State of Wonder

Ann Patchett, acclaimed author of Bel Canto, has written another New York Times Bestseller. State of Wonder takes it's readers from the frigid pharmaceutical company in Minnesota into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The protagonist in this novel is research scientist Dr. Marina Singh. She is sent into the rainforest to find another researcher, Dr. Annick Swenson, who is working for the same company as her. There have been few reports from Dr. Swenson on her progress and she is for all purposes, impossible to track down. No one knows where she is, and the last person sent to get updates, Dr. Singh's colleague, Anders, died before he could return. The premise of the novel is interesting enough for any reader to want to pick it up, but what makes this novel sublime is the ability Patchett has to completely engross her readers in this foreign world yet still make it connectable. The juxtaposition of the beauty of this wondrous world and the dangers that lie underneath is another highlight of the novel. The only thing I didn't like was the hasty conclusion. Similar to Bel Canto, the climax of the action and adventure is just a few short pages from the ending, leaving much of the wrap-up and reactions to the big-reveal in short sentences that leave a little too much for the reader's imagination. Yet, it was an eye-opening look at two worlds, science and nature, colliding in a majestical environment. And, however much I didn't like the ending, State of Wonder was a fantastic novel that pulls you in and won't let you stop reading until the very end. Rating: ★★★★


Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

It takes a lot to destroy tradition, to uproot a society that has not changed for hundreds upon hundreds of years, yet, it can happen. Japanese society was largely un-influenced by Western society. Instead of submitting to Western imperialism, as China had, Japan became an imperial power. As the 20th century wore on, Japan grew stronger and stronger. Nonetheless, in World War II, Japan's enemy, namely the United States, destroyed the very bonds that had held Japan together since the beginning. Japanese author Kenzaburo Oe expresses the demise of the Japanese culture of self-protection into selfishness in his novel Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (Also known as "Pluck the Bud and Destroy the Offspring). A group of 15 reformatory boys are sent to live in a remote village in the Japanese mountains towards the end of the war. From their arrival to their abandonment to their community to their destruction, the boys are self-protective and attempt to hold on to their spirit of camaraderie that has been instilled in them since they were young. The reason that this novel is so interesting is because it is a reversal of roles; instead of the elders trying to salvage tradition, it is the kids. Instead of only fighting for their best interests, the boys stick together. Their self-protection creates a community in Japan similar to those found before the war "sent its mass insanity flooding into the convolutions of people's feelings" (26). The novel was translated into English by Paul St. John Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama. It was Oe's first novel, written when he was only 23. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. It reminded me of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, yet it wasn't the same at all. I hope you enjoy reading it! Rating: ★★★★★


One Year!

I can't believe that it's been just a little over a year since I started (Welcome Post). Time flies! I've been pretty busy with schoolwork, so once its break or I have a lull in my tests, I will continue to update...



I just read a book of poetry for English class, and I figured, why not write about it on here. It was by renowned American poet C. K. Williams, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2000, and it is the most recent book of his long career. Williams is a poet who uses his poetry to comment on the world. A lot of the poems are written in a style modeled after Walt Whitman, in fact, Williams cites Whitman as one of his major inspirations. Wait is about death and sadness, but is also an analysis of the fallacies he sees in the world. In many poems, he lets the reader experience his thoughts un-filtered. For example, in his poem I Hate, he writes "I hate how this unsummoned sigh-sound, sob-sound/not sound really, feeling, sigh-feeling, sob-feeling/ keeps rasping in me..." The poem is one loong sentence that is Williams deciphering the basis of his sadness, which I highly recommend you read. Williams cannot imagine that America will turn out for the better, yet as one review writes, "Williams continues to search for the good in America....[he] is a pessimist who longs to feel otherwise...to retain a margin of faith in America as a society capable of good." I've never really read poetry before, besides skimming through Selected Poems by e. e. cummings, and of course, Robert Frost's poem Nothing Gold Can Stay along with a few other random assortment of poems in English classes throughout the year. Wait was the first poetry book I read on my own and fully, and I strongly recommend it. Rating: ★★★★


Long Walk to Freedom

The autobiography of Nelson Mandela exceeded my expectations. Before reading, I thought it would simply be a story of Mandela's life and his journey to becoming one of the most prominent leaders in Africa. I was wrong. It was a story of triumph, defeat, sacrifice, strength, and the emergence of a world leader.I read the version published in 1995, halfway through his presidency. The only thing omitted, purposely, from his history - "the alleged complicity of F. W. de Klerk in the violence of the eighties and nineties, or the role of his ex-wife Winnie Mandela in that bloodshed." Divided into eleven parts, taking the reader on the journey from Mandela's childhood in the Traneski region of South Africa, to the birth of a freedom fighter, to the Riviona Trial, to Robben Island, to Freedom. The Los Angeles Times Book Review says that Mandela's book was "One of the few political autobiographies that's also a page-turner." The story of Mandela's life is an epic journey from the very beginning. Mandela has always been interesting to me (If you haven't seen Invictus, starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, go watch it (trailer) right now) It's not hard to get completely absorbed in his life, but the format of the book (11 Parts) makes it easy to break up. A 625-page-book, it took me quite a while to get through. But, towards the end, when he is getting released from prison, I quite literally could not stop reading. When you have time, or want a book that can stretch over a month without getting boring, Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom is for you! Rating: ★★★★★


