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Thankful for: Responsible children. A lovely home to live in. A best friend who I can share anything with.
Looking forward to: Summer break. Just kidding – sort of. I spent most of spring break not feeling well, so it wasn’t exactly the break I envisioned. Plus three out of the four kids came down with nasty colds, so we didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. What did sick people do before Netflix and binge watching? I kicked out several episodes of Burn Notice this week.
Reflecting on: Five years of blogging. Thursday, the 17th, marks my five-year anniversary here at Books and Movies. I thought about doing a big bloggiversary post, but didn’t really know what to say. Although my attitude toward blogging – and my blogging habits – have changed, I’m glad you are all still reading. I have found a comfortable routine, and blogging has become something I enjoy, but not something I’m obsessed with or feel driven to do.
Reading: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – I’m finally engaged in this one. Still slow, but at least I want to keep reading. It took until the halfway point, though, which isn’t great, considering it is over 500 pages. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett – Ooooo, so good! The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp – Hoping to start this one today.
Recently finished reading: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom and Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel
Listening to: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon and Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry
Watching: Last week’s movie night pick was 47 Ronin. I liked the movie but hated the ending. Also, on Thursday, Noah and his girlfriend and I went with Mom and Dad to see Divergent, which I absolutely loved. I actually think I liked it better than the book – is that blasphemy? Tonight is Mom’s pick for movie night, and I’m not sure yet what we’re watching – I’ll have to fill you in next week.
~ Bookish links for Saturday, April 12, 2014
~ Book Review: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
~ Adding to my TBR List – Bookmarks Magazine March/April 2014
~ Book Review: Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson
Have a wonderful Sunday!
Reviews and blog posts that have me adding to my to-read list:
~ Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt, reviewed by Wendy at Caribousmom
~ At Home by Bill Bryson, reviewed by Melissa at Avid Reader’s Musings
~ Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, reviewed by Kathy at Bermudaonion
~ Chasing Utopia by Nikki Giovanni, also reviewed by Kathy
~ The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, reviewed by Amy at My Friend Amy
~ Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke, reviewed by Michelle at That’s What She Read
~ This House is Haunted by John Boyne, reviewed by Heather at Book Addiction
Book to movie news:
Other bookish links:
I will leave you with this absolutely adorable video of a three-year-old reciting Billy Collins’ poem “Litany:”
Title: Steal the North
Author: Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 315
First line: Until the summer I was sixteen and my mom sent me away, I lived with her in a Sacramento apartment located above a shop that sold seaweed powders, mood mists, Buddha statues, even menstruation journals.
Goodreads blurb: Emmy is a shy, sheltered sixteen-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now, Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child.
Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door.
In a part of the country where the age-old tensions of cowboys versus Indians still play out, theirs is the kind of magical, fraught love that can only survive with the passion and resilience of youth. Their story is mirrored by the generation before them, who fears that their mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben.
I am so glad I accepted a review copy of this book! When I received the pitch e-mail, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of review copies waiting on my shelf. I was sold, though, when I realized that Steal the North is set in my neck of the woods. Locations like Moses Lake, Spokane, the Colville Indian Reservation, and even the tiny town of Kettle Falls, where we used to live, feature prominently in the storyline. That was one of the biggest delights when reading – recognizing the places mentioned, having that feeling of “Hey! I’ve been there!” She definitely sees the beauty in Eastern Washington, which isn’t always easy. I live in one of the prettier parts of this side of the state, in my opinion, but that’s because I’m not a big fan of the desert. But the desert and scablands of Eastern Washington have their own majesty, as does the mighty Columbia River, and Bergstrom’s love of this part of the world is evident in her writing.
But familiar settings are not enough to make me love a book, and fortunately, there is plenty more to adore about Bergstrom’s story. It can be difficult to pull off a “multiple points of view” novel, but she does it, and does it well. The reader is given the advantage of more information than if the story only focused on one or two narrators. Bergstrom’s characters are unique, each with their own voice, and so it was always immediately evident whose story I was reading – I wouldn’t have needed the character name indicators at the beginning of the chapters, because the writing was completely individual in each case.
