Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Tuesday!

I am in Washington D.C. celebrating a White House Christmas with Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her family. It has been almost a year since Alice Roosevelt married Nick Longworth and while things have not been all roses they are doing well, for now. After finally getting away from the control of her family Alice is finding that she enjoys spending time with them now. She is starting to come in to herself and it won't be long before she becomes a major political player, not just Princess Alice, one of America's earliest paparazzi stars. (It's Tuesday...Where are you?)

"Finally, Alice's dream was coming true: she had found a wealthy man, made him love her, fell for him in turn, and gloried in the culmination of her days as a single woman in the White House. Alice was toasted, congratulated, gifted with fabulous presents, remarked upon, photographed, followed by crowds, and almost entirely free from parental control." (pg 153) (Teaser Tuesday)

Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA Awards

I've been expressing excitement about this mornings ALA awards ceremony for a few weeks now. Last night my husband pointed out that I was acting towards the ALA announcement the way most people act when anticipating the Oscars or some such other award. Maybe so but the ALA awards are so much more interesting than any movie award, in my not so humble opinion. Can you imagine a red carpet event with a bunch of authors and librarians? Priceless!
It is not like I spent all morning watching the clock and waiting for the webcast to start. Oh wait. I did do that...

So! Who were this years winners? There were a few surprises, at least for me, and some titles that I would have loved to see with a shiny sticker on them did not get one.

I'll just cover a few of the awards, there are more than a dozen. Check out the ALA Website for more awards information.

Newbery Medal:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I'd heard some people predicting this would win or at least get an honor. I have not read it yet but will be doing so soon.

Newbery Honors:
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. There is really not much surprise here. There has been a lot of buzz about this one. My review.

Savvy by Ingrid Law. I am so stinking happy that this book won an honor. I loved it! I heard a lot of nay-sayers proclaiming that it could not win but it did so ha! :-) My review.

The other honor books are The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle and After Tupac and Foster D by Jacqueline Woodson. I have not read either of these yet but will be getting to them soon.

What an amazing variety of titles. I must admit that I am a little disappointed that Chains did not win an award but at least Laurie Halse Anderson was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award, given to an author who makes a significant and lasting contribution to children's literature.

Printz Award Winner
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

Printz Honor Books
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. My somewhat short and vague review
can be found in this post. Not my favorite book from last year but not horrible.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. I have heard wonderful things about this book and have a copy of it sitting in my book basket. I am going to have to read it next. Kinda funny, my son is very scared of this book's cover. Every time he sees it he asks me if we can take it back to the library.

Nation by Terry Pratchett. Another one I've heard good buzz about but have not been able to read yet.

I will put together another post with some more highlights of the awards later. My poor kids have not gotten much attention from mommy this morning and they are getting fussy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Diamond Willow

Title: Diamond Willow
Author:Helen Frost
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 23 Jan 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: Library, New Author, 100 +

In the interior of Alaska 12 year old Willow helps her father with their sled dogs. Willow is shy and considers the lead dog, Roxy, to be her best friend.
She has never taken the dogs out on her own but believes she can mush them to her grandparent's home 12 miles away. She wants her parents to realize she is not a little girl anymore and to listen to her and trust her. After an accident occurs on the trail Willow will have to face some difficult decisions and prove to herself and her family just how grown up she really is.
Willow's story is told in diamond shaped poems with hidden messages printed within each poem. The parts of the story that are told in prose are the spirits of Willow's ancestors who inhabit various animals and look after Willow. I liked this creative approach to telling the story and give my kudos to Helen Frost for the execution of this story.
I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book but things started getting a little strange for me towards the end. I liked seeing Willow's growth and the way she was able to find her strength. Willow's character felt very authentic in her desire for friends, and to have her parents listen to her and trust her. Some of the major plot points just didn't work for me.
Check out this page at Helen Frost's web site to see a picture of a diamond Willow stick and to see an example of the diamond shaped poems.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Title: Chains
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 316
Published: 2008
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: Library, New Author, 100 +

Even though I have only read 7 books so far this year I can pretty much guarantee that Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson will be topping my list of 2009 favorites.