The Elephant's Journey

A José Saramago book, this takes the author on a story of Solomon, an elephant, and Subhro, his mahout (elephant keeper in Hindi). It begins with Solomon and Subhro in Portugal in 1551. King João of Portugal (in English, John I of Portugal) decides that an elephant is the perfect wedding gift for the archduke of Austria. One reviewer writes that, "In his understanding of people, he brings something very rare - a disillusion that allows affection and admiration, a clear-sighted forgiveness." The novel is narrated by Saramago, and it is seamlessly interwoven with the different perspectives of the characters, from Subhro to the archduke to the man who sells oxen. Solomon and Subhro "journey on foot from Lisbon to Valladolid, to Catalonia, by sea to Genoa, on to Venice, over the Alps." The narrative is "whimsical yet compulsive readable" and it is an all together great read. Whereas other Saramago novels such as Blindness / SeeingThe Cave are set in a dystopian world, The Elephant's Journey is unique in the fact that it takes us back in time. Also, the plot is extremley easy and simple to follow, which makes this novel not only enjoyable but it lets the reader enjoy the complexity and beauty of Saramago's writing. "It must be said that history is always selective, and discriminatory too, selecting from life only what society deems to be historical and scorning the rest, which is precisely where we might find the true explanation of facts, of things, of wretched reality itself. In truth, I say to you, it is better to be a novelist, a fiction writer, a liar." (180) Saramago has this way of twisting his opinions throughout the story without letting on that he is digressing from the plot. I have read three of his other novels, and I must say, this is either my favorite or second-favorite among them. Rating: ★★★★


The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This is a novel all high school students should read. It was published in 1999, but it focuses on Charlie, a high school freshman from 1991-1992. It was written in letters to an anonymous "friend", and strangely the first letter was written August 25th, 1991. I read the book almost exactly twenty years after it takes place. The book addresses everything that goes on in a teenager's life and more; drugs, alcohol, friends, awkwardness, siblings, family, etc. It is a coming-of-age novel in one sense, but in another it is about the life of a wallflower, Charlie, someone who's there and observes and sees things that others don't. As Charlie is described in the book, "You see things.  You keep quiet about them.  And you understand." On the jacket of the book, Perks is described as "This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school.  More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating." And I could not agree more. I felt like I was a part of the story, and I could not stop reading (to be honest, it took me one morning to read this 213 page novel). It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger in the fact that both Charlie and Holden are completely honest with the reader in their thoughts and feelings and whatnot. Chbosky has said that Salinger's novel is an inspiration for him. It was made into a movie, which is now in post-production. It stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, Nina Dobrev as Charlie's sister, Paul Rudd as Bill and Ezra Miller as Patrick. I cannot wait until it comes out in theaters! I would not only recommend this book to high schoolers (even though that is the targeted reading age) but to everyone. It was amazing, and it was one of those books after you finish reading it where you just sit there and think. Charlie has this one line towards the beginning of the book, "I feel infinite." It think that line just really deeply resonated with me, as I'm sure it does with every other teenager. Rating: ★★★★★


Island Beneath the Sea

The story of Tété, born into slavery in the 1760s on the island Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), and the story Toulouse Valmorian, a French plantation owner who arrives in Saint-Domingue in the 1770s, run parallel and inter lap and weave together over 40 years in this unbelievable novel. Allende's historical novel has all the workings of a full-fledged saga. Tété's story is heartbreaking, and she is "determined to find love amid loss and forge her own identity in the cruelest of circumstances." However, this book is not all about love and soul-searching; at its core, it is about the harsh realities of slavery. Her novel is "intensely personal and contextually personal." I loved reading about the Haitian revolution from a different point of view than my textbook's. It was the first and only truly successful slave revolt in the new world, led by Toussaint L'Overture. Towards the end of the novel, it becomes not only a story about the Haitian people, but about blacks in America. This was a quick and easy read, and it must have taken me two days, at most, to finish. A really interesting note - the book was originally written in Spanish (the author is Peruvian) but later translated into English. I recommend this for a multitude of reasons but essentially it is a perfect easy read for the end of the summer! Rating: ★★★★★


