assassins of Tamurin

author: S. D. Tower

genre: Fiction, fantasy, betrayal, love

suggested by: Phil S.

dates read: August 21st – August 27th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Lale is an orphan who washed up on the shores of Riversong when she was just a few months old.  The two older companions with her were dead and dying and so her origins remained a mystery.  When she is only about 11 years old, she is cut off from the other villagers and decides to make her way out in the world.  She is picked up by Makina Seval, the Despotana of Tamurin, and the head of a school for foundling girls.  Seval is Mother to all the girls and the filial loyalty Lale has for her mother causes her to give her life to Mother’s cause, wherever that may lead her.  As Lale is drawn deeper and deeper into Mother’s plot, she begins to learn the truth. . .

personal thoughts: While I could predict where some of this was going, I was still intrigued by the story and thought Lale to be an interesting heroine.  I appreciated that she tried to remain loyal, even as her heart was trying to take her in a different direction.  I was drawn into her story and the journey she took, as well as the world she grew up in.  The political aspects of her environment were an integral part of her story and added a depth to the overall plot.  This was a fun read.

favorite quotes:
“finally it stopped, and so did I, sliding away into silence and darkness, into a place that lay deeper than the riverbed of my dreams.” p. 17

“Hidden in the dismal record of their petty hatreds, their ferocious avarice, their treacheries and their brutal little wars, was the story of our decline.” p. 156

That was the danger: not lust, who rules the body like a conqueror, but rather love, the thief in the night who comes to steal the heart.” p. 241

“The clang of iron on iron slowly fell away, to leave only that ghastly song of a battle’s aftermath, the shrieks and moans of the mutilated.” p. 351

the bell jar

title: The Bell Jar

author: Sylvia Plath

genre: Fiction, psychological break, psych ward, poet

dates read: August 20th – August 21st

review: 3.75 out of 5 stars

summary: Esther Greenwood, while brilliant, is losing it. Her life is not going the way she imaged and she tries to commit suicide a few times, though something always stops her and she gives up. Seeing that her daughter is not doing well, her mother takes her to see a psychiatrist who gives her electroconvulsive therapy.   After this episode she refuses to see the psychiatrist again and is eventually placed in a mental hospital after she swallows 50 sleeping pills and is discovered by her mother. She beings to improve at the mental hospital and it looks like life might be looking up again for Esther.

personal thoughts: Eh.   At first I was excited to read this, and thought the writing was captivating and beautiful.   Eventually I found Esther to be really whiny and selfish. She’s supposed to be brilliant, but I didn’t see it; instead I saw a very immature woman who was mostly crazy. While the writing itself was very well done, I did not like Esther and that made the book difficult to read since it’s from her perspective. Oh well.

favorite quotes:
“I felt myself melting into the shadows like the negative of a person I’d never seen before in my life.” p. 10

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last think I wanted was infinite security to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.” p. 83

“If Mrs. Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise, it wouldn’t have made one scrape of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.” p. 185

when the emperor was divine

title: When the Emperor was Divine

author: Julie Otsuka

genre: Fiction, Japanese interment, WWII, prejudice

suggested by: Steph R.

dates read: August 19th – August 20th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: During WWII the Japanese on the West coast were forced to move to internment camps in remote locations. This is a fictitious story of a family from Berkley, CA who go to the Utah camp to live in barracks for three years and five months. The father of the family has been imprisoned and accused of being disloyal to the US. Written mostly in the perspective of the son, none of their names are given and through his eyes, we see the harsh conditions they live in and the monotony of their daily captivity.

personal thoughts: My paternal grandparents were interned at Heart Mountain, in fact my dad’s two oldest siblings were born there. Given this, stories of the Japanese interment are very near to my heart. I think this was beautifully written (as much as a story of this nature can be), and the impersonal way she chose to talk about the characters had the effect of making them seem distant and foreign, the way I imagine the real interned individuals must have felt. My heart breaks that this is the way people were treated, the way my family was treated.   And then when they returned home, many of them didn’t have anything to return to. Their homes were not theirs anymore, their belongings were often looted or destroyed, and they had a difficult time finding employment. I’m thankful that my grandparents were able to leave their belongings in the hands of trustworthy neighbors, but so many others were not so fortunate. And now, we think we’ve come so far, learned from our mistakes, but I’m not sure this is true. We live in a fallen world, with broken people, people who hold prejudices and who think that those people aren’t as good as they are. I can’t control the actions and thoughts of others, but I can do my best to never have a those people category for myself, and to treat everyone with respect.   I hope you’ll do the same.

favorite quotes:
“Mostly though, they waited. For the mail. For the news. For the bells. For breakfast and lunch and dinner. For one day to be over and the next day to begin.” p. 53, 54

“When he thought of the world outside it was always six o’clock. A Wednesday or a Thursday. Dinnertime across America.” p. 66

“’I’ll put in the screws tomorrow,’ he’d said. This was a long time ago. This was months and months ago, when the air still smelled of trees and freshly cut grass and the roses were just beginning to bloom.” p. 90

