Book Review| A Window to the World by Susan Meissner

 

Megan and Jen are best friends, enjoying a typical childhood. Then one day Jen is snatched when the girls are out riding their bikes.

The novel, A Window to the World by Susan Meissner, follows Megan from young girlhood as she grows into an adult, showing how this one terrible event impacts every decision she makes from the moment of the kidnapping. Nightmares haunt her and fear colors her world.

I expected the story to focus on Jen, or her parents, but instead, Meissner told the story of the child left behind. This was a different angle for an abduction story.  I was interested in the story told from the perspective of Megan, although the kidnapping and my desire to know What happened to Jen! was always in the back of my mind. Just about the time I was starting to worry maybe I would never find out, the question was answered. Good storytelling.

This is an inspirational read with Biblical truths at its core. I liked Meissner’s writing style and my attention never flagged throughout the book. This was an easy to read, high interest novel. I listened to the audio book on CDs narrated by Tavia Gilbert. The recording and reading was well done and easy to listen to. It was a good weekend novel.

 Find out more about Susan Meissner’s books at her website here. 

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Book Review| The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

Book Review

The Zookeeper’s Wife

by Diane Ackerman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman  is a high interest nonfiction account of the German invasion of Warsaw told from the perspective of Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. Diane Ackerman skillfully weaves together historical events of both horror and beauty.

The Zabinski’s, Active in the Polish underground, used the zoo as an unusual hiding place while attempting to carry on with the care of the animals, operating of the facilities as usual, and raising their children. Tales of the animals and the day to day operation of the zoo during this occupation break up the recounting of the people and their struggle to survive. Ackerman depicts the life and people of the Warsaw ghetto, giving us a glimpse into the terrible history.

A vast number of people passed through the zoo, and this book is brimming with anecdotes, bringing to life the characters. The narrative is full of interesting details on how people avoided detection and the extraordinary lengths and methods taken.

Ackerman delves into the history of the German mindset and recounted some of the experiments carried out by the Nazis. This retelling of history is not as graphic as others I have read, but the ideology exposed chills the soul.

The ZooKeeper’s Wife is a story of compassion and daring, and a story of real lives saved and lost. I would classify this as a necessary history, an exposition of humanity both good and evil. Well worth the read.

I listened to the audiobook on CDs. The book seemed to have a slow start, but the narrative garnered more of my interest as I listened.

Highly recommended.

Winner of the 2008 Orion Award

Lit Lover’s Reading Guide for The Zookeeper’s Wife

Author Website

Visit The National WWII Museum online here to listen to more first hand accounts of WWII.

Book Review|The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

by Terry Ryan

The memoir The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan is entertaining and inspirational. Terry’s mother, Evelyn Ryan, used ingenuity and wit to battle poverty and raise her ten children despite a difficult home situation. Gifted with a writing ability, she kept the family afloat financially by making a career of entering product contests popular at the time.

Often, I was moved as I listened to the story of this family and the struggles they experienced growing up in the 1950s and 60s with an alcoholic father and constant financial uncertainty .

Although she was faced with trying circumstances, Evelyn handled them all with a no nonsense attitude colored with humor. Terry obviously has a great deal of love and respect for her mother. I think this book is a beautiful tribute.

This was a story that kept me engrossed. I listened to the audiobook and finished it in one sitting.

Recommended.

Issues of concern:

Father’s alcoholism, poverty, destruction of property, incident where father pushes mother and causes injury, lack of support

I listened to the audio version of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less read by Terry Ryan, the author. This is an abridged version. The recording and the reading were well done and easy to listen to.

Book Discussion Questions for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio from Mount Prospect Public Library

This memoir has been made into a movie, which I have viewed. The movie stays true to the version of the book I listened to with minor changes and deletions. I believe the heart of the story is conveyed quite well on the screen.

 

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Book Review | Matched by Ally Conde

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Matched

By Ally Conde

In the young adult dystopian, Matched by Ally Conde, all decisions are made for you, from your food intake to who you will marry. Cassia is content with her life, ready to accept whoever The Society has chosen as her match, but there is a glitch.

We follow Cassia’s story In this coming of age novel as she becomes more aware of the problems in The Society and begins to question her way of life. Events pull her along, forcing her to make choices.

The setting for the story is much like The Giver by Lois Lowry. Dystopian fans might like this story. If your young adult reader tends towards the typical teen love triangle, they may enjoy this book.

This is not a fast paced book when compared to other dystopian young adult novels, but I found it interesting enough to plan on reading the rest of the series.

I think it will appeal to a wide range of upper school aged young people.

This book was recommended to me by one of my sons.

Teaching Guide for Matched from Penguin Books 

Issues of Concern

Some kissing, hand holding, grandfather’s death, talk of war, student watch a film depicting scenes of violence, mention of poisoning, parents’ death, murder of boy.