Unaccustomed Earth & Interpreter of Maladies

Two novels by Jhumpa Lahiri that focus on Indian-American families. They are both composed of short stories that focus on family; with many topics from marital difficulties, children, cultural differences, arranged marriages. They are so good. The stories are so perfect; in total there are 17 stories and each is as good as the one before it. Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000 and Unaccustomed Earth: Stories was the New York Times' Book Review best book of the year in 2008. Obviously, these two books are both highly acclaimed works of fiction. I think it is because of the way Lahiri emotionally gets her point across in a story in such a short period of time. What takes full-length novels at least a quarter of the book to get the reader attached to the protagonist, it takes Lahiri two or three pages. Which I think is incredible, and hope to emulate in my own short story writing. Both Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth highlight the difficulties many first generation immigrants have, bridging the cultural gap between America and India. "Lahiri's stories show the diasporic struggle to keep hold of culture as characters create new lives in foreign cultures." (source) Lahiri also wrote a full-length novel, The Namesake, which is the same storyline as her short stories (Bengali immigrants in America) but expanded. It was just as good as her short stories, and like her short stories, examines first-generation Indian-Americans and their struggles combining their parents' way of life with their peers. It was made into a movie, which I have not seen yet. Interpreter and Earth are two very moving collections of short stories, and I highly recommend going to read one, or both, as soon as you get the chance! Rating: ★★★★★


This Is Where I Leave You

The book begins with the death of the father of Judd Foxman, the narrator. Judd is called back to his family home to sit shiva, a week-long grieving period by Jews. Judd's family is comically dysfunctional.  As the Amazon description writes, "As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it's a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family." To be honest, I did not like Tropper's novel. Yes, the story was interesting, but it felt very un-original. No, I have never read a book about a family sitting shiva, but in reading it, I felt like I had read it before. As the NYT book review, Eyes May be Moist, but the Jokes are Dry, puts it, "wild yet all-too-plausibly rendered friends, siblings and other relations." It was funny at some parts, definitely (the rabbi's back story and the family's nickname for him is quite hilarious) but at other times it was just Judd wallowing in his misery, mad at his life. Judd is glum and mopey, and his snarky comments get old after a while. I wouldn't suggest reading this unless you are a fan of Tropper's other works (The Book of Joe, Everything Changes, Plan B) all of which I have not had the opportunity to read yet. Rating: ★★★

The Forgotten Garden

The quest to find one's true identity is a tired and true story, yet Kate Morton magnificently delivers the story of Nell. Nell was abandoned on a ship to Australia in 1913, and arrives alone with nothing but clothes and a volume of fairy tales. When she turns 21, the dockmaster who took her in tells her the truth and "with her shattered sense of self" she sets out to find who she is. Nell never achieves finding out who she is, but her granddaughter, Cassandra continues the quest. Interwoven through the novel are the accounts of Nell, Cassandra, Rose, and Eliza (Rose and Eliza relate to Nell's past - but I can't tell you how!!) When Nell finds out she's adopted, she says to the reader "His [Her adoptive father's] words had tossed the book that was her life into the air and the pages had been blown into disarray, could never be put back together to tell the same story." Morton's story is one big and very complex fairy tale, with no happy ending. Within the fairy tale is a mystery that keeps the reader engaged and speculating on the ending. The author gives the reader clues in small bits, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going to happen. The ending leaves you satisfied but sad that Nell never got to find out who she really was. Rating: ★★★★★


The Magicians

You know a book is going to be good when it starts out with a map of a far away land. Critically acclaimed, and a new york times bestseller, the Magicians by Lev Grossman is the story of Quentin Coldwater, who is "unexpectedly admitted into an elite, secret college of magic."As George R.R. Martin (author of the A Game of Thrones series (which I'm currently reading!! and will post about at a later date)) wrote about Grossman's novel "These days any novel about young sorcerers at wizard school inevitably invites comparison to Harry Potter...The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well to Harry, but don't mistake this for a children's book. Grossman's sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists. Hogwarts was never like this." I couldn't agree more. However much I love love love the Harry Potter series, this is a more mature and realistic book. The sequel, The Magician King, actually came out a mere six days ago (I'm awaiting my copy). I think I've read this book at least twice, if not three times, because it's just so good! Rating: ★★★★★

Young Adult Books

A few months ago, I compiled a post of Children's Books highlighting my top eight children's novels. Now, I decided to do the same for Young Adult books (but there are seven on this list). (Harry Potter will be excluded from this list, as it was not put on the Children's list - a harry potter appreciation post will come in the near future!) (*note - boys might not like 3 - 7 because they're aimed at girl readers)

1) The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. A great dystopian trilogy  about America in the future where two tributes are sent from 12 districts to fight to the death. The last tribute standing receives a grand prize for his or her district. It is narrated by 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. If you haven't read these yet, GO READ!

2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - narrated by Death, "This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul." It is the story of Liesel, a foster girl living outside of Munich who finds a desire for books. "It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery..."

3) Sold by Patricia McCormick - about Lakshmi, a 13-year-old girl who is sold into prostitution by her stepfather. Written entirely in vignettes, her story is one that you will never forget. Although fiction, prostitution in India is a huge problem; the Human Rights Watch says there are approximatley 15 million prostitutes in India (source)

4) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. A classic coming-of-age tale about a young girl from an Irish-American family growing up in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. A true American classic, there isn't much to describe about this - it's a story of family, perseverance, growing up, and life.

