Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Historical Fiction 

January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name. 

I know your first question, because it was mine when I picked up this book- what in the world is a potato peel pie? Well, I'm not telling! You'll have to read the book to find out. And it's definitely worth the read! 

I love epistolary novels, and the authors performed a masterpiece in putting the write letters in at the right times to give us the right information (how do they do that?!). I just adore the main character, Juliet. She's witty, a published author (like I wish to be), and considerate. Through her voice and those of the members of the literary society on Guernsey, I enjoyed getting to know these humble people and seeing how the occupation of the Germans affected them. 

The occupation was a large part of the book, but not overly depressing. This book treated World War II in a unique way, because, besides the uniqueness of the letters, the story was told after the war and how people are recovering from it. The book was full of hope, because healing was happening among the people and land. 

The isle of Guernsey is as full of charm as its people: rolling hills, ever-changing seas, and meadows full of wildflowers. Shaffer and Barrows could have been a bit less stingy in their descriptions of the island, but I still got a good sense of the place. 

One of my only pain points was a seemingly random character trait revealed halfway through the book about one of the main characters which felt very off and forced. Also, the person that Juliet falls for took me by surprise; I was picturing him much older than her. But perhaps this was my fault. 

Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5 and recommend it for 16 year olds and up. 

What historical fiction novels-whether good or bad-have you read lately? 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Boating Books for the Summer

Taste the wind and salty sea breeze with these adventure-swamped books!  Whether you're heading to some water to cool off or not this summer, these tales will take you far and wide and refresh your spirit on the way. 

1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
You can't get more bodacious than exploring islands, escaping rampaging sea serpents, and learning about bizarre and potentially dangerous magic. This is one of my favorite books in Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series. Read it to find out why! 

2. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Ever wonder how Peter Pan became Peter Pan? This children's fantasy book offers the answer and thrilling scenes on the open ocean. 

3. Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
I've always been intrigued with scuba diving, so when I saw this nonfiction book about divers who found a submarine wreck off the coast of New Jersey and risked everything to uncover its secrets, I dove right in. Not very often do you get to explore boats from beneath the waves. 

4. Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
You can't have boats without pirates! And you can't have the boat in this YA novel without Bloody Jack, a female pretending to be a male. All the possible complications you can think of can undoubtedly be found in this book and series. 

5. The Odyssey by Homer 
This is for all you classic-lovers (which includes me). Odysseus just wants to return home to his wife and son after the epic Greek battle. But it's not easy; he must face a love-struck nymph, Cyclopes, and cannibals. Will he ever see his family and home again? 

6. Downriver by Will Hobbs
This book takes place not on the ocean, but on the mighty Grand Canyon rapids. A group of teens traveling via kayaks must overcome challenges they had never expected to survive the roiling river and life in the wild. 

7. The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer 
Who knows the sea better than vikings? Travel through northern England's sea to the land of trolls with Jack, and apprentice bard, and the vikings who took him and his sister captive. Will his newfound magic be enough to save them? 

8. The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick
A well-written tale about a boy, Skiff, who's healing from his mother's death and revamping his father's fishing boat on the New England coast. I learned oceans-full about the fishing way of life in this small, quaint town and the difficulties of being a boy here. 

9. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Murder can occur anywhere, even while traveling via boat on the Nile River! 

10. Pirates! by Celia Rees
This is one young lady who's not hiding her identity. But unlike Bloody Jack, she's joined a pirate ship. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Happy National Poetry Month!

Since it's national poetry month and spring, here are some delightful poems to welcome this light-filled season with!

1. Such Singing in the Wild Branches by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver's poems are often dotted with the delights of nature and the joy of life, so her poetry is perfectly suited for this season.

2. Spring Rain by Sara Teasdale 
Almost nothing says spring better than wild rain and remembered love. 

3. A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost 
A lovely, short plea asking to stay in the beauty of the here and now. 