“We heard a click and then the door swung open and she took off her hat and stepped into the foyer and after three years and five months we were suddenly, finally, home.” p. 108

east of eden

title: East of Eden

author: John Steinbeck

genre: Fiction-ish, semi-autobiographical, growing up, jealousy, twins, revenge, hatred

dates read: August 13th – August 19th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Adam and Charles are step brothers and vastly different; Charles is more outgoing but has a cruel side to him, while Adam is timid and doesn’t stand up for himself.   Their father is a gruff man who sees Adam’s more tender side as weakness, telling him he will join the army.  As the brother’s grow up, they go between love and hatred for each other.  When Adam meets Cathy and falls in love, Charles sees a bit of his own personality in Cathy and tries to warn Adam against her (he’s totally right, btw).  Against Charles’ advice, Adam marries Cathy and they move across the country to California where Cathy gives birth to twins.  Distant and unfeeling, Cathy leaves Adam soon after she gives birth.  Deadened by the abandonment of his wife, Adam moves through life in a haze, not even naming his twin boys for a year.  Eventually named Caleb (“Cal”) and Aaron (“Aron”) just miss being named “Cain” and “Able.”  Are Adam’s sons destined to repeat the mistakes of their almost namesakes?

personal thoughts: Um, wow.  I absolutely loved this.  Steinbeck knows how to write about Life.  He doesn’t write glamorous characters with charmed lives, he writes about real people who are down on their luck, live in a broken world, and get their hands dirty.  He also writes about the beauty of the land, and is philosophical about life.  I love the grittiness of his stories and feel like his character are (for the most part) people I would like to know.  Beautiful, wonderful, Real.  You should read this (fyi, it is 600 pages, so prepare to spend a chunk of time on it, so worth it).

favorite quotes:
“the Gabilan mountains . . . were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love.” p. 3

“They called him a comical genius and carried his stories carefully home, and they wondered at how the stories spilled out on the way, for they never sounded the same repeated in their own kitchens.” p. 10

“‘A thing so triumphantly illogical, so beautifully senseless as an army can’t allow a question to weaken it.'” p. 25

“A roomer down the hall began a patient continuing cough against the quiet night.” p. 49

“Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on.  From nothing to nothing is no time at all.” p. 54

“No one who is young is ever going to be old.” p. 90

“He took no rest, no recreation, and he became rich without pleasure and respected without friends.” p. 132

“‘I don’t very much believe in blood,’ said Samuel.  ‘”I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb.'” p. 260

“‘You’re too young a man to be panning memories, Adam.  You should be getting yourself some new ones, so that the mining will be richer when you come to age.'” p. 294

“‘It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying “I couldn’t help it; the way was set.”  But think of the glory of choice!  That makes a man a man.'” p. 302

“It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.” p. 412, 413

“‘There’s nothing sadder to me than associations held together by nothing but the glue of postage stamps.  If you can’t see or hear or touch a man, it’s best to let him go.'” p. 415

“He felt let down and helpless, packed like a bird’s egg in the cotton of his father’s ambition for him.” p. 532

alice in wonderland

title: Alice in Wonderland

author: Lewis Carroll

genre: Fiction, fantasy, growing and shrinking

date read: August 12th

review: 3 out of 5 stars

summary: Alice is pulled into the strange world of Wonderland, where she is constantly changing sizes and the people and creatures she encounters make no sense, even if they are speaking English.  As she progresses along, things get curiouser and curiouser.

personal thoughts: I was not a fan.  This was too weird for me.  I also don’t really like the movie, though I know it’s really well known and popular.  This kind of weird is not my cup of tea.  Good thing it was a short book.

favorite quotes:
“Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.” p. 4

“‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits.'” p. 14

“‘what would be the use of a procession,. . .if people had all to lie down upon their faces, so that they couldn’t see it?'” p. 39

water for elephants

title: Water for Elephants

author: Sara Gruen

genre: Fiction, circus, vet, love

dates read: August 7th – August 11th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Jacob Jankowski’s parents die in a tragic car accident, right before he’s to take his final college exams and join his father’s veterinary practice. He finds that his parents took out a mortgage to pay for his Ivy League tuition, and he is left with nothing. Alone and depressed, he hops on a train, which happens to house the circus equipment and crew/animals for Benzini Brothers. He is befriended by Camel, an old man who is fond of drinking and works the ticket booth. He is brought on as the circus vet and learns the hierarchy and intricacies of working as in a circus. Poverty, love, and murder are the name of the game and Jacob learns to play.

personal thoughts: I’ve always thought of the circus as a sad place to be and work. I did go to see a show when I was very young, I hardly remember it. I think there was a motorcycle cage where the motorcyclist drove all the way around the sphere, even going upside down. I do remember getting a little clown doll, with a pretty painted face and a shiny costume. Given that this story was set during the time of the depression, I wonder how much the experience of working for the circus has changed.   Throughout the story, there was a haze of sadness, not only because it kept going to the present, where Jacob is 93 years old and in a nursing home. The desperation and poverty of the people was palpable, the mistreatment of the crew members and animals was difficult to swallow. But I think a good story is one that can evoke real emotion. This one did, and while that emotion was almost always some strain of sadness, I’m okay with it since to do otherwise would dishonor the story Gruen was telling.

favorite quotes:
“Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse.” p. 8

“A love for these animals wells up in me suddenly, a flash flood, and there it is, solid as an obelisk and viscous as water.” p. 141

“My brain is like a universe, whose gases get thinner as thinner at the edges. But it doesn’t dissolve into nothingness. I can sense something out there, just beyond my grasp, hovering, waiting – and God help me if I’m not skidding toward it again, mouth open wide.” p. 214

i, robot

title: I, Robot

author: Isaac Asimov

genre: Fiction, robots, technology, malfunctions

date read: August 6th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Through a series of stories, Susan Calvin, the “robopsychologist “ at U.S. Robots, shares the history of robotic technology and revolution. From the humble beginnings, when they couldn’t speak, to The Brain who plays practical jokes (which the humans don’t find funny at all), the complexity of the technology is shown. There are Three Laws of Robotics, which are ingrained in each robot that comes off the line; The First Law: a robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; The Second Law: a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; The Third Law: a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. Through the narrative, these laws are shown to interact with the reality of human desire in very interesting ways.