Nine Parts of Desire

Geraldine Brooks, who worked as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, lived, worked, and traveled in the Middle East for six years, writes this book about Muslim women. As the book is described on the back, "Nine Parts of Desire is much more than a captivating work of firsthand reportage; it is also an acute analysis of the world’s fastest-growing religion, deftly illustrating how Islam’s holiest texts have been misused to justify the repression of women." Brooks writes from her personal experience, combining anecdotal stories with the past and present, all weaving together perfectly. Mostly, I stay away from non-fiction because of how boring I usually find non-fiction books. But this book was different; it was interesting and a captivating read. As the NYT Book Review says, "[Brooks] avoids both the sensational and the stereotypical...a valid, entertaining account of women in the Muslim world." She writes about a range of topics - from the Prophet Muhammad's wives to jihad to Queen Noor to clitoridectomy. Muslim women, she argues, are blamed for everything by Muslim men. The title of her book is from a quote by Ali ibn Abu Taleb (husband of Fatima, Muhammad's daughter, and founder of the Shiite sect of Islam) - "Allah created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men." While this book may seem very religious, it is more of a study of women than of Islam - it's a study of how women are oppressed because of interpretations of the Koran. Rating: ★★★★


Letters To A Young Contrarian

Christopher Hitchens writes this masterful book to the reader ("Dear X") about inspiring new generations of contrarians (one who opposes or rejects popular opinion; going against current practice. As the back of the book says, "There is no one writing today with a greater understanding of the importance of disagreement - to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress, to democracy itself." As I began reading, I immediately began to like Hitchens. The way he addresses the reader, his ideas, and simply is writing. For example, Hitchens writes that we don't aspire to any paradise (or in his words, "hazy, narcotic Nirvana) because human nature, critical and ironic, would become useless. Hitchens writes, "Imagine a state of endless praise and gratitude and adoration...and you have conjured a world of hellish nullity and conformism. Imagine a state of bliss and perpetual happiness and harmony, and you have summoned a vision of tedium and pointlessness and predictability, such as Huxley with all his gifts was only able to sketch." (24-25) I love this quote for two reasons - one, for its mention of Brave New World and two, for the pure logic and simplicity in which he completely destroys the basis of every religion since Hinduism (founded 3000 BCE). Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 25 most influental liberals in the U.S. media but said because " he styles himself a 'radical,' will likely be aghast to find himself on this list." (source, Forbes) As I was reading Letters to a Young Contrarian, I kept a running list of terms, events, people, quotes that he mentions that I wanted to look further into or found interesting. One quote that stuck with me - "The truth cannot lie, but if it could it would lie somewhere in between." Also, a warning, his vocabulary is extremley sophisticated - so much so I had to pause after every page to look up words. Some interesting words I learned (see how many you know!)- euphony, anomie, propitious, chiaroscuro, fatuous, ashram, thralldom, unfettered, salient, agnosticism, turgid, cretinous, and repartee. I am currently attempting to get through his memoir, Hitch-22, but I literally cannot read more than five pages at a time without my brain exploding. In conclusion, read this if you want an intellectually stimulating novel. At only 141 pages, it seems small, but it is so jam-packed with information that you need to read it 10x slower than your normal pace. The only critique I would have of this book is that you legitimately need to sit with a computer at the ready to be able to look up all of his references and fancy vocabulary! Rating: ★★★★

The Handmaid's Tale

A dystopian novel set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead, The Handmaid's Tale is a disturbingly possible future where women have no control over their lives. Margaret Atwood, as amazon.com describes the novel, "[It] has endured not only as a literary landmark but as a warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant" (Similar to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World [see my post about it here] or George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four). The story is told by Offred ("of Fred"- her name is assigned to her, after the Commander (Fred) she serves), a Handmaid who's role in the community is to "lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant" and then deliver a child to be raised by his "morally fit" wife. That is how society works in Gilead - every woman has a role in which they cannot deviate from. Gilead was founded on a far-right wing view of the world; its leaders are racist and male chauvinistic and they turn America into a theocracy. Women are forbidden to read, and signs have become pictures. As the book is described on its inside cover, "In the world of the near future the Handmaid's only purpose is to produce a child..." However dark and gloomy this book sounds (like 1984), it is a gripping read. The terms and what is going on is often hard to comprehend in the beginning, because the reader is not used to this new society. Just as paranoia was omnipresent in 1984, the paranoia in Atwood's novel is widespread - no one wants to be arrested by the "Eyes" (similar to Orwell's "Thought Police"). The name of the Republic, Gilead, is thought to be a Biblical reference to the Book of Genesis, in the story of how Rachel and Leah compete in "bearing sons for their husband by using handmaids and taking immediate possession of the children they produce. In the context of Atwood's book, the story is one of female competition, jealousy, and reproductive cruelty." (source, Wikipedia). Rating: ★★★★


