Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I made it!
It took me 2+ weeks to read it, yikes!  But really, that's more normal than it used to be since I have been managing 'lights out' closer to 10:30pm than 2:30am - go me!  
My only real objection to the book is that it is categorized Young Adult.  I guess I could see it as a high school English assignment. I traipsed through Crime and Punishment, Lord of the Flies, Tess of the d'Urberville, Jane Eyre and more in my Senior year, but then again, I wouldn't consider them 'Young Adult' either, but I guess they could be.  Honestly, I don't know.  Maybe I'm not giving the 'YA' group enough credit, or maybe in the ten years since I was in high school I have digressed.  
No matter, here I sit at 28, just having read an excellent, albeit hard to categorize novel!
The prologue had me stumped.  I almost cast it aside as 'not the book for me.'  Clearly the narrator was Death, which fascinated me to no end!  Maybe for that reason alone I continued reading, but I had NO IDEA what he was talking about...  A lot about colors, and the sky, and collecting souls.  The book started for me a couple of chapters in, somewhere around the time Liesel arrives at her new home on Himmel Street.  Of course by then she has already lost her brother and mother and has stolen her first book, so what do I know?

First Line: First the colors.
my First Line: Whoever named Himmel Street certainly had a healthy sense of irony.

Set in Nazi Germany 1939-mid forties, nine-year-old Liesel Meminger loses her communist parents to Hitler, her brother to Death, and her illiteracy to words and begins life again with the Hubermanns in Molching.  She is haunted by nightmares and bed-wetting and in the dark morning hours while her sheets dry, she is taught to read by her foster Papa.  The first book she read was also the first book that she stole, The Grave Diggers Handbook 
The Book Thief is about words:  about Liesel learning to read one word at a time; about Hitler using words to take over his world; about words being burned in Nazi fires, and words being saved from the fire by a thief.  Liesel discovers that because of all of these reasons she both loves and hates words.
The story is both heart-warming and heart-breaking.  It's inspiring to read of Germans during such a dangerous time, begrudgingly doing their mandatory 'Heil Hitlers,' hesitating to display the colors of the Nazi flag, muttering disrespect under their breath about their Führer, being whipped for sneaking a crust of bread to a prisoner headed to a consecration camp, and sacrificing everything to hide a Jew.
While reading my mind kept swimming with stories, plots, and situations from my only other sources of information about Nazi Germany, World War II, and the Holocaust: The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind, The Hiding Place, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story. I'm sad, I know.  History was always my weakest subject and at the bottom of my interests list (along with current events and anything political really). I'm doomed.  Good thing I enjoy reading so that once in awhile a book like this can sneak it's way into my fun and floofy mindless reads and really make me stop and think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

It really was a hilarious book.  And painfully true... Hobby Lobby aside I'm not too addicted to shopping, but I have enough bills coming my way that I know that drowning feeling that Rebecca Bloomwood cleverly files away in the back of her mind with a rather over-active imagination.  
Her dreams of winning the lottery and then having all the money spent in her mind by the afternoon... I mean who hasn't done that?  I LOVED the movie by the same title, though I was glad the ending wasn't quite as brutal as the movie (lol if you can call it brutal)! I like a good sappy happy ending.   I have a confession of my own, I listened to the book rather than actually reading it, which was good and bad - good because I LOVE British accents and I swear the narrator was 'Emily' from the Devil Wears Prada!  Great voice :)  BAD because I couldn't sub-conscientiously blow over the swearing... and there was a LOT of swearing, so sad - because otherwise I think I would devour whatever else Sophie Kinsella sent my way.
It does, however, begin a series, so if this book was more your thing than mine... enjoy!

Shopaholic Series
Book 1 Confessions of a Shopaholic
Book 2 Shopaholic Takes Manhatten
Book 3 Shopaholic Ties the Knot
Book 4 Shopaholic and Sister
Book 5 Shopaholic and a Baby
Book 6 Mini Shopaholic

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Cinderella Pact by Sarah Strohmeyer

I was totally surprised by this book.  I had no pre-conceived idea about its storyline.  It wasn't recommended by anyone.  I just saw it, read it, and really enjoyed it.  

First Line: We are all Cinderellas, no matter our size.

I have a few personal thoughts and opinions about it, but as for a summary I am going to quote the book jacket...