4. Spring by Christina Rossetti 
Rossetti is one of my favorite poets of the 19th century. Check out this lovely rendition of what's truly happening in spring: how alive everything is. 

5. The Caterpillar by Christina Rossetti
A short, slightly humorous poem about Rossetti's hopes for this insignificant, yet potentially beautiful creature. 

6. In Just by E.E. Cummings 
One of my friends loves Cummings so much that she named her car after him. Me, not so much, but this poem is sweet and whimsical-perfect for this season. 

7. Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins 
A lovely lyrical look at lambs, thrushes, and trees (so, basically, all things spring). 

8. Today by Billy Collins 
I feel like Collins and I are great friends since his poetry is so real, raw, and risible. Although Today is not risible, it gives you a fresh perspective on the wonder of today.  

9. After the Winter by Claude McKay
This poem will make you sigh and murmur, 'aw' at its conclusion. After all, isn't love what we're all searching for? 

10. Lilacs by Amy Lowell
You can't have spring without flowers...or, more specifically, lilacs! 

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Boat People: Reckless Refugees

The Boat People 
By Sharon Bala
Adult Realistic Fiction 

When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka's bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the "boat people" are members of a terrorist militia infamous for suicide attacks. 

As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son's chances for asylum. 

This book was one of the few times where picking out a book on a whim actually turned out well. I hardly ever buy books on a whim, but on a trip in Canada, I wanted to purchase a book by a Canadian to bring home as a souvenir and learn more about that beautiful country. 

My heart swarmed with sympathy for Mahindan and his son, who have faced so many terrors in their homeland, only to be faced with more in this new country. Mahindan's positive outlook and endurance are astounding. 

I loved how Bala wrote this tale in three different voices: Mahindan's, his lawyer, Priya's, and the adjudicator who must decide Mahindan's fate, Grace. The book would have been much more biased and one-sided without these three perspectives shedding light on the entire broken, challenging system of dealing with refugees. 

I also enjoyed how Bala weaves the past events in Sri Lanka leading up to Mahindan and his son's departure to Canada with present events in the book. These glimpses into the past shed light on why so many refugees would risk everything to come to a new country, as well as the complexity of right and wrong related to the war and terrorists in Sri Lanka. How could a judge make the best decision when they don't understand that someone might become a terrorist (in Sri Lanka) to save their family from being killed by those same terrorists? This showed how impossible the adjucator's job is, and how important it is to hear the refugees' story. 

What's even more exciting is that this story was based on true events, which Bala outlines at the back of the book. 

The only thing I didn't enjoy about The Boat People was the ending. It didn't satisfactorily answer several major questions for me, and one of the main characters didn't change as much as I would have liked. 

Overall, though, I still rate this book a 4 out of 5. I recommend it to 18 year olds and older due to a few graphic scenes and adult subject matter. 

What I learned: The complexities and difficulties of the legal system (at least in Canada) in relation to refugees. It's best not to judge someone until you hear their whole story-and everyone has a story. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Curiosities: A Collection of Stories

The Curiosities 
By Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff
YA Short Stories

The Curiosities is more than the stories. Since 2008, these authors have posted more than 250 works of short fiction to their website Their goal was simple: create a space for experimentation and improvisation in their writing-all in public and without a backspace key. This collection includes the stories and each author's comments, critiques, and kudos in the margins. Think of it as a guided tour of the creative processes of three acclaimed authors. 

I picked up this book because, yes, I was curious, it had Maggie Stiefvater's name on it-who writes some great books-and I believed it would give some great advice on writing. 

The Good: Some of these stories (and not just those by Stiefvater) are quite excellent and remained with me like a delicious aftertaste. I also enjoyed the humorous, hand-crafted drawings scattered throughout the book. 

The Bad: Not much about the actual writing process in this book. So that was disappointing. 

The Ugly: Many of these stories don't fall into the normal genres I read, which isn't necessarily bad, but they were ugly. There weren't many happy endings. And I might have had a nightmare from one of the creepier tales...