Day After Night

After the tragedy of the Holocaust, many Jews went to Israel, but were soon forced into British illegal immigrant camps. Anita Diamant writes a story telling of Atlit detainee camp through the eyes of four women; Shayndel (a Polish Zionist), Leonie (a Parisian Jew), Tedi (a Dutch Jew who was hidden during the war), and Zorah (a Polish concentration camp survivor). It first starts off confusing as you figure out how the women are connected - but once you figure out all their back stories and what is going on, the novel becomes extremley addictive in finding out what will happen to Shayndel, Leonie, Tedi, and Zorah. While this novel is fiction, Diamant based it on a true story of the October 1945 breakout at Atlit. She says about the back stories of her characters and why it was so important to them to keep their stories secret, "There was a great deal of silence and secrecy about the horrors of the Holocaust after the war. There was a world filled with guilt; survivors who felt they didn't deserve to be alive when their loved ones had died." I recommend this novel not only because of the stories of these women, but because of the inspiration they instill. Rating: ★★★★★
Kindle Day After Night


The Lacuna

This novel is Barbara Kingsolver's most recent piece of literature (she has also written The Poisonwood Bible - see my post about that novel here) and it is my favorite. It tells the story of Harrison William Shepard, following him from 1929 to 1951. In 1929, the reader meets him on a hacienda in Isla Pixol. Its very confusing at first, and it took me a few times to really get started reading - every time I put it down I would have to restart at the beginning because I was so confused. But after the first chapter or two, it makes much more sense and you're suddenly unable to put it down. One day, he mixes plaster for the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He then joins the Rivera household as cook and typist for Rivera, his artist wife, Frida Kahlo and later for their guest, the exiled Communist leader Leon Trotsky (exiled to Mexico by Stalin in their struggle for power after Lenin's death). This novel is wrapped up in history - it is an epic journey from the "Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover." It covers topics such as a boy with a mixed-culture identity (Mexican mother, American father) and the Red Scare following the end of WWII. I highly recommend it to everyone - you don't have to be interested in history at all to enjoy this novel, when I read it, half the references completely passed over my head and now, looking back, it all makes sense. As the book description writes, "With deeply compelling characters, a vivid sense of place, and a clear grasp of how history and public opinion can shape a life, Barbara Kingsolver has created an unforgettable portrait of the artist—and of art itself. The Lacuna is a rich and daring work of literature, establishing its author as one of the most provocative and important of her time."
Yet, even though I didn't understand who Trotsky was and what he was doing in Mexico if he was a Russian communist, it was still a beautifully written novel, and I hope you get the chance to read it! Rating: ★★★★★


Children's Books

So I decided to compile a list of five six (this list can go on forever!) eight essential books and/or authors that I believe are some (but definitely not all) of the best children books out there. The list is not in order of best to least, they're all awesome! I apologize for the extremley long post...

1) The author  Eva Ibbotson has written fantastic books about ghosts, witches, wizards, magic, and the sort because "they are just like people but more madder and more interesting" - including Which Witch?, Island of the Aunts, Not Just a Witch, Dial-a-Ghost, Journey to the River Sea, Secret of Platform 13, and on and on...

2)  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a classic "children's adventure novel" and "modern fairy tale." The book has been made into a movie, The Phantom Tollbooth, and is a critically acclaimed novel "So many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible."

3)  Shel Silverstein's poems - my favorite. My copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends has been read so often that it is falling apart! Pages 39 (Me and My Giant) to 146 (If the World Was Crazy) are no longer attached to the binding, however much I try. My favorite Silverstein poem is "Come In!" (see Welcome, my first blog post). Some of his other books include Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree (which I think I've read in English, Spanish, and Hebrew at different points)

4) The Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne. Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4 is the place to start, and once you begin reading, as my little brother will attest to, you just want to keep going! The adventures of Jack and Annie are entertaining and interesting, and they throw some history lessons (albeit unnoticed by the children reading them) into the mix.

5) Andrew Clements' books; Frindle, The School Story, The Landry News, The Report Card, being my favorites.  They all revolve around school, so the age-range Clements is aiming for can really identify with the main characters.


Alice I Have Been

"Part love story, part literary mystery, Melanie Benajmin's spellbinding historical novel leads readers on an unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole, to tell the story of a woman whose own life became the stuff of legend." This captivating novel tells the story of Alice in Wonderland, as narrated by Alice herself. It never tells the story of the story we all know and love by Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, but it tells the story behind it. I know I say this about a lot of books, but this story was so mesmerizing that I could not put it down! It's a bit of a slow start, but it builds up quickly. The story brings you full circle, beginning with Alice at 81 reminiscing on her childhood. I have to say, I think this is the most clever adaptation of the story of Alice that I have ever read or seen. Throughout the entire novel, there was a little voice in the back of my head asking, did this really happen? And apparently, I wasn't the only one thinking that. In the back of the novel, there is a section where Melanie Benjamin answers just that, and I was surprised and happy with the answer (yes! some of it is real!) but I won't go into specifics, not wanting to spoil you. There have been many additions to Alice's story - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (actually a pseudonym for a Charles Dodgson, an Oxford professor of mathematics), the movie that came out in 2010 (starring Johnny Depp and and Mia Waslkowska), Alice in Wonderland, that shows Alice returning to Wonderland (it's on Netflix Instant, for those of you who wish to watch it) , and of course, the disney version of the story - Alice in Wonderland. After reading the novel (which I hope you do), look at this picture (it is the one Mr. Dodgson refers to often - it is Alice as his "wild child"). This is also a great book club book - as the reviews on the back proclaim. I hope you enjoy this amazing story of Alice as much as I did. Rating: ★★★★★