personal thoughts: I laughed, cringed, and was close to tears throughout the book. I especially liked the stories with Powell and Donovan who had such opposite personalities and yet were a great team. The creativity of the stories, the nature of humans and robots, was so interesting. With each story the strength of the robots grew as the humans tried to figure out what made them “tick.” I didn’t really see much that was represented in the movie of the same name, but this is the first of a series, so maybe the following books were the inspiration. Regardless, I loved this imaginative and engaging book.

favorite quotes:
I felt her glance slide through me and out my occiput and knew that I was uncommonly transparent to her; that everybody was.” Introduction p. X

“Mathematical squiggles on paper were not always the most comforting protection against robotic fact.” p. 46

“A chain of valid reasoning can end only with the determination of truth.” p. 46

“’skip the sarcasm. We’ll save it for Earth, and preserve it in jars for future long, cold winters.” p. 83

“there is nothing so eternally adhesive as the memory of power.” p. 220

the adventures of sherlock holmes

title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

genre: Fiction, mysteries, observation

dates read: August 4th   – August 6th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ best friend, documents the many cases they have worked on together.   Some of them end tragically, with no happy ending, while others result in the happiness of all involved.   Through it all, Sherlock Holmes proves his excellent observational skills, while humbling accepting the praise of those he has helped.

personal thoughts: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time and am so glad I finally did. I loved the variety of stories that were told and, except for his observational skills, there was no repeats of situations and the method by which he had to solve them. I loved the “big reveal” when he would tell Watson what he saw that helped him solve the case, and the nonchalant way he would observe people. A fun, quick read that I would highly recommend.

favorite quotes:
“’You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’” p. 3

“’My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence.’” p. 20

“’There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’” p. 27

“All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage.” p. 35

“’It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’” p. 91

white fang

title: White Fang

author: Jack London

genre: Fiction, wilderness, wolves, nature vs. nurture

dates read: August 3rd – August 4th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: White Fang, part wolf and part dog, is raised in the snowy north. Familiar with famine and the need to hunt to survive, he and his mother are domesticated by an Indian named Gray Beaver. Under Gray Beaver’s strict hand, he learns to respect the rule of the man-animals, while staying aloof from the fellow canines in the camp. He eventually is sold to Beauty Smith who uses him in illegal dog fights and further teaches him to be cruel and ferocious. Saved during a fight that almost ends his life, White Fang changes hands again, this time to Weedon Smith, who teaches him to love. As White Fang works to overcome his Wild nature, Smith’s influence shows him that change is possible.

personal thoughts: I loved the theme of nature vs. nurture that London brought up again and again.   The capacity for change and the gentle way it is brought about, this is a beautiful story of transformation and the power of love and respect. I loved the perspective that London wrote from, that it came from White Fang’s eyes and showed the instincts he had to overcome to fit into Weedon’s life. I felt that it conveyed the harsh realities of living in the Wild, the unapologetic way that life is taken to sustain life, and the struggle of survival against famine, the extreme climates, and the cruelty of man.

favorite quotes:
“Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of the frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light.” p. 1

“Fear!—that legacy of the Wild which no animal may escape or exchange for pottage.” p. 49

“life achieves its summit when it does to the uttermost that which it was equipped to do.” p. 53

Like had been replaced by love. And love was the plummet dropped down into the deeps of him where like had never gone.   And responsive, out of his deep’s had come the new thing – love. That which was given unto him did he return. This was a god indeed, a love-god, a warm and radiant god, in whose light White Fang’s nature expanded as a flower expands under the sun.” p. 144

“Life had a thousand faces, and White Fang found me must meet them all.” p. 167

“He loved with single heart and refused to cheapen himself of his love.” p. 171

oryx and crake

title: Oryx and Crake

author: Margaret Atwood

genre: Fiction, dystopian, illness, friendship, love

suggested by: Sam B.

dates read: July 31st – August 2nd

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Known as “Snowman” in the present, and Jimmy in the past, the story opens some time after the collapse of the civilized world.  Tasked with caring for the “Crakers,” native-like people who are simplistic and naive, he tries to survive off what he can scavenge from abandoned buildings.   As food runs low, he decides to make a supply run.  Throughout his present, he muses on the past where it’s revealed that some great illness wiped out humanity, and before that civilization was run by large cooperations who liked to splice animals together (like the rakunk and the pigoon) and create antidotes for getting older.  When Jimmy is in high school, he meets Glenn/Crake and they become best friends.  As the story unfolds, truths are revealed about Jimmy and Crake and their connection to the downfall of civilization.

personal thoughts: Brilliant and engaging, I loved this from the first word.  I was captivated and intrigued by this world and the history of Jimmy, Crake, and Oryx.  Atwood did a great job drawing out the story while also showing the present time.  The pastimes of Jimmy and Crake reminded me of Gamer, and the depravity of the world they lived in.  Wonderfully imaginative and beautifully told.  I do have to warn you that there is some somewhat sexually explicit scenes, though given the depravity of the world, it should come as no surprise.

favorite quotes:
“So many crucial events take place behind people’s backs, when they aren’t in a position to watch; birth and death, for instance.” p. 11, 12