This story and particularly the character of Isabel captured my heart and would not let it go. I didn't really realize I was doing it but Chains was literally a nail biter for me.
Isabel's story begins in the early months of 1776. Her owner, Mrs. Finch, has promised Isabel and her sister that they will be freed upon her death. Unfortunately, Mrs. Finch's nephew and heir sees things very differently and Isabel, along with her sister Ruth are sold to a cruel loyalist couple in New York City. Isabel is determined to protect her sister and to gain the freedom that rightfully belongs to them. She will get caught up in both Patriot and British schemes in hopes of finding freedom through either side.
Every character in this book was crafted perfectly. From Isabel's cruel and vindictive owner, Mrs. Lockton, to the many characters like Lady Seymour and Sarah, the British soldier wife, who show kindness toward Isabel but are never able to step past the conventions of their time and really help Isabel.
Chains is somewhat unique in that it explores the issue of slavery in Rhode Island and New York during the Revolution and not the south during the Civil War. The historical detail and depth of the characters really brought this book to life.
Compelling and emotionally moving, Chains is a brilliant work of historical fiction.
Oh, and I love the way the cover illustrates how Isabel is chained between the British and the Patriots as she struggles for her freedom. Beautiful!

Library Loot

Since this is my first week participating in Library Loot I thought I should lay all my cards out and let you all know that I usually have huge stacks of books checked out from the library. I actually returned a large stack of books, about 20, earlier this week. I am going to try to keep my circulation numbers down a little. We'll see how that goes...

Here is what I picked up this week:

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Massacre at Mountain Meadows
The Eleventh Man
Walking to Vermont
I also picked up a few cookbooks, some knitting books and a gardening book.

And here is a shot of all the other books I have out right now. Some of these I have renewed 3 or 4 times and really need to get read soon.
(Library Loot)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Fine Day

Title: One Fine Day
Author: Mollie Panter-Downes
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 241
Date Finished: 19 Jan 2009
My Rating: 5
Challenges: Decades, New Author, Library, Numbers, 100 +

In this beautiful and lyrically told novel Mollie Panter-Downes chronicles a day in the life of the Marshall family, a middle class family living in post World War II England.

While Britain has come out of the war victorious, life has not returned to what it once was and for most, it never will.

The change the Marshall family feels most keenly is domestic.
They have been left to manage a house and garden without the servants that they once had.
"And it suddenly struck him as preposterous how dependent he and his class had been on the anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and worked the strings. All his life he had expected to find doors opened if he rang, to wake up to the soft rattle of curtain rings being drawn back, to find the fires bright and the coffee smoking hot every morning as though household spirits had been working while he slept. And now the strings had been dropped, they all lay helpless as abandoned marionettes with nobody to twitch them."
The gardener who kept Stephen's garden growing and vital was killed in Holland. The maid, nanny and cook left to help with the war effort and won't be returning. Finding new help is all but impossible as the younger generation looks to expanding possibilities that have opened up beyond their country villages.
Flighty Laura is left to keep the once beautiful, now crumbling, house together and keep dinner from boiling over, burning or being eaten by the cat. Stephen is left with only the occasional help of a slow, plodding, half-deaf old man in the garden. Their daughter, Victoria, does not remember much about life before the war and does not understand her parent's present concerns and stresses.
Mollie Panter-Downes created a very powerful, character driven novel illustrating how life has been irrevocably changed on all levels of society following the war. Through following the seemingly mundane day in the life of one family on a hot summer day we see an entire nation coming to grips with a new way of life and a new social order.
While there is a strong sense of what has been lost throughout the novel, there is also a sense of hope and optimism.
"But never, even then, had Laura felt quite this rush of overwhelming thankfulness, so that the land swam and misted and danced before her. She had had to lose a dog and climb a hill, a year later, to realize what it would have meant if England had lost. We are at peace, we still stand, we will stand when you are dust, sang the humming land in the summer evening."
Originally published in 1947 this novel examines the war and it's impact on those left to pick up the pieces of a post war life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mountain Home

Title: Mountain Home
Authors: Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Pages: 163
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 6 January 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: What's in a Name, RYOB, New Author, 100+