Definitely one of the more disturbing books I've read, Room tells the story of Jack, a 5-year-old, living in an 11 foot by 11 foot Room, with his Ma. Room is Jack's home, and Ma's prison. It's where she has been trapped for seven years. Told from Jack's point of view, you cannot put down this book once you start. However disgusting it was at parts, it was impossible for me to tear my eyes off the page. The story of Jack and Ma is horrible - Ma was kidnapped off the streets at 19 and forced to live in Room (a shed in her captor's backyard) and be a sex slave for 7 years, giving birth to two children, but only one survived. Jack, though, has no idea anything is wrong. To him, anything outside the walls of Room, "Outer Space" as he calls it, isn't real. It simply doesn't exist. Ma has created this world for him, but it will only keep him for so long. I don't want to give anything else away, but I highly recommend reading this ONLY if you can read heavy material that is the topic of Room. At first, I was reluctant to read Room for fear of looking at something as horrible and obscene as kidnapping and rape through the eyes of a little kid. I didn't know what to expect, and I thought the child wouldn't be able to understand what was going on therefore I would be confused on what was happening. These thoughts were immediately dispelled when I began reading. While this is definitely not a novel I would read again and again, it is definitley one I'm glad I read, and I hope you will be too. Rating: ★★★★

Into The Wild

The story of Chris McCandless, a 24-year-old who hiked into the Alaskan Wilderness, hoping to go to a place where there's a "blank on the map." He wanted to leave society and be alone. Unfortunatley, he was ill-equipped for surviving in the Alaskan Wilderness, and he died after four months of living in the Wilderness. McCandless' remains were found after 4 months, and weighing only 67 pounds, it is assumed he died of starvation. Author Jon Krakauer (Where Men Win Glory, Under the Banner of Heaven, Into Thin Air, to name a few) was taken by McCandless' story, and decided to share it with the world. He doesn't just simply tell what happened to Chris McCandless from the moment he entered the Alaskan Wilderness into when his body was found - that would make for a very boring journey. Instead, he expertly weaves McCandless' journey to Alaska and the people he impacted on his way there. He also draws parallels between McCandless and a few others that have gone "into the wild" completely unprepared for what lay ahead, inspired by the romantic ideals of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Because of this book, McCandless' journey into Alaska has faced a lot of criticism. Alaskan Park Ranger said "I am exposed continually to what I will call the 'McCandless Phenomenon.' People, nearly always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are practically nonexistent...When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. First off, he spent very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived...without even a map of the area. If he [had] had a good map he could have walked out...Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide." So, read Into the Wild and see if you agree with this harsh interpretation of McCandless' journey, or was it simply the "death of an innocent" who lost his way in the woods (as Krakauer puts it)? Rating: ★★★★


The Book of Lost Things

Set in the early stages of WWII in England, the novel opens with 12-year-old David coping with the loss of his mother. She had succumbed to cancer, and David feels like it was his fault. Then it goes to four or five months later, and David's father is dating again and the woman who he is dating, Rose, gets pregnant. David and his father go to live in a house on the countryside where David swears he hears books talking to him and his mother's voice calling his name. This book may sound strange, but it is so extremely well written. The only thing I would warn of is that parts of the book are a bit creepy, for lack of a better word. The ways Connolly twists the tales are certainly very interesting, and disturbing. In an interview (in the back of the book), he describes why fairy tales are so important to the book. "Because they're so elemental, I suppose. I was always interested in something that the Brothers Grimm wrote in the introduction to one of their collections. They said tat every society, and every age, produced its own version of the same tales....In The Book of Lost Things, they become the building blocks for the creation of the wold into which David retreats after the death of his mother." I actually read The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales earlier this year (well, I'm about halfway through it - my version, the Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library one, copyright 1944 - is 864 pages long), and it was neat to be able to identify some of the stories that David encounters in his world. I recommend it, but only if you have an interest in fairy tales, or else you might find it a bit crazy. Rating: ★★★★



Again, sorry I haven't posted in a while. I just wanted to let you all know blogger recently added a new tool - follow by e-mail. So if you want to follow me and you don't feel like creating a blogger account, or checking on my blog every couple of weeks, just type your e-mail into the box below. Once you do this, every time I post it will be delivered straight to your inbox! I also wanted to highlight another feature - you can buy books from amazon by clicking on the link in the post. This makes it easier if you're reading about a book and you plan on buying it, you just click on the link within the post and it will take you straight to the amazon website. Okay, that's all for now. Hopefully I'll post some more books later!