“This is happening too much lately, this dissolution of meaning, the entries on his cherished wordlists drifting off into space.” p. 43

“the body had its own cultural forms.  It had its own art.  Executions were its tragedies, pornography was its romance.” p. 98

“It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him; the flaws in the design: the lopsided smile, the wart next to the naval, the mole, the bruise.” p. 115

“Rag ends of language are floating in his head: mephitic, metronome, mastitis, metatarsal, maudlin.” p. 175

“Every habit he’s ever had is still there in his body, lying dormant like flowers in the desert.” p. 324

a brief history of time

title: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

author: Stephen Hawking

genre: Non-fiction, physics, theories, space

suggested by: Nick H.

dates read: July 27th – July 31st

review: 4 out of 5 stars

summary: Hawking explains the history of theories of the cosmos, showing the evolution of the theories over time. He talks about theories of time, black holes, wormholes, and time travel. He talks about the Big Bang theory, the finite and yet boundless properties of the universe, and abstract ideas such as string theory. Simplistic, complex, and everything in between, Hawking encourages the exploration of how and why we’re here.

personal thoughts: It’s funny because when Nick suggested this to me, I heard “Stephen King,” and proceeded to ask if it was scary and talked about reading “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” He gave me a puzzled look and then I realized my mistake. We both had a laugh about it. As with the other science-y books that I’ve read this year, there were parts that went way over my head, but also parts that were extremely interesting and actually made sense (which was always exciting.) He went from simplistic concepts and descriptions, to very complex and mind-boggling theories (with things in-between). Some of the diagrams gave me a better understanding of what he was talking about, while others only served to further confuse me. I think I need my dad to break it down for me. Again, I’m always blown away by the ideas and discoveries that science has inspired, and it’s clear that Hawking has a passion for his work. I am in awe of the abstract thoughts and ideas that have come about over the years and wish that I had a better understanding of them.

favorite quotes:
“An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!” p. 11

“It is a matter of common experience that disorder will tend to increase if things are left to themselves.” p. 115

“if we do discover a complete theory. . .Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.   If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.” p. 209, 210

the count of monte cristo

title: The Count of Monte Cristo

author: Alexandre Dumas with Auguste Maquet

genre: Fiction, revenge, chesspieces

dates read: July 10th – July 27th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Edmond Dantès has just come home from being at sea, during which the captain unexpectedly died and he has been chosen to take his place.  He has a few months before his next voyage and so plans on marrying his beautiful fiancee Mercédès.  Unfortunately, there are a two in Edmond’s life who are jealous of his successes: Danglars, who wishes to be captain, and Fernand, Mercédès’ cousin who believes he should wed her instead. Together they form a plan to bring him down, to which his bumbling neighbor Caderousse becomes an accomplice.  Because of their treachery (along with the deputy crown prosecutor Villefort) Edmond spends 14 years in prison, where he befriends Abbé Faria, a fellow prisoner who teaches him about the world.  After his escape, and because of a secret fortune the Abbé Faria revealed to him, Edmond makes a name for himself as the Count of Monte Cristo, the name of the island where he got his wealth.  Unknown to those who brought him down, he becomes close with each of their families and sets in motion plans to bring them each down.  He does also reward those who were faithful to him during his imprisonment, but most of his energy is spent on exacting revenge.

personal thoughts: This was so different from the movie, which I love.  But I also love the depth of this story.  I was unprepared for the length and was sometimes confused by the cast of characters since Dumas would sometimes refer to the person by their last name, their first name, a nickname, or their title.  It was difficult to always keep everyone straight.  Dumas would also go off the main story to talk about the other characters, sometimes their stories meandered, but they always seemed to weave back into the main plot.  Now I want to go back and re-watch the movie.

favorite quotes:
“‘We are always in a hurry to be happy, M. Danglars; for when we have suffered a long time, we have great difficulty in believing in good fortune.'” p. 14

“‘Man does not appear to me to be intended to enjoy felicity so unmixed; happiness is like the enchanted palaces we read of in our childhood, where fierce, fiery dragons defend the entrance and approach; and monsters of all shapes and kinds, requiring to be overcome ere victory is ours.'” p. 21

“in prosperity prayers seem but a mere medley of words, until misfortune comes and the unhappy sufferer first understands the meaning of the sublime language in which he invokes the pity of heaven!” p. 70

“‘if you visit to discover the author of any bad action, seek first to discover the person to whom the perpetration of that bad action could be in any way advantageous.'” p. 85

“‘to learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned.  Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.'” p. 89

“what solitude is more complete, or more poetical, then that of a ship floating in isolation, on the sea during the obscurity of the night, in the silence of immensity, and under the eye of heaven?” p. 117

“‘when they had…passed the day in building castles in the air, they separated their flocks, and descended from the elevation of their dreams to the reality of their humble position.'” p 179

“‘For all evils there are two remedies – time and silence.'” p. 275

“love lends wings to our desires.” p. 477

“Joy to hearts which have suffered long is like the dew on the ground after a long drought; both the heart and the ground absorb that beneficent moisture falling on them, and nothing is outwardly apparent.” p. 541

“‘Needless delays but increase the grief of parting.'” p. 634

howl’s moving castle

title: Howl’s Moving Castle

author: Diana Wynne Jones

genre: Fiction, fantasy, spells, curses, castles

suggested by: Sam B.