"NOLA DEVLIN HAS A SECRET IDENTITY. By day she is an overweight, frumpy, and overlooked editor at Sass! (the "celebrity magazine with an edge!"), but by night she slips behind her keyboard and into her alter-ego: Belinda Apple. Belinda is thin, gorgeous, British and the author of a trendy advice column— she is, in effect, the latest Carrie Bradshaw. Not even her two best friends or her self-absorbed sister (who worships Belinda as the "sister she never had") know her secret.
When "Belinda" jots off a column about how easy it is to lose weight, Nola is shocked when her best friends take her own lies to heart and urge her to follow Belinda's weight loss program. Since Nola can't reveal herself as the real Belinda Apple, she bites the bullet and joins her friends in making the "Cinderella Pact" — a last ditch attempt to lose weight (again!) and transform their lives for good.
But as the pounds come off, things don't turn out the way the three friends expect. Their journey of self-discovery leads to the rediscovery of an old love and the unmasking of new problems. Meanwhile, Nola finds herself torn between two different men as she stomps out fires caused by her deception as Belinda Apple and falls in love with the man who just might be her prince — or the rat in coachman's clothing."

That said, I sort of have a love/hate thing going on with the story. Growing up overweight I could really relate to some of the things they had to go through, and some of their thoughts - but certainly not all of them.  More than once I wanted to shake them and tell them how stupid they were to feel or act a certain way - ha! How fair is that?  But it wasn't like some depressing hard to read story, and really - all things considered it didn't even hit too close to home. It was funny, entertaining and inspiring. Strohmeyer had some seriously quotable lines that were hilarious!  Nora's description of elliptical machines and how they are "fun, fun, fun"  had me chuckling to myself during my dreaded elliptical routine- okay maybe that part hit close to home!

I was really bummed out by the language.  I almost stopped reading it several times.  I get frustrated with pointless swearing - I guess I don't get it, but really the F-bomb 3 times, what is the point?

In anticipation of the release of this book back in 2006 a weight-loss support group was formed.  I think it's pretty cool that the Cinderella Pact is a 'real' thing!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Ella Turner's life changes when she and her architect husband are transferred from California to Toulouse, France and she discovers she has a rich family history there. Her husband is always working and she feels isolated in this new and foreign life. In order to deal with her culture shock, she begins researching her family and soon becomes engrossed in a centuries-old mystery, so much that it seems to occupy every waking moment, and soon even her dreams. In the search for her family she also finds herself and nothing is as she had anticipated...

The Virgin Blue was my first Chevalier read, and let me tell you, so far it's her best in my opinion! Amazon's synopsis labels it "clunky" but I loved the structure of the story and wholeheartedly disagree. (Though I have to confess I haven't read Girl With A Pearl Earring yet.) It has all of my favorite elements-la FRANCE, romance, scandal, parallels, mystery, and maybe even a little of the supernatural...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

Ok, this is not exactly a fiction read like our previous reviews, but I just have to share this one, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley is so awesome.
Lately I have had a lot of friends going through the same bedtime struggles that I experienced with my oldest just a couple of years ago. I ALWAYS, always, ALWAYS, recommend this book!

Making the transition from crib to bed was the hardest for us- figuring out how to get Kaden to stay in bed was driving us bonkers! So I picked up this book and followed its recommendations and he (well ALL of us) were sleeping peacefully within weeks. I have followed the guidelines with my subsequent children and so far we have not had any major problems!

Every parent has their own views and ideas on sleep training- some methods are more controversial than others- but this book takes a nice and gentle approach, and gives advice you can actually use. It is so practical and easy to follow; it is a cinch to just look up the problem you're having in the index and flip right to the point- thought it's not a bad read cover to cover either.
It deals with virtually every problem you could encounter from bed-wetting to nightmares or 3rd wheels (i.e. when you're sweet baby is NOT a baby anymore and WON'T stay out of your bed and your poor husband just wants a little action...yes I just said that, it's true!)

I really enjoy this author and will probably look into her other books on discipline and potty training and let you know how they are...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spells by Aprilynne Pike


First Line: Laurel stood in front of the cabin, scanning the tree line, her throat constricting in a rush of nerves.