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Written in letters, this novel begins with the story of author Juliet Ashton and her search for a story. She is tired of writing about the happy life after World War II, and wants to get back to writing about life during war. Living in England, she and others around her have been deeply affected by the Nazis and World War II. A farmer, Dawson, writes to Juliet, asking about an author, Charles Lamb. Juliet begins writing frequently to Dawson, and Dawson to her. Dawson tells her about Guernsey, and about life during the war. He tells her about a literary society that him and fellow Guernsey natives founded during the war, as a alibi against Nazis. Dawson tells his fellow members to write to Juliet and tell her about experiences. What unfolds is the story the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. She travels to Guernsey, and learns about "their island, their taste in books, and the powerful, transformative impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives." The citizens of Guernsey's lives were deeply impacted by the war, and Juliet is impacted deeply by these citizens. A soon to be classic, this is a WWII story, with romance, betrayal, mystery, and everything you can possibly wish for in a book. Rating: ★★★★★


The Five People You Meet In Heaven

The story centers on Morrie, a war veteran, who is very alone in life after the death of wife. He has been head of maintenance at Ruby Park, an amusement park, for as long as he can remember. On the morning of his 83rd birthday, he is killed in a tragic accident at the park. Then, as the book continues, and as the title suggests, he meets five people that have significantly impacted him, or he to them. He isn't in paradise, he is in five other people's heavens. In each heaven, he learns a lesson. He meets "The Blue Man" (a freak attraction at the amusement park) and learns about coincidences , "The Captain" (Eddie's commanding officer in the Philippines during WWII) and learns about sacrifices,  Ruby (the inspiration for Ruby Pier, Morrie's amusement park) teaches him about forgiveness, Marguerite (his wife) who teaches him about love, and I don't want to ruin the fifth one, so you should read the book! Mitch Albom is also the author of the Tuesdays with Morrie, a real story about a dying man who Albom interviewed every Tuesday. If you have not read that, do so immediately! This book makes you think about death and who are the five most important people in your life. I think, that is one of the most important things a book can do, is make you think about something and have a lasting impact on you. Rating: ★★★★★

A Novel Bookstore

A book for book lovers, A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse tellls the tale of Ivan George (Van), a bookseller on a quest to create "the perfect bookstore" selling only good books. This presents a challenge to Van. What is a good novel? Van, and his financier Francesca, decide to ask eight writers who they consider to be the most important writers of their time. They then create a bookstore called "The Good Novel" (They also created a website, which was put together so the reader can access it). After its opening, the bookstore does great, getting a loyal base of customers and solid sales. Then, things take a turn for the worse. Rival bookstores open, and negative stories come out about The Good Novel. One reviewer said, "By twisting in a plot of star-crossed lovers, talented writers with hidden powers, mediocre writers gone mad, standardless publishers gone green, crummy bookshops gone empty, and witless critics gone ignored, Cossé makes her book an engaging love story and also a gripping story of deceit, revenge, and despair." I couldn't agree more. A Novel Bookstore is the perfect story about a perfect bookstore. The novel brings up a number of questions, such as, what makes a book good - is it because of the author who wrote it, the critics love it, or because your friends and family recommend it? For me, it is a mix of all three. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and don't get turned off by the confusing beginning! Rating: ★★★★


A novel by Little Bee (read my review of that book here)author Chris Cleave, Incendiary tells the story of a woman who has lost her husband and son to a terrorist attack on a London football (soccer) stadium. It is a letter to Osama bin Laden, the leader of the notorious al Qaeda and it takes the reader through the mind of this woman and how she deals with losing her only child and husband. She tells bin Laden about herself and her family, "They say you are a FIEND Osama but like I say I don't believe a word of it. I've seen you in your videos. You give me the shivers and you look like a gentleman. My husband was a good man he was a gentleman too. You would of liked him....They say you believe that if your people kill anyone innocent then you're doing them a favour because they will go to believe with Allah. I wouldn't know about that. My husband didn't believe in Allah he believed in his kid and Arsenal football club." Incendiary means "capable of causing fire." To me, that definition strikes true with the story. When the narrator finds out that terrorists bombed the stadium, she is in bed with a lover. She is immediately filled with shame, and goes to the stadium attempting to find her family. But it is so chaotic there that she ends up in the hospital. While the pain, grief and guilt she carries with her never goes away, she tries to deal with the loss of her loved ones. She is a working class woman, and her poor use of grammar and East End slang may be a little confusing and hard to get read, the story is worth it. Creepily, the day Incendiary was published, al Qaeda bombed the London subways.


The Invisible Wall

A memoir written at 96 years old by Harry Bernstein. He was a Jewish boy growing up during World War I and his family lives on a street divided by an "invisible wall." This wall separates the Jewish side of the street from the Christian side. Harry's sister does the unthinkable, and falls in love with a boy from the other side. Harry finds out about this affair, and he is torn between what he knows is right in his heart (letting them be) or what is right in his head (telling his mother). It follows Harry through this moral conflict, and growing up while struggling to make ends meet. Since it is memories from 92 years ago, many have asked Harry, how does he remember the time from when he was four years old? He responds, "But how could I not remember them? How can you forget such things as my father's drunken roars when he came staggering home at night, and pulling the covers over my head in bed to shut out the sounds?...These are wounds inflicted on a young boy's mind that have left scars forever. There is nothing strange about my remembering such details." He wrote a sequel, The Dream: A Memoir, at the age of 97, about escaping poverty in England just to come to poverty in America. He also wrote a third memoir, The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime of Love, about life with his wife, Ruby. Why did he start writing so late? The loneliness after the death of his wife, Ruby, in 2002 after 67 years of marriage. A real-life Romeo and Juliet story through the eyes of a four year old, you will be moved to tears by Bernstein's stories. Rating: ★★★★