I listened to the audiobook of Matched narrated by Kate Simes. I like her voice and felt it suited the character of Cassia well.

Another young adult dystopian novel reviewed on this site is The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.

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Book Review|Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

neverletmegobookcover

“The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.”

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

 

Kathy H is thirty-one years old and is entering a new phase of her life. The story unfolds as she looks back on her school days at Hailsham, a private school she attended with age mates Tommy and Ruth. Kathy reminisces with a sense of fondness for those days, but we quickly realize that all is not as it seems to be. Ishiguro’s style drew me along.

The children at Hailsham are continually told how special they are, but this specialness is shrouded in mystery and foreboding.

This alternative reality dystopian is quietly chilling, provoking the reader to examine their thoughts on the human soul and medical ethics. The story telling is brilliant.

Never Let Me Go is a beautifully written book worth reading and rereading. This book motivates thoughtfulness on many issues.

Lit Lovers Discussion Questions for Never Let Me Go 

Discussion Guide from Film & Bible Blog (contains a review with spoilers before the guide)

Issues that may be of concern (contains spoilers)

The students at Hailsham are clones created to be donors and will eventually “complete” after their organs are harvested, omission of information by teachers, Kathy looks at dirty magazines searching for the human “model” she was cloned from, frank discussion of sexuality, physical suffering, mental suffering, loss of hope, questions on what it means to be human, what is the soul, cloning, medical ethics, class structure.

I listened to the audiobook version of Never Let Me Go narrated by Rosalyn Landor. I found it to be well done and easy to listen to.

Other novels by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills
An Artist of the Floating World
The Remains of the Day
The Unconsoled
When We Were Orphans
The Buried Giant

Another dystopian book that deals with medical issues and the meaning of the human soul is The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.

I have not seen the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go, have you? What did you think?

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Book Review|Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

Up A Road Slowly

By Irene Hunt

uparoadslowly

“It happens the world over – we love ourselves more than we do the one we say we love. We all want to be Number One, we’ve got to be Number One or nothing! We can’t see that we could make ourselves loved and needed in the Number Two, or Three, or Four spot. No sir, we’ve got to be Number One, and if we can’t make it, we’ll rip and tear at the loved one till we’ve ruined every smidgin of love that was ever there.” 

 

Newberry Award Winner Up A Road Slowly by Irene Hunt is a coming of age story. Julie is seven years old when her mother dies and she is sent to live with her maiden Aunt Cordelia in the country. The story is told by Julie in first person, and follows her life until graduation from high school. Aunt Cordelia is kind but strict.

Up A Road Slowly has been compared to Anne of Green Gables and it does have a similar tone. Julie has a love of literature, a touch of dramatic attitude, and a fondness for quoting poetry, but her struggles are different from Anne’s as is her situation. The story is a journey of self-discovery that starts with a moment of tragedy. Julie does have moments of wit, but in general I would say this is a more serious book than Anne of Green Gables.

Up A Road Slowly was published in 1967 but the feel is somehow old fashioned, perhaps because the setting of Julie’s upbringing is the country rather than town. Julie’s overly dramatic teenage angst played out quite authentically.

I do not remember reading this when I was a teen or preteen, but would recommend it to any girl who liked Anne of Green Gables. I liked it enough to pass on a copy to my teen daughter.

Issues of Concern (contains spoilers)

Julie is unkind to a cognitively delayed girl, Aggie. Julie later comes to regret her treatment of Aggie. While the attitude of Julie is rather self-centered, this story is told from the point of view of a teen and through a conversation with Uncle Haskell who we already know is not the best role model. When reading this book, this may be something to point out to young readers and follow with discussion about the attitudes and statements of the characters regarding Aggie. There is use of the ‘r’ word as description of Aggie book as was typical in this time period.

Uncle Haskell is an alcoholic who doesn’t work or contribute to the family but has his moments of redeeming behavior.

There is insinuation of a classmate’s unwed pregnancy.

Aunt Cordelia tells Julie that loving someone more than yourself produces maturity and understanding of what love truly means, a message that a woman needs to love a man to complete her. I feel this may need explanation to young readers, extending the topic to discuss how giving of oneself does, in fact, bring maturity and purpose.

This book reflects the values and beliefs of the time before the 1960s. I was not turned off by these instances but felt they accurately reflect this period of history.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jaselyn Blanchard. The recording was well done as was the reading and performance.

Other books by Irene Hunt

Across Five Aprils

Trail of Apple Blossoms

No Promises in the Wind

The Lottery Rose

William

Claws of a Young Century

The Everlasting Hills

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Book Review|Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice

By Lisa Genova

still alice book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment.”