Each of the characters pulled me into their storyline quickly. You know how sometimes it takes getting quite far into a book before you feel an emotional connection to the characters? Well, that wasn’t the case here. Even Kate, Emmy’s mom, who wasn’t the most sympathetic character, was a character I could understand and empathize with. Reuben was by far my favorite character, though. I live very close to the Colville Indian Reservation. Before we moved down to Chewelah to live with my folks, we lived in the town of Colville, which is named for the tribe though not part of the reservation. It was extremely interesting to hear Reuben’s perspective on being caught between two worlds. When he tried to raise himself above the poverty and teenage parenthood and drug use that is rampant on the reservation, he was accused of being too “white.” But when off the reservation, even though he is a smart, responsible young man, he is discriminated against, simply because he is Native American. He is treated even worse, unfortunately, when people mistake him for a Mexican. His story made me sad, but gives the reader so much insight into a world that most of us do not understand.
There are multiple love stories in this book. The most obvious, of course, is Reuben and Emmy’s, which is a beautiful narrative. But Bergstrom also deals with the love between sisters, the complicated love between a mother and daughter, and also learning to trust love after being so devastatingly hurt, like in Kate’s situation.
I so wanted to give this book a five-star rating, but my own rating scale wouldn’t let me. My five-star ratings are reserved for books that I think everyone should read, and unfortunately, the sexual content of this book was a bit too much for me to give that unreserved recommendation. I still absolutely loved this book, though, and I know many of you will, too.
Here are the books that made it onto my TBR from the latest issue of Bookmarks Magazine. Have you read any of these?
Title: Boys of Blur
Author: N.D. Wilson
Genre: Middle grade fiction, children’s fantasy
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
Number of pages: 208
First line: Out in the muck, where a sea of sugarcane stops and swamps begin, sitting beside a lake bigger than some countries, there is a town called Taper.
When Charlie moves from Palm Beach to the small town of Taper, Florida, he discovers a different world. Pinned between the everglades and the swampy banks of Lake Okeechobee, the small town produces sugar cane . . . and the fastest runners in the country. Kids chase muck rabbits in the fields while the cane is being burned and harvested. Dodging flames and blades and breathing smoke, they run down the rabbits for three dollars a skin. And when they can do that, running a football is easy.
But there are things in the swamp, roaming the cane at night, that cannot be explained, and they seem connected to sprawling mounds older than the swamps. Together with his step-second cousin Herman “Cotton” Mack, the fastest boy on the muck, Charlie hunts secrets in the glades and on the muck flats where the cane grows secrets as old as the soft earth, secrets that haunted, tripped, and trapped the original native tribes, ensnared conquistadors, and buried runaway slaves. Secrets only the muck knows.
I know I’ve talked before about the fiction vs. nonfiction dilemma – the idea that with certain authors, either their nonfiction or their fiction works for me, but not both. I think N.D. Wilson is going to be one of those authors. I really enjoyed his book 100 Cupboards when I read it aloud to the boys, but I was just “meh” about his nonfiction work Death by Living. Because I enjoyed his previous middle grade fiction, I said “yes” to a review copy of his newest children’s novel, Boys of Blur, and I can tell you that I and my two youngest boys are very happy I did.
Wilson grew up reading the fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis, and got the idea that Britain was a magical, mythical land. I remember reading somewhere that he began to wonder why there couldn’t be just as much fantasy and magic in the United States. Boys of Blur is the result of that speculation – and it is a fantastic read. Wilson is a storyteller at heart; he knows how to create atmosphere and tension and emotion and movement. His characters are completely drawn with the fewest words necessary; his settings are the same way. Choosing just the exact words to thrust you into the world of the book is an art form that Wilson has in spades. Because he doesn’t get too wordy, you are left with a beautifully descriptive novel that moves at lightning speed. There were mornings that we quickly read through thirty or forty pages, not wanting to stop, not even noticing how much time was going by because we were so immersed in Charlie’s story.
And what a story! It is full of myth and fantasy and larger than life characters and history that goes deep into the muck. The evil that is converging on Taper is truly wicked, and just the right kind of scary. The Gren and their Mother are chill-inducing villains, and Charlie’s quest to rid Taper of their creeping hatred is the stuff of legends.