dates read: July 9th – 10th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Sophie Hatter is the oldest of three sisters, which on her world means that she has the least amount of luck. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of her control, she is forced to strike out on her own and take up residence with the Wizard Howl, known in her town as an eater of young women’s souls. Before she lives with Howl, she is cursed – by a witch – with the body of an old lady, so she’s safe from Howl’s soul eating ways. As she gets to know him, she finds that those rumors are false and finds herself pulled into the many misadventures of Howl, his apprentice Michael Fisher, and the fire demon Calcifer who controls Howl’s moving castle.

personal thoughts: What an imaginative story! I didn’t even realize it was a book (thanks again for the suggestion, Sam!) and was curious to see how similar the movie was to the book. It’s been some time since I’ve seen the movie but if seemed fairly faithful to the book. The dedication of the book explains that a boy suggested that Jones write a book called The Moving Castle, which is where the idea originated. I was enthralled from the beginning and loved the style of storytelling and the uniqueness of each character. Such imagination always inspires me. I was really excited to find that this is part of a trilogy and hope to return to the series next year.

favorite quotes:
“[the king] sat with one leg thrust out in a kingly sort of manner, and he was handsome in a plump, slightly vague way, but to Sophie he seemed quite youthful and just a touch too proud of being king. She felt he ought, with that face, to have been more unsure if himself.” p. 120

“Was it the curse pulling Howl toward the Witch? Or had Howl slithered out so hard that he had child out right behind himself and turned out what most people call honest?” p. 159

of mice and men

title: Of Mice and Men

author: John Steinbeck

genre: Fiction, dreams, heartbreak

dates read: July 8th – July 9th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: George and Lennie are best friends, George is the brains and Lennie’s the brawn. They’ve known each other since they were young, when Lennie was under the care of his aunt Clara. After Aunt Clara died, George started taking care of Lennie. Lennie has the mindset of a young child, though his large stature and strength are not to be trifled with. This combination is proven to be deadly and had caused them to lose their jobs and put them in the run. They are about to start a new job, with dreams of buying their own place and but having to answer to anyone.

personal thoughts: What a tragic story! My dad really likes Steinbeck so it’s a little sad that I’m only now reading this (I have read “Cannery Row”). I loved the descriptions of the environment, the way the story was laid out. The innocence of Lennie and the shrewdness of George made for an interesting and dynamic pair. I felt that this highlighted the cruelty of some people, the mistrust that is so prevalent in society. While not a happy story, I really enjoyed it. Sometimes life sucks, and but everything happens the way we want it to.

favorite quotes:
“At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beams flies shot like rushing stars.” p. 19

“His hands, large and lean, were as delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.” p. 37

the story of my life

title: The Story of My Life

author: Helen Keller

genre: Non-fiction, biography, education and life of Helen Keller

dates read: July 2nd – July 6th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Helen Keller (1880-1968) shares the first 22 years of her life, the darkness and silence that encased her life after an illness that almost took her life at 19 months old.  She was spoiled and willful but knew she was loved.  A few months before her 7th birthday Annie Sullivan became her teacher and through her love and persistence, Helen came out of the solitude and began to discover the wonderful world around her.  She tells of her travels and the many people she meets: Dr. Alexander Bell, Samuel Clemons, and the president, to name a few.  During her Sophomore year of college at Radcliffe she wrote her life story for the Ladies Home Journal, where the first half of this book was first published.  The last half consists of the many letters she writes from 1887-1901.

personal thoughts:  What an incredible story!  I was constantly amazed at the positive attitude and wonderful brightness that Helen exuded in her writings.  She liked to talk about things she saw and heard and I can only imagine how much Annie Sullivan worked to ensure she had a good enough picture to share those sensory experiences.  I was also amazed at how many people she met and the delight with which she lived.  I don’t want to assume that her lack of sight and hearing means that her life experiences were any less than mine, but it was still amazing to see how joyfully she lived.  Beautiful and inspiring, I recommend this read.

favorite quotes:
“It is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my life. I have, as it were, a superstitious hesitation in lifting the veil that clings about my childhood like a golden mist.” p. 1

“a look is often the very soul of what one says.” p. 21

“It is an unspeakable boon to me to be able to speak in winged words that need no interpretation.” p. 42

“I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I. We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.” p. 69

“In a thousand ways [my friends] have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.” p. 101

pegasus

title: Pegasus

author: Robin McKinley

genre: Fiction, fantasy, pegasi, friendship

dates read: June 27th – July 1st

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Princess Sylviianel is turning 12, which means she will be bound to her own pegasus.  The tradition of a human and a pegasus bonding started almost a thousand years ago with a treaty between the two peoples as a way to preserve the pegasi and allow the humans a place to reside.  Pegasi did not have the means to protect their lands from those who would overrun it, while the humans had the means and the power to do so.  Because their languages are so different, only through magic and specially appointed Speakers are the individuals able to communicate.  Sylvi meets her pegasus, Ebon, and they find that they are able to communicate directly through silent speech.  This makes some of those in power uncomfortable and sets in motion many changes for both peoples.

personal thoughts: I already know I love Robin McKinley, so when I saw this book I knew I had to add it to the list.  And I was not disappointed.  She’s created a beautiful world where two species live in harmony, or they’re trying to.  Sylvi’s whole family seems warm and loving, despite the obvious strains of ruling a country.  I love the relationship between Sylvi and Ebon and the close bond they share.  The world and culture of the pegasi is fascinating and I wish someone would make a [good] movie about this.  I did read a review that bemoaned the abrupt ending and I have to agree.  It looks like there will be two more books in the series, but the next one won’t be released until next year.  I will definitely be returning to this.

favorite quotes:
“‘Imagine learning to swim by being thrown into a lake of perfect darkness, never having seen water before.'” p. 7