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars, though it would probably have been higher if my expectations of this book had been different. 

Have you read anything by these authors? What kind of books make you 'curious'? 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Wonderful Winter Reads

Cuddle up this winter with these nine chilly reads. They might not keep you warm, but they'll dig you deeper under your blankets. Which books do you like to read during the cooler months? 

1. The Riddle by Alison Croggon 

Just looking at the cover of this book makes me crave a hot cup of tea! It's the sequel in the Books of Pellinor high-fantasy series, so make sure you read the first novel before jumping into this one. The entire four-book series is magical and worth exploring.

2. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie 
Warm up by solving a mystery on the Orient Express while stuck in the mountains on your way to fairer weather. There's a reason this is one of Christie's most popular books. Once you finish reading it, go watch the old or newest version of the movie. 

3. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Confession: I haven't actually read this book yet. However, I've loved everything I've read by Stiefvater, so I have full confidence that this book will live up to the others. Also, it's about humans turning into wolves, so it must be good. 

4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens 
This is one of my favorite Dickens books, most likely due to the real, blood-beating characters and plot surprises. Despite its bleak title, it has a happy ending. 

5. Winter by Marissa Meyer 
The season is in the title, so of course it's a delight to cuddle with on the couch in these cold months. Be warned: it's the last of the Lunar Chronicles series, so be sure to read the other fantastically fun books beforehand. You can read my full review of the book here

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 
Nearly everyone loves the story of the humble, lovely Jane Eyre. What better way to spend the long evenings than with an old favorite?

7.  Bloomability by Sharon Creech
I loved this book growing up. The main character, Dinnie, travels with her aunt and uncle to Switzerland to attend a boarding school. This is the first time I realized such an enchanting, dangerous place (there might be an avalanche in the book...) existed, and I've longed to take an actual trip there ever since.

8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 
This book is the other reason that I long to go to Switzerland. I actually prefer to read Frankenstein in the autumn months, since Shelley wrote the story as a ghost story, but the majestic snowy peaks of the Alps and Frankenstein's own bleak despair does have a certain appeal in this austere season. 

9. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Winter-the perfect time to drink tea and eat crumpets with sweet Mr. Tumnus and dear Lucy. What a great book to remind us that winter will not last forever; Aslan is on the move, and spring will come again! 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Reading Challenge 2019

Do you ever find yourself, especially at the beginning of a new year, gazing at your to-read list (because all cool people have one of those) and wondering, "What in the world should I read? Where do I even begin?" I often have this terrifying problem, and I frequently get stuck in a rut of reading the same kinds of books or authors over and over again. 

So, in order to help you and I figure out what books on our lists to read and to help unearth some treasures that we might not typically come across, I've developed a 2019 Reading Challenge. Over the course of this next year,* read a book in all of the following categories. If you're feeling especially ambitious, try to devour as many as you can in each category. Books that you've read before count, but only if you actually re-read them. 

Categories for 2019: 
Read (or listen to) a novel: 
1. With a (mostly) blue cover. 
2. That takes place in a country not your own. 
3. That begins with the letter, 'L' 
4. That was a gift from someone 
5. With a title relating to eating (it can be one word of the title)
6. With a child (not a teenager) as the main character 
7. That has giants
8. By an author who shares your first name
9. By an author who has the same letter in his/her first and last name (Ex. Salazar Slytherin) 
10. That is at least 200 pages long (this is your freebie!)
11. That contains maps 
12. That is 100 years old or older
13. That you've always wanted to read but haven't yet 
14. About books
15. Written by a local author
16. Possessing leaves on the cover 
17. That is a true story
18. That takes place in space 
19. That has a fox on the cover (because foxes are just so cute) 
20. About someone traveling to a new place 

In a year, I'll post what I've read in each of these categories, and I want to see what you've read too, so keep track. Happy reading! 

*I might at some point make this a timed challenge (with less categories), but I don't need that extra pressure right now. Let me know what you think in the comments below.