One last thing: Charlie’s family is blended and multi-racial, and there is no big deal made of it. After his abusive father was taken away, his mom, Natalie, married Mack, a big, African-American, ex-NFL player. They give Charlie a half-sister. He also gains a bunch of African-American cousins, which is how he gets hooked up with Cotton, his partner in his exploration of the mounds in the muck. I found it refreshing that Wilson dealt with a biracial family without dealing with it – it was simply a fact.
Thankful for: Spring break! One full week without homeschooling – and, even better, one full week of not having to get Noah back and forth to the high school for his Design Communications class.
Looking forward to: Extra reading time and sleeping in. Plus, I’m hoping to take Noah to see Divergent on Thursday.
Reading: Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom (I’m really enjoying this, and love the fact that it is set in my neck of the woods – Eastern Washington State); The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (I’m not enjoying this. Sigh. It is very slow going, and I am having to force myself to read it); and Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Hoping to start this one today)
Recently finished reading: Circle of Flight by John Marsden. This is the final book in the Ellie Chronicles, which is the trilogy that follows Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began series. I found my copy when we cleaned out the van – it was my “back-up” book in case I forgot to bring one somewhere. It got shoved under the seat and I forgot all about it; I’ve been halfway through it for over a year. I finally finished it, and was glad to find out how Ellie’s story ended. I loved both series, although the first one is definitely superior.
Listening to: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabladon and Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry
Recently finished listening to: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (Wow!)
Watching: Last week’s movie choice, Gravity, got mixed reviews. Some of us really enjoyed it; others found it a bit slow. I did find that it didn’t have near the “punch” that it did when I saw it on the big screen. Tonight, it’s my turn to pick the film, and we’ll be watching 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves. The trailers made me want to see it, and it’s the first time in several weeks that we’re all watching a film for the first time – no one has already seen it in the theater. Also, Kevin has gotten me hooked on Justified, and we are tearing through a couple episodes a night. We’re almost finished with season 2. Can I just say that Timothy Olyphant is very yummy?
~ Book Review: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith
~ Book Review: Black Chalk by Christopher Yates – plus, a global giveaway!
~ The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
How are you spending this first Sunday in April? Did you read any great books in March?
Books completed in March:
The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry (audiobook) – 3 stars – my review
Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates – 4 stars – my review
We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter (audiobook) – 4 stars – my review
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (audiobook) – 3 stars – my review
City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte – 4 stars – my review
Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson – 3 stars – my review
The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau – 4 stars – my review
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – 5 stars – my review
Going Over by Beth Kephart – 5 stars – my review
The Case for Faith: Student Edition by Lee Strobel – 3 stars
The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith – 3 stars – my review
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan – 5 stars – my review
One Hundred Names by Cecilia Ahern – my review
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh – my review
Title: The Frangipani Hotel: Stories
Author: Violet Kupersmith
Genre: Magical realism, short stories
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher for a tour with TLC Book Tours
Number of pages: 256
Goodreads blurb: Violet wrote these unusually accomplished stories as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College in an attempt to update the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories her grandmother had told her to incorporate the more relevant ghosts of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam. From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war.
Have you ever been reading a book, and felt like you really should love it, but you just don’t? And you feel like a worse person/reader, because you aren’t “getting” whatever you’re supposed to be getting from the book? Well, The Frangipani Hotel was that kind of read for me. It had all of the elements that I usually like in a book: fantastic writing, an interesting setting, creepy stories, twisty endings. And yet, for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I find myself feeling apathetic about it.
I am glad that Ms. Kupersmith has taken Vietnamese folk stories and given them a second life, so to speak. All of the stories are updated to take place after the Vietnam War, and the combination of war-scarred people and creepy-dark folk tales works well. Some of the stories were truly shudder-inspiring. I know that many of you will absolutely love this book, and so I hope that my underwhelmed response won’t keep you from picking it up.
Maybe my reaction stems from the fact that I’m simply not a good audience for short fiction. It is very unusual that I love a book of short stories as much as I love a novel. I want longer, more time with the characters and setting, and have trouble getting drawn into a world when I’m only given a brief snapshot. I will remember that in the future when offered short fiction collections for review.