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a story about Alzheimer’s. Alice Howland is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard. At fifty years of age, she has a successful career, a husband and family. One day she begins to lose things. One of these things is her memory. Still Alice is a story depicting the unraveling of a life as the result of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

The characters and interaction felt true to life, so much so that I found myself irritated at various family members at times, just as if a friend were telling me about these family situations.

I admire Genova’s writing. A tremendous amount of information is given in this novel and it never sounded like an information dump. The facts are interwoven and do not distract from the story but enhance it.

This is a book that makes you think about what you would do in a similar situation, brings attention to the issue, and tugs at the heart. The situations and characters felt real. If there were any lags in the story they were not enough for me to pay any mind to.

While I wouldn’t say it was an easy read due to the oh-too-real issue of Alzheimer’s, the storytelling was easy to follow, well done, thought provoking, and engaging. This was a book I could read straight through. It had just the right amount of emotion for me, not so much as to overwhelm, but enough to propel the story. It is quite beautiful and sad at the same time.

A good book for discussion and simply a good read.

Recommended.

I listened to the audiobook read by the author. This was more of a reading than a performance, but was adequate and well done.

Issues of Concern

Nothing other than what you would expect for the subject matter, explores the issue of Alzheimer’s, Illness, a couple instances of profanity (completely within the flow of the story and a realistic reaction to story events), family dynamics during stressful times.

Reading Guide for Still Alice by Lisa Genova from Simon and Shuster.

Author Lisa Genova on ‘Still Alice’ becoming a Movie

Lisa Genova’s Author Website

Did you read Still Alice? What did you think? Have you read any books similar to Still Alice? Leave a comment below. I want to hear from you!

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Book Review| Marcelo In The Real World

Book Review

Marcelo in the Real World

By Francisco X. Stork

MArcelo in the Real World Book Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

I liked Marcelo. I was immediately drawn into the book, Marcelo in the Real World, by the main character.

Seventeen year old Marcelo is diagnosed with something close to Asperger’s and attends a special school, Paterson. He doesn’t really fit in there, but he is comfortable and is hesitant to change to a mainstream school. His father, Arturo, has decided that Marcelo will spend his summer experiencing “the real world”. Marcelo will work in the mail room at his father’s law firm. At the end of the summer, a decision will be made about school.

Marcelo has his quirks, but is a kind and relatable hero. He faces many challenges. This is one of those books I read straight through. The story is told through first person and in the beginning Marcelo often refers to himself in third person, which is odd but not distracting and adds to the character. I do not know of any people on the spectrum who speak this way, but Marcelo does. Marcelo’s observations of his co-workers, situations, and people he encounters is interesting.

In the course of an assigned task, Marcelo comes across some information at the law firm. This information forces him to make some hard decisions about right and wrong that will have great impact on many lives, including his own.

Religions are said to be Marcelo’s special interest. I liked that Francisco Stork portrayed an autistic character who has deep conversations and questions about spiritual matters.

There was a few inconsistencies of behavior or thought patterns, it seems to me, but the story engaged enough that these incidents did not interrupt the flow of the story. Marcelo In The Real World explores many issues that are good for discussion. The book ended satisfactorily. It is a well-crafted work with strong moral questions and themes. I felt the portrayal of Marcelo was respectful and interesting. This is a thought provoking book.

In my opinion, the targeted audience for this book is too young.

Scholastic has a free discussion guide to go along with Marcelo In The Real World here.

Issues of concern

I suggest parents preview the book. I feel this book is more appropriate for older than the intended or labeled age group. There are issues of discrimination, another worker’s inappropriate conduct toward female co-workers, questions of morality vs legalities, language, frank discussions of sex, and religious themes/discussions.  At least one moment of irreverence. I listened to the book rather than reading and did not make notes of issues of concern so may have missed something.

I listened to the audiobook read by Lincoln Hoppe and found the recording and reading to be well done.

You can watch a video of an author interview here. This explains why the character seems a bit inconsistent as far as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder or Asperger’s.

Francisco Stork Interview: Stork on Creating Marcelo’s Character in Marcelo in the Real World

Another book I reviewed with a character on the spectrum is Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin.

You may also be interested my short list of Books and Movies for Autism Acceptance Month.

 

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Book Review|Little Britches

Littlbookcoverlittlebritchese Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers

By Ralph Moody

“A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

“There are only two kinds of men in this world: Honest men and dishonest men. …Any man who says the world owes him a living is dishonest. The same God that made you and me made this earth. And He planned it so that it would yield every single thing that the people on it need. But He was careful to plan it so that it would only yield up its wealth in exchange for the labor of man. Any man who tries to share in that wealth without contributing the work of his brain or his hands is dishonest.”

This was one of my favorite books when I was very young. I thought it might be time to revisit it. It did not disappoint, but I was surprised at one of the things I had forgotten! (see spoiler) Little Britches is the first book in a series of eight.