2009 marks the 75th anniversary of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, the most visited National Park in the United States. Our Mountain Home: A Pictorial History of Great Smoky Mountains National Park was put out by the Great Smoky Mountain Association as a special 75th anniversary publication. Filled with hundreds of photos from the Park archival collections, the Smithsonian Institution and National Archives this book is just packed with beautiful pictures of the mountains and the people who inhabited them. Add in the text by Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely and you end up with well researched, excellent introductory history on the area.
This book covers everything from the mountains earliest inhabitants, the Cherokees, to the arrival of white settlers, mostly Scotch-Irish, to the region and the eventual removal of the Cherokee people. Both the Civil War and WWI brought outside influences into the mountain region, bringing change to to the once isolated mountain communities. Life was forever changed with the introduction of logging in the area and finally the push for a national park in the eastern United States that culminated with the park dedication by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Through Dykeman and Stokely, you learn about all the major players who had a hand in the creation of the park and what it meant to those living within the new park boundaries.
A wonderful look at the history of the Great Smoky Mountains this book also includes a short but thorough visitors guide and a selection of further titles to pursue as an armchair explorer. My interest and fascination with this area continues.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Greetings From Nowhere

Title: Greetings From Nowhere
Author: Barbara O'Connor
Genre: Juvenile
Pages: 200
Date Finished: 4 January 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: New Author, 100+, Library

The setting of the Great Smoky Mountains is what led me to pick up this book. I love the Smoky Mountains and have been trying to get my hands on as many books, fiction and non-fiction, about the area that I can. O'Connor did a fabulous job of making me wish I was back amongst the mountains again as I read Greetings from Nowhere.
The Sleepy Time Motel in North Carolina's Great Smokey Mountains has been Aggie's home for decades. After the death of her beloved husband, Harold, Aggie is unable to keep up with the demands of running the motel and keeping the bills paid on her own. Faced with selling the rundown motel and leaving her life in the mountains, Aggie feels a spark of hope for the return of the old days when troubled Kirby and his mother, happy Loretta and her loving parents and lonely Willow with her father, who wants to buy the motel, all show up at the motel at the same time, putting more signatures on the guest register than she has seen in months.
We come to see the unique effect that each of the characters will have on each other as the story unfolds through the shifting points of view of Aggie, Kirby, Loretta and Willow. In a rather short, character driven book, Barbara O'Connor has managed to pack a lot of emotion and connection between this group of eclectic characters. Greetings from Nowhere is a quiet, simply told story that will just pull you into the lives of these characters. This is one of those books that I can't wait for my kids to get a few more years on them so they can read it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Final 2008 Reviews (Part II)

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, 284 Pages, finished 9 Dec 2008, 4 Stars
This book has a lot going on: interesting setting, murder, racism, moral dilemma and lots of twists.
Frankly, I could not put it down. It lacks a lot of the bells and whistles that a lot of popular YA literature is filled with but I think that is half the reason I liked it. Great characters and a great story. Predictable at times but I loved Evie's progression as a character.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski, 159 pages, finished 14 Dec 2008, 3 Stars
I think I have a love hate relationship with this book. On the one hand I love the perspective you get from reading books that are contemporary to the time they are set in opposed to historical fiction written now about the time period (this was originally published in 1949.) On the other hand, I hated the main character Hilary Wainwright. He was such a selfish, distant and uncaring character that I found myself wanting to throw down the book a few times. I just could never get myself to feel the sympathy for him that, I think, the author was trying to create. The story of finding a lost child following WWII was an interesting and emotional read but I can't get over the desire to slap Wainwright and tell him to get over himself. If a good book is something that rises emotion in you, than this is a great book.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, 184 Pages, finished 15 Dec 2008, 4 Stars
Classic children's book that I rebelled against reading when I was a kid. A beautifully told story that I should not have waited so long to read. Amazing that it is based on a true story.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, 345 pages, finished 19 Dec 2008, 3 Stars
When I started to see reviews roll in for this book I was not interested in reading it. Eventually I gave into peer pressure (National Book Awards short list) and picked up a copy. It was an interesting read but as I suspected it was not something I throughly enjoyed. It took awhile for anything substantial to happen. Lots of build up, you knew what was coming but it took too long to get there. I did not get Frankie or her motivations for acting the way she did and just never felt invested in the story.
Decent enough book but just not my cup of tea.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg, 229 Pages, finished 27 Dec 2008, 2 Stars
To be completely, brutally honest, this book just bored me. I could not get into the characters or the storyline as is evidenced by how long it took me to read this little book. I usually somewhat enjoy Flagg's quirky characters and settings but not this time.

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds, 426 pages, 31 Dec 2008, 1 Star
Way to trashy for me. Picked this up at the library on a whim right before leaving on a vacation to the beach. I had my reservations but thought the beach setting and Pride and Prejudice theme might make it a decent beach read. All I can say is, don't read this unless you like long drawn out narratives that could really use some editing and very explicit narratives.