“Why was there no…no feel to it, this great important thing? Why did it seem no more than a silken representation on a banner, this thing that Balsin had called the foundation upon which their country was built?” p. 126

“‘breaking tradition always comes with a noise like mountains falling.'” p. 177

“what was a glorious tale in the history books was grim and awful when it was happening to you.” p. 376

love that dog

title: Love That Dog

author: Sharon Creech

genre: Fiction, poetry

suggested by: Ruthie B.

date read: June 27th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Jack is assigned to Miss Stretchberrry’s class and they are studying and writing poetry.  At first Jack is opposed to writing poetry, saying it’s for girls.  He slowly warms up and eventually lets Mss Stretchberry put his poetry up for the rest of the class to read.  At the encouragement of Miss Stretchberry, he even writes about his deceased dog, Sky and manages to convince a published poetry author to visit their classroom.

personal thoughts:  What a sweet story and the style was wonderfully unique and beautifully child-like.  I even cried a little.  I think Jack captured the often times confusing nature of poetry but it was fun to see his journey as he started to understand and appreciate it.  I highly recommend this for readers of all ages.

favorite quotes:
“If that is a poem
about the red wheelbarrow
and the white chickens
then any words
can be a poem.
You’ve just got to
make
short
lines.” p. 3

“Sometimes
when you are trying
not to think about something
it keeps popping back
into your head
you can’t help it
you think about it
and
think about it
and
think about it
until your brain
feels like
a squashed pea.” p. 64

for whom the bell tolls

title: For Whom the Bell Tolls

author: Ernest Hemingway

genre: Fiction, war time, romance

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: June 22nd – June 27th

review: 2 out of 5 stars

summary: Robert Jordan, an American fighting in the Spanish Civil War, is tasked with blowing up a bridge to help defeat the fascist army.  He partners up with a guerrilla group to help him with the task and they share the war experiences and their lives for a handful of days.  Written with the third person limited omniscient narrative, Hemingway uses this to occasionally show the perspective of the “other side.”

personal thoughts: I did not enjoy this book.  The thees and thous drove me crazy and, while I don’t mind introspection, I was not fond of the style or length in this.  There was not a lot that happened in the book and it seemed disjointed at times.  Hemingway chose to not use any English swear words, instead saying “muck,” “obscenity,” or “unprintable,” which made the reading awkward and really highlighted the swearing even more.  This was not my favorite read.  It might have also been affected by my being on vacation and distracted by the people I wanted to hang out with.

favorite quote:
“it is sometimes more of a risk not to accept chances which are necessary to take but I have done this so far, trying to let the situation take its own course.” p. 63

the illustrated man

title: The Illustrated Man

author: Ray Bradbury

genre: Fiction, short stories, love, loss, life

suggested by: Anne Rice

dates read: June 21st – June 22nd

review: 5 of 5 stars

summary: The Illustrated Man has been traveling around for 40 years, finding work where he can, displaying the tattoos that cover his body as a carnaval show.  But as night falls, the illustrations start to move, which aren’t as charming to the customers.  Eventually he is fired and forced to look for his next job.  Each illustration tells a story of the future.  18 illustrations and 18 stories: bittersweet, terrifying, beautiful, and thoughtful.

personal thoughts: Bradbury does it again.  His stories made me think, some were tragic in their loneliness and sorrow, others were simple but still beautiful and profound.  Still others were horrifying in their destruction and depravity.  There were many set in space or on Mars, almost always painting the future as grim, making me thankful that’s not where our future is headed. Or is it? Much of what Bradbury writes about is more about the thought processes of society. While the technology might not exist, the hangups and vices do. However, throughout the grim, he also paints pictures of hope and childlike wonder and beauty.

favorite quotes:
“The abstraction had returned and he was a thing of dull concrete, forever falling nowhere.” p. 36

“I slept again, with the little vial of magical dust in my pajama pocket, over my beating heart.” p. 95

“I don’t want evidence that you can carry in your mind and always touch and smell and feel. But there’s no way to do that. YOu can’t carry the Earth, or a man, in your pocket. want a way to do that, carry things with me always, so I can believe in them.” p. 151

world war z

title: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

author: Max Brooks

genre: Fiction, post apocalyptic, zombies

dates read: June 19th – June 20th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Built from interviews from around the world, World War Z comes together to tell the story of how the undead almost wiped out the living humans.  From those floating in a space station, to the remote location of Antarctica, we are shown how this long war affected everyone.  Starting at the beginning, with patient zero, all the way to years after the war was officially over, Brooks weaves together the incredible history.  The resiliency of the human spirit and the sometimes inane things people do in times of crisis are also highlighted throughout.

personal thoughts: Um, wow.  I haven’t seen the movie but what I saw in the trailer did not prepare me for this epic novel.  The interview style was brilliant, all the different reactions to the outbreaks and ensuing panic were so believable.  If the zombie apocolyps comes, I could see this novel becoming a reality.  The detail that Brooks used, the nods to pop culture, and all the different cultures that were represented, absolutely fantastic.  It was definitely horrifying, but a poignant and somewhat cautionary tale.  Love, love, LOVED it.

favorite quotes:
“isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for the personal accounts of individuals not so different from themselves? By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it?” p. 2

“Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation.” p. 45

“suddenly that peon is your teacher, maybe even your boss. For some, this was scarier than the living dead.” p. 140

“I don’t miss if great times make great men, but I know they can kill them.” p. 151