Let The Great World Spin

This novel is advertised as a 9/11 book, a book about the lives of New Yorkers.  Yet Colum McCann, in an interview, describes it differently. He says his book is not only about 9/11, but “The story comes right down to the ground, in the very dark of night, in the roughest part of New York…That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up.” McCann goes on to say, “…it doesn’t have to be a 9/11novel at all. It could also be just a book about New York in 1974 and how we are all intimately connected.” A major point McCann is trying to make in writing this book is that no matter how many different lives, different stories, New York City contains, it’s really a unified city. So in keeping with this theme, that New York is not a jumble of stories – but it is in fact one unified story – McCann chooses seemingly random narrators for his story, yet they all spin together in the end. It is narrated by eleven different people, most New Yorkers, all ordinary lives put together to form a tale of pre-9/11 Twin Towers and New York, yet written post-9/11. Where in most books there is a clear, definite, main character, there is no one main character in this book. When I begin to think that say, the tightrope walker (based on Philippe Petit) is the main character, I then think that Corrigan (based on Daniel Berrigan), the Irish priest living in the worst neighborhood of New York, or Jazzyln, a prostitute killed in a car accident. McCann so magnificently wraps together the stories, from pre-9/11 to post-9/11. The end of the book leaps forward to 2006, and is very tight and wrapped up – absolutely no loose ends. Yes, in a way this was extremely satisfying, and a nice conclusion. But in another, the reader is thinking in the back of their mind, there is no way real life is this perfect. And it isn’t. It almost felt wrong because of the perfect yet imperfectness of it all. Still, it was a breathtakingly beautiful portrait of New York City, and I highly recommend reading it (In 2009, it received the National Book Award for fiction!). Rating: ★★★★


Super Sad True Love Story

A dystopian novel taking place in a futurstic, electronic-centered America,  Gary Shteyngart's novel is an interesting look of what we will become. It focuses on Lenny Abramov, a 39-year-old who works at Post-Human Services, where they try to make people live forever. Lenny narrates the book, and throughout the novel the reader sees snippets from Eunice Park's, his girlfriend's, e-mail. It's a world where hardly anyone reads books anymore (there's a warning on the cover of the book: "READ AT YOUR OWN RISK! Harvard Fashion School Studies has been shown that reeding long-form texts and dicrease Shopping/Consumptioning abilities and cause eye strain problemz and unattractiveness in girlz aged 3 to 90") and where people are more concerned about their purchases than their families. As literary critic Edmund White proclaimed on the back of the book, "I never really believed in the horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the details of Super Sad True Love Story are all too convincing." I agree with him. It is completely possible that the world as we know it will be  sucked into consumerism and forget about books and literature all together. With items such as the Kindle (which is an awesome invention that I recommend 100%), books can be viewed as slowly dying out. I think that we have to strike an uneasy balance between the two - between the past and the future, books and e-readers, tradition and innovation. I highly suggest reading Super Sad True Love Story. If you like Shetyngart's work, you should also check out Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan, two of his other critically-acclaimed novels. Rating: ★★★★★


The Shadow of the Wind

Set in a post-World War II Barcelona, Spain, the story focuses on Daniel, a book dealer's son, who finds a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel becomes completely enthralled with the story and the author, Julián Carax. He then journeys to find other books by Carax, but he finds out someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has ever wrote. Daniel believes his copy of the Shadow of the Wind is the last Carax book in existence. Soon, Daniel's "seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona's darkest secrets - an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love." I found the book to be extremely suspenseful, and quite scary at times, and I could hardly put it down, for I feared what was to happen next. You never know what is going to happen and the plot twists are surprising and unexpected. Zafrón also wrote The Angel's Game, set in Barcelona, and centering around the same "Cemetery of Forgotten Books" that is central to his first book. This novel features David Martín, a struggling writer who gets a job from an extremely mysterious publisher that is "almost too good to be real." Some of the characters from Zafrón's first novel make an appearance in this one, and The Angel's Game, like The Shadow of the Wind, keeps you reading until the very end. I recommend both these books if you are looking for a good mystery novel to keep you guessing. Rating: ★★★★



Sorry, haven't posted in a while. The next week or so will still be a little hectic, expect more posts starting on or around January 27th.
Five books to keep reading until then....

  1. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie: Twelve short stories about Nigerian women in America and Nigeria.
  2. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé: A bookseller tries to make a story with only good books. Then rises the question...what is a good book?
  3. The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht: A holocaust novel about a Jewish Polish violin prodigy who, on the day before he is to make his debut, disappears.
  4. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry: Set in India during partition, it tells the story of three different people and how they survive and how their lives intertwine.
  5. The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma by Alex Kolowitz: The novel is centered around a black teenager's body that is found in the river, a river that separates a white town from a black town.