Final 2008 Reviews (Part I)

I am so far behind on reviews right now and I hate starting out the new year with 11 reviews from last year still needing to be posted so I've decided to write some short, quick reviews with no plot summaries (or very little anyway) or anything like that. This year I will be working on posting reviews after I finish a book and before I jump right into the next one. Or at least before I have a pile of 11 books that need reviewing.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, 120 pages, finished 16 Nov 2008, 3 Stars
I would have given a higher rating to this delightfully humorous novella and recommended it to my mom, except for a few bits that made me uncomfortable. Otherwise, a simply clever and charming little book about what happens when the Queen of England begins reading for pleasure. Loved the ending.

Paper Towns by John Green, 305 pages, finished 23 Nov 2008, 3 Stars
Witty, clever and chatty narratives are almost always something I enjoy. This book had all 3 and therefore it was a fun read for me. My biggest problem? Margo. I just hated to see Q and his friends turn their lives upside down trying to find Margo. On the flip side, I did really enjoy the dynamics between Q and his friends. The main characters are high school boys and therefore things did get a bit too crass for me at times.
The road trip toward the end is the funniest writing I've read in ages. I was in absolute stitches. The ending fell a little flat and slow after the hilarious and well plotted road trip.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, 170 pages, finished 24 Nov 2008, 2 Stars
I know things like this happen and it is horrifying but this book was too disturbingly graphic for me. I read it in about an hour and felt sick afterwards. Compelling and very well written but dark, very dark.

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg, 365 pages, finished 4 Dec 2008, 3 Stars
If there is one thing Fannie Flagg knows how to do, it is creating characters. Lots of quirky and enjoyable characters abound in this book.
I really liked the pacing during the first half of the book but when the pacing changed the book slowed down substantially and I found myself losing interest.
A nice, easy read even if, perhaps, filled with a few too many cliches for my taste.

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, 461 pages, finished 7 Dec 2008, 4 Stars
Slow at times, especially the second half covering King Phillip's War, but a fascinating and informative read.
My one question is why was this book titled Mayflower when the Mayflower was turned to scrap within the first 100 pages? I was not expecting this book to cover such a large period of time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chunkster Challenge

I am really excited to see this one come back for 2009. I did not read about it until it was too late to join last year and was hoping it would be around this year.

I will be participating in the Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? -option
"This option is for the slightly heavier reader who wants to commit to 3-5 Chunksters over the next ten months."

I'll sign up for 3 but should not have too much trouble getting 5.
Challenge info and sign ups can be found here.

1. Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Stacy Cordrey
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

In Their Shoes Reading Challenge

My goal is to read 5 memoirs, autobiographies or biographies for this challenge.
All the details on this challenge can be found at the challenge blog.

1. Lincoln: A Photobiography
2. Alice Roosevelt Longworth
3. The Lincolns
4. The Other Half
5. Up a Country Lane

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am among the endless ridges, forests, streams, waterfalls and wildlife of the Great Smoky Mountains. I've traveled through what was once the land of the Cherokees and watched as the new Americans began to settle in the Oconaluftee Valley. I've marveled at what it took to build communities in these mountains and how these people became dependent on themselves, making and growing everything that they needed. War and logging came along and began to slowly change the way of life for these mountain communities and now there is a movement brewing to turn this land into a National Park. What will that mean for the families who live and farm in these mountains? (It's Tuesday, Where Are You?)

"Nothing fostered these peoples' early gropings toward community more than stories. Legends and tall tales, begun in family conversations and embellished by neighborly rumor, forged a bond, a unity of interest, and a common history in each valley and on each meandering branch." (Teaser Tuesdays)

Mountain Home: A Pictorial History of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some Challenge Wrap-ups

I finished 3 challenges before I went on vacation but in my rush to get the books read, I did not have time to post my challenge wrap-up posts.

Fall Into Reading 2008
My goal was to read 22 books and I finished up with 25. You can read my sign up post to see what books I read.

Decades Challenge 2008
Young Adult Reading Challenge
Thanks to Katrina, 3M and Joy for hosting these challenges.

I did not finish the A-Z challenge, finishing up with 42 of the 52 required books. You can see what books I did read for the challenge at this post.