“Lies are neither bad nor good. Like a fire they can either keep you warm or burn you to death, depending on how they’re used.” p. 166

“Freedom isn’t just something you have for the sake of having, you have to want something else first and then want the freedom to fight for it.” p. 232

shantaram

title: Shantaram

author: Gregory David Roberts

genre: Fiction, Bombay, fugitive

suggested by: Will F.

dates read: June 13th – June 19th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: His real name unknown, Lindsay Ford is a fugitive, escaped from a maximum security prison in Australia.  He has made his way to Bombay, India and quickly finds himself in love with the place and the people he meets.  As he learns the languages and the culture, he starts up a relationship with members of one of the local gangs, led by Abdel Khader Khan.  With his fake passport expired and no funds, he moves to the slums, and quite by accident develops a free medical clinic from his hut.  As time goes by, he becomes more and more entangled with the gang but is fond of Khader and those who work for him and seems happy to play the part.  However, running with such a crowd has its consequences, which Lindsay discovers in time.

personal thoughts: Although this was an extremely long book (about 930 pages), it was a very engaging and enjoyable read.  Roberts drew from some of his own experiences, having escaped from an Australian prison himself and spending his fugitive years in India.  It is not totally clear what’s fact and what’s fiction, but nevertheless, he paints a vivid and beautiful picture of Lindsay’s life in Bombay.  As with life, not everything is rosy and clean, but that just makes the story richer.  The many friends he makes each have something valuable to teach him, and while he might not understand the value at the time, he pays tribute to each one.  Beautiful, tragic, magical, I recommend this read.

favorite quotes: “I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison.” p. 3

“The contrast between the familiar and the exceptional was everywhere around me. . .The impression was of a plodding, indefatigable, and distant past that had crushed intact, through barriers of time, into its own future.” p. 11 “

the past reflects eternally between two mirrors – the bright mirror of words and deeds, and the dark one, full of things we didn’t do or say.” p. 36

“Imprisonment meant that they took away the sun and the moon and the stars.  Prison wasn’t hell, but there was no heaven in it, either.  In its own way, that was just as bad.” p. 57

“Ask any man with a long-enough experience of prisons, and he’ll tell you that all it takes to harden a man’s heart is a system of justice.” p. 81

“The definitive sound of a city is the rattlesnake chatter of a jackhammer – the warning sound you hear as the business reptile strikes.  But change in the village is perennial.  What changes in nature is restored with one wheel of seasons.  What comes from the earth always returns.  What flourishes, dies away to bloom again.” p. 132

“I knew that my presence in Sunder defiled the village.  I knew that every smile I took from them was swindled.  Life on the run puts a lie in the echo of every laugh, and at least a little larceny in every act of love.” p. 147

“‘Justice is not done until everyone is satisfied, even those who offend us and must be punished by us. . .justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong.  It is also the way we try to save them.'” p. 229

“The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is your suffering.  So I took each sadness she confessed to me, and pinned it to the sky.” p. 387

“‘There is no objective and universally accepted definition of good and evil.  And until we have one, we will go on justifying our own actions, while condemning the actions of others.'” p. 484

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us.  What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.” p. 629

“Lettie had once said that she found it strange and incongruous to hear me describe criminals, killers, and mafiosi as men of honour.  The confusion, I think, was hers, not mine.  She’d confused honour with virtue.  Virtue is concerned with what we do, and honour is concerned with how we do it.” p. 831

“I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again.  And unvoiced, unmoving, unlived in the things we declare from heart to heart, those true and real feelings wither and crumble in the remembering hand that tires too late to reach for them.” p. 881

the perks of being a wallflower

title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

author: Stephen Chbosky

genre: Fiction, love, life, letters

dates read: June 12th – June 13th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Charlie is 15 years old and writes letters to an unknown recipient, who he heard was a good listener.  As with all 15 year olds, his life has ups and downs and Charlie shares them all.  His first letter is written right before his freshman year of high school, and as he makes friends and learns about life and love, he brings his “Dear friend” along.  He quickly becomes friends with Patrick and Sam, step siblings who bring him into their fold.  He thinks that Sam is the most beautiful girl in the world and falls in love, though she tells him not to think of her that way.  He speaks frankly and simply, and through the letters, tells of his highs and lows, his nervous break downs, and his brilliant insights.

personal thoughts: The writing style fit the age of the narrator and I think it gave depth to the story.  As an avid reader myself, I could appreciate the same quality in Charlie, especially his statement that each book he finished became his new favorite.  His pure love for those he loved was beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking.  And I loved all his personalized gifts, the way he so clearly paid attention to the individual he was giving too.  That is how I want to be, someone who listens and loves well.

favorite quotes:
“‘Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.'” p. 24

“I guess I realized at that moment that I really does love her. Because there was nothing to gain, and that didn’t matter.” p. 179

dark places

title: Dark Places: A Novel

author: Gillian Flynn

genre: Fiction, murder mystery, family

suggested by: BuzzFeed

dates read: June 11th – June 12th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Libby Day is the only surviving member of the brutal massacre of her mother and two sisters.  Her brother Ben was the accused murdered and the story picks up 24 years later, with Ben still serving time and Libby almost out of the charitable money she received as a child “orphan” (her deadbeat father is still alive, somewhere).  She encounters a group, the Kill Club, who believe Ben is innocent and are willing to pay her to talk to those involved in her past life.  Alternately telling the story from Patty’s (Libby’s mother) and Ben’s perspective the day leading up to the massacre, and present day Libby, Lynn eloquently shows how not everything is black and white, not everything is what it seems.