It's been a year since Laurel found out she was a faerie.  She has returned to Avalon for a summer of training, the first she can remember.  She feels devastatingly behind her classmates, but is continually being reassured that all things considering she is catching on faster than anyone could  have hoped.  Her love triangle only intensifies as she straddles the fence between her human life and her faerie life.  She unintentionally, but still selfishly strings both David and Tamani along.  Most of her relationships are strained by now - especially the one between her and her mom.  Laurel feels ignored and unloved by her once thoughtful and caring mother.  Her mother feels unneeded and nervous, direct result of finding out the heritage of her adopted daughter.  The threat of trolls is a constant  cloud over Laurels life and once they make their appearance it brings with it even more stress.  
This action packed, young adult, fantasy thriller ends like it started, with lots of questions and most definitely at the edge of a cliff.

Wings Series
Wings released May 5, 2009
Spells released May 4, 2010
Enchantments expected release April 2011
Illusions expected release 2012

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffery Zaslow

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
--Randy Pausch
A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

If you haven't already read this one, it's a MUST READ! Everytime I read it, I think: "Ok, what have I got to still learn from my struggles?" It's a fast read. And you will enjoy it!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

I enjoyed having this laid-back read after my last one!  
It's light, entertaining, and creative.
Oh! and it really made me crave home-jarred peaches and garden fresh veggies - good thing I was covered! 

First Line: Laurel's shoes flipped a cheerful rhythm that defied her dark mood.

Laurel is in a new school, in a new town; but it's more than that.  At 15-yrs-old this is her first time in a public school, ever!  She notices how differently she looks, how differently she eats and struggles to fit in.  She is befriended by the likable and easy-going David and even through beginning resistance they become good friends.  Just as she is feeling comfortable and getting into the routine of things she discovers a lump on her back.  Life really gets interesting when the lump blossoms and she is left with a wing like flower growing out of her back.  She embarks on a journey of self-discovery, budding romances, and of heroics.  Saving her dying father, her family estate, and the gateway to Avalon.

Wings Series
Wings released May 5, 2009
Spells released May 4, 2010
Enchantments expected release April 2011
Illusions expected release 2012

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I don't think I am the right person to do this...
I don't feel scholarly adequate!
Referencing all best romantic classics and throwing around old words like I'm supposed to know what they mean.  The nerve :)
I can't be the ONLY one who had never heard of a perambulator. Right?  Though nothing stayed mystery long enough for me to worry about looking them up (y'all know how that's not my style) I just kept plugging along and they sort of defined themselves.
For the record, perambulator = 
It was a sloooow beginning for me.  Took about a week to get 30 pages in, and then like a perambulator baby carriage stroller being pushed down a grassy hill, the book really took off for me!
How's that for a metaphoric segway? Go me!

First Line: It was November.

Vida Winter is England's best-loved writer and nobody knows a single detail of her life.  Every interview, every personal query, wound up in a woven tale so intriguing it could have been counted among her fifty-plus published works. She's a writer, she's a storyteller, she's a liar.  She commissions a young biographer, Margaret Lea, to finally tell her life story.  The truth.  The story that follows is a journey far more unbelievable, and much more fanatical then anything she has ever made up.  But is it true?  True or not, the subplot is her intended and unpublished Thirteenth Tale.

That is my summary in a very teeny tiny nutshell!
I don't want to ruin anything, but I have so much more to discuss...

The following is intended for those who have already read The Thirteenth Tale:  
Holy cow what a rush!!!  I can't even begin to describe my relief that Vida wasn't Adeline.  I was trying so hard to love her character because I knew what she grew up to be (or thought I knew) but the vicious little devil child was making it so hard!!!  But how could the twins NOT be messed up?  Their parents were already crazy - oh yeah and ummm related - scandalous!  Then enter the ghost child, brilliant!  She was the perfect solution to all my trepidation.  I was allowed to love Vida, and love her I did!  Any wisp of goodness Adeline had was Vida all along.  Knowing her little secret made me want to go through and find all the clues to her presence.  Setterfield left so many, I wouldn't be surprised if I was the only one who didn't figure it out.  But I do love a good surprise so I don't try and pick things apart.  Growing up my mom never had to hide my Christmas presents or find a way to keep Santa possible because I allowed it to happen so easily - I loved the magic! I am excited about the prospect of Margaret and the Doctor - didn't really see that coming either - instead I was trying to wrap my brain around how it could be not weird for me if she hooked up with sixty year old Aurelius (I'm a hopeless romantic) - The Doctor is a much more 'easy to accept' match-up!  My only struggle is that she didn't publish the biography - because what an AMAZING story - at least I got to read it :)
********END SPOILER********
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