Ralph Moody’s Little Britches is set in 1906 when the Moody family moves to Colorado to work a dirt farm. Some people have referred to Ralph Moody’s books as Little House for boys. The narration is told from an eight year old boy’s point of view and has a sense of adventure about it. The story telling is down to earth and authentic.

The characters are rich and believable. Little Britches reminds me of the stories my grandmother used to tell me about working on the dairy farm and doing things like driving a milk delivery truck when she was a girl.

Ralph is given much freedom and responsibility. He regularly gets into scrapes as boys are apt to do. The book is full of strong moral lessons that flow from the story quite naturally. Ralph has a great deal of respect and love for his father, who is a quiet man full of wisdom and advice. The portrayal of the father son relationship is a touching one.

Mother regularly reads literature to the family and occasionally quotes the Bible. The family members also amuse themselves by performing plays.

This book is a picture of how life was during that short period of Ralph’s life and contains both humor and sadness.

An excellent read aloud.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Cameron Beierle and found it to be well done.

Issues that may be of concern (contains spoilers)

There is minor language from cowboys, water wars, tornado, hard living, fistfights, spankings, farm injuries, general rough and tumble incidents such as being thrown from a mule, ill parent, serious illness, death of a parent

SPOILER

There is a mention, without any gruesomeness at all, of a water bag made of a whole dog skin. I have no idea how I forgot that!littlebritches

The hardback I read as a child and now own is an edition similar to this one, minus the dust cover. I love the drawings throughout.

 

 

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Book Review | The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (The Jenna Fox Chronicles Book 1)

by Mary Pearson

“Faith and science, I have learned, are two sides of the same coin, separated by an expanse so small, but wide enough that one side can’t see the other. They don’t know they are connected.” 

“I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox.”

Seventeen year old Jenna Fox awakens from a coma with no memory of the accident that put her there, or of her family. She did not wake in a hospital, but in an unfamiliar house, but then everything is unfamiliar. Struggling to relearn how to speak, think, and function, Jenna starts to recover in a strange setting.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is book one in a trilogy.

The story is interesting, easy to follow and well written. Jenna’s confusion came through without being confusing to the reader. The story is steeped in secrets that unravel as time goes on. And these secrets are horrifying in true medical mystery, dystopian fashion.

I enjoy novels that make you think, and this is one that does. This book is good for discussion of many issues. The characters were believable and relatable. I felt the conclusion was satisfying.

SPOILERS

Jenna is horrified when she learns that her body is non-human, primarily made up of blue bio-gel, a substance her father invented. Ten percent of her brain is all that is left of the original Jenna.

After a terrible accident, Jenna’s parents could not let her go and devised a way to ‘download’ her mind into a static environment while they prepared a body. From Jenna’s point of view, this waiting environment is described as a dark, empty place where no one could hear her screams.

“Awareness
There is a dark place.
A place where I have no eyes, no mouth. No words.
I can’t cry out because I have no breath. The silence is so deep I want to die.
But I can’t.
The darkness and silence go on forever.
It is not a dream.
I don’t dream.”

Because of the extreme medical intervention her parents have undertaken, Jenna’s existence is ‘illegal’ and oversteps regulated medical limits.

In one part of the story, Jenna crosses into an area at a chapel she is not allowed. She also kisses a boy in the chapel, and the boy says a ‘bad word’ in the same scene. Jenna wonders if these things are ‘marks against’ her.

Jenna discovers her parents have kept the minds of her two friends who died in the accident and an additional backup Jenna in environments. The idea of keeping someone’s mind alive and actively trapped while their body is gone plays well on the fear most of us have of being trapped, unable to communicate our pain and distress.

If she is ever faced with charges stemming from the car accident, Jenna may need her friends to testify as witnesses to her innocence. This is why her parents have secretly procured their uploaded minds. Now Jenna must decide whether or not to let them go by destroying these ‘mind downloads’ and how to get into the locked room where they are kept.

There are religious themes throughout, with mentions of the grandmother genuflecting, Holy water, baptism and prayer.

Profanity/Sex/Violence

Several expletives typical of teens. In one scene Jenna uses a word she heard at school not knowing what it means.

Kissing between Jenna and a boy

Car accident, being burned in the accident, deaths as a result of accident, Jenna purposefully breaks dishes to see if she can override her parent’s commands, Jenna is accosted in the woods by a male classmate and fights back by grabbing his privates

Mature Themes and Issues

Definition of the Human Soul, Medical Ethics, Moral Limits of Medical Intervention, Quality of Life, Medical Decision Rights, Perfectionism, Searching for Self

In an interview, Mary Pearson said the seeds of this book were planted by the question of how far would a parent go to save their child.

I listened to the audiobook read by Jenna Lamia. It was well done and easy to listen to.

 

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