personal thoughts: Flynn does it again.  This story captivated me from the beginning and I spent the whole time wondering whodunit and how it was going to end.  At least from my perspective, I felt like Lynn created a believable family history, the dynamics between each relationship felt organic, and the past (1985) and present (2009) were right.  The despair and struggles are real, and so are the triumphs.  I look forward to this coming out in theatres.

favorite quotes:
“Coffee goes great with sudden death.” p. 2

“Ben and the girls were always accusing her of taking sides – Ben forever being asked to have patience with the small, ribboned creatures, the girls forever being begged to hush now, don’t bother your brother.” p. 22

“I appreciate a straightforward apology the way a tone-deaf person enjoys a fine piece of music.  I can’t do it, but I can applaud it in others.” p. 88

“The sky was draining quickly now, the horizon just a cuticle of pink.” p. 306

the monuments men

title: The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

authors: Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter

genre: Non-fiction, WWII, priceless art, MFAA

suggested by: Mom & BuzzFeed

dates read: June 3rd – June 11th

review: 4.5 out of 5 stars

summary: Common knowledge is that WWII was a tumultuous time for the world.  Not-so-common knowledge is the effort of many men and women to protect the priceless works of art that were either being stolen by Hitler and his henchmen, or in danger of being casualties of war.  Edsel and Witter work hard to acknowledge the efforts of those brave individuals.  Though the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section (MFAA) included individuals from 13 countries, about 350 or so, this book chronicles the stories and journeys of a few of those who were there at the beginning.

personal thoughts: Often told in story form, this book was rich with historical detail.  Many letters or notes from the journals of the men (there was one woman included in the characters) who made up the MFAA were used to make it even more personal.  It was unbelievable what they went through to save works of art, the sacrifices they made, and the few resources they were given to complete their impossible task.  Unlikely heroes and hard working men, they were inspirational in their accomplishments despite the odds.  Much of what they did was never acknowledged while they were alive but I’m glad that this work exists to honor them.

favorite quotes:
“It was disjointed somehow, but beneath the surface he could sense order, an appropriateness in both time and space, a composition that appeared messy until, suddenly, you saw beneath the strokes the system at work.” p. 51

“while he was a man of paper, Ronald Balfour was no paper man. He might not look like a soldier with his small frame and scholar’s wire-rimmed glasses, but he had a backbone of iron and a desire to fight.” p. 55

“the secret, he believed, to success in any endeavor: to be a careful, knowledgeable, and efficient observer of the world, and to act in accordance with what you saw.” p. 60

“War did not come like a hurricane, Rorimer realized, destroying everything in its path. It came like a tornado, touching down in patches, taking with it one life while leaving the next person unharmed.” p. 79

“To save the culture of your allies is a small thing. To cherish the culture of your enemy, to risk your life and the life of other men to save it, to give it all back to them as soon as the battle was won… it was unheard of, but that is exactly what Walker Hancock and the other Monuments Men intended to do.” p. 254

“the lasting impact of [Hitler’s] bitter reign is best measured in more ephemeral ways: fifty million loved ones who never returned home from the war to rejoin their families or start one of their own; brilliant, creative contributions never made to our world because scientists, artists, and inventors lost their lives too early or were never born; cultures built over generations reduced to ashes and rubble because one human being judged groups of other human beings less worthy than his own.” p. 401

sister of my heart

title: Sister of My Heart

author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

genre: Fiction, cousins, sisterly love, familial ties, sacrifice

suggested by: Pam R.

dates read: May 30th – June 2nd

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Anju and Sudha are cousins who are closer than sisters.  Their fathers both died in a mysterious adventure the day they were born and they grow up together in the home their mothers share.  When Sudha hears the story behind their father’s misadventure, it changes their relationship, though she doesn’t reveal what she knows to Anju.  As a reward for a moment of rebellion Sudha’s mother forbids her to leave the house unescorted and tells her that when she graduates high school she will be placed into an arranged marriage.  A tragedy also dooms Anju to the same fate.  As their lives take them in different directions, Anju and Sudha begin to drift, but nothing can really break their bond.

personal thoughts: Another beautiful story.  I liked the more realistic story that was told, even though I wanted it to go in a different direction at times.  Each chapter alternated between Anju and Sudha’s perspective, which I think enriched the story even more.  The loyalty they have for each other, and the lengths they’ll go to help each other is quite amazing.  Chitra is a wonderful storyteller, and she created two beautiful, strong-willed, likeable heroines.

favorite quotes:
“I have caught a remembering look, at once faraway and intent, in Singhji’s eyes. . . At those times his face is not ugly at all, but more like a mountain peak that has withstood a great ice storm.  And somehow I feel we are the lucky ones because he chose to come to us.” p. 8

“How can this runaway adventuress be my mother, who is built of sighs and complaints, who guards every propriety as though it is a fragile crystal heirloom he has been personally entrusted with?” p. 23

“Perhaps because we had no fathers, that other world – sweat and sunlight, male cologne, a man’s voice raised in a command to a passing servant – seemed distant and full of mystery, like the dim roar of an ocean seen through a telescope.” p. 51

“That’s how it is sometimes when we plunge into the depths of our lives.  No one can accompany us, not even those who would give up their hearts for our happiness.” p. 90

“With each step, AshokAshokAshok, I am learning the landscape of loss. ” p. 126

“This life I have built over the cinders of my passion and my pain, this life where I have redefined happiness as usefulness – how blameless it has been, how unremarkable.” p. 181