Monday, August 26, 2013

A Review of 'Between Shades of Gray' by Ruta Sepetys (Audio Book)

"Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941.  She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys.  Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known.  Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia.  Here they are forced under Stalin's order, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously-- and at great risk-- documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.  It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.  Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart."

I think this is my first audio book of the year.  I'm not sure why I keep forgetting about this form of reading... it's rather convenient!  I've been listening to audio books while I work this summer while I've been working.  It's great!

This is probably one of the more interesting books I've read this summer.  It takes place in Lithuania and Siberia during World War II.  I like this book because instead of reading from the perspective of someone under Hitler's power (I've read many books like this), this is written from the perspective of someone under Stalin's control.  It's a side of the war that I'm not very familiar with and a side that often flies under the radar (especially when Hitler gets most of the attention).  I still don't really know what happened, but this book has inspired me to try and learn more.

One of the more extreme jolts that I had while reading this book was that it seemed like Lina and the other prisoners were relatively okay with Hitler invading Russia.  I was sitting in my bed thinking, "Hitler's bad too!!!"  I'm not sure what situation would be worse to be in... was Stalin worse than Hitler?  Where does Mussolini fall?  Does is matter enough to have varying degrees of awful?

One thing the author highlighted for me at the end of the audio book was that she tried to emphasize the positive moments in her book.  These people were being overworked and they were starving and slowly dying, but they had a decent number of potatoes for dinner at times.  Sometimes they met someone who was willing to help them (including some of the Russian people overworking them).

The recording was not my favorite.  I listened to the recording for long periods of time each time I sat down to listen.  Her voice just didn't sit well with me after a while.  I don't know if the characters became too whiny or if her voice was too breathy... I don't know what it is, but it didn't feel like it worked for me and it didn't feel like it worked for the characters in the story either.

This is really an interesting part of World War II and I intend to explore it further.  This book will be good for the history buffs and those who are looking for something a little darker to read.

I give 'Between Shades of Gray':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, August 19, 2013

A Review of 'Ginger Pye' by Eleanor Estes

"Meet the marcelous Pyes--

There is Mrs. Pye, the youngest mother in town; Mr. Pye, a famous bird man, who handles all the nation's important bird problems; Rachel Pye, who is so reasonable she can make unreasonable ideas sound like good ones; Jerry Pye, who know about rocks of all sorts and plans to grow up to be a rock man; Uncle Bennie, who is Jerry and Rachel's uncle-- even though he's only three years old.

Lastly is Ginger Pye, the "intellectual dog," who Jerry bought for a hard-earned dollar.  The most famous pup in all of Cranbury, Ginger knows tons of tricks, is as loyal as he is smart, and steals the hearts of everyone he meets... until someone steals him!"

This book has been on my shelf for ages and I have finally gotten around to reading it!

Ginger Pye has so many interesting anecdotes in it which makes this a lovely read.  I can't say that I was blown away by it, but there were a number of really adorable and funny parts that I will probably remember long after finishing this.  For example, when Ginger climbs the fire escape in an effort to find out where Jerry goes all day long, the perpendicular swimmer, dusting the pews...  They were small yet interesting details in the book that I just loved.

What I didn't like about this book was that everyone seemed so passive in their efforts to find Ginger after he went missing.  At first they had search parties, but then it got to a point where they'd just look a little bit if they were already going out.  When they went to knock on doors, they weren't very assertive at all.  When they were told to go away, they left.  They didn't ask questions.  Even if they had seen suspicious activity.

I guess I'm just disappointed that this book didn't have more action in it.  No chases, not a very dramatic find... I just wasn't blown away by that.

Overall, this book is good for elementary school kids and lovers of children's books and dogs.  Had I read this book when I was younger, I might have liked it a little more.

I give 'Ginger Pye':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, August 12, 2013

A Review of 'Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure' by Emma Campbell Webster

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception.

Your name: Elizabeth Bennet.  Your misson: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal.  How?  It's entirely up to the reader.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure begins with Pride and Prejudice, but your decisions along the way will lead you into the plots of Austen's other works, and even newly imagined territory.  Choosing to walk home from Netherfield Hall means falling into Sense and Sensibility and the infatuating spell of Mr. Willoughby.  Accepting an invitation to Bath leads to Northanger Abbey and the beguiling Henry Tilney.  And just where will Emma's Mr. Knightly fit in the quest for a worthy husband?  It's all up to the reader.

Lost in Austen is a labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages that will delight and challenge any Austen lover.  Will Elizabeth succeed in her mission?  It's all up to you."

This is one of the books I'm going to have to use for my Lit Theory class this coming semester.  We're studying Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and several variations of it (including Bridget Jones's Diary and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, both of which you'll see reviews on this blog, at some point). 

This was a fun book for me because, never having successfully finished a Jane Austen novel, I didn't feel compelled to follow the original plot of Pride and Prejudice.  And I didn't... when I reached the end of my adventure, I had gotten annoyed by a man of the cloth who was following me around throughout a party, left, "caused" him to follow me (malarkey), ran him over with my carriage (thus killing him), and being sent to prison, blamed for this man's death.  Needless to say, I did not achieve my goal of marrying prudently and for love.  Hmmm...

I liked the little comments written after certain paragraphs throughout the books.  They were so judgmental that I had to laugh!  It was also fun (yet a little frustrating) to keep track of points.  Unless I am specifically instructed to keep track of points when I read this again for my class, I probably won't do that.

This is a great book for the Jane Austen fan or even if you're just getting used to Jane Austen's style, as I am.  It's a great way to get your feet wet.

I give 'Lost in Austen':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, August 5, 2013

A Review of 'A Million Little Pieces' by James Frey

"At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his four front teeth knocked out, his nose broken, and a hole through his cheek.  He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks.  An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing.  There he was told he could either stop using or die before he reached age 24.  This is Frey's acclaimed account of his six weeks in rehab."

It took about a year and a half to start and finish this book, but I have finally done it.

It took me such a long time to finish this because of the content, mostly.  I have never cringed so much, been so uncomfortable, and yet been so on-board with the emotional roller coaster that James Frey takes his readers on.

The writing style was very interesting.  A lot of repetition, no quotation marks, but a lot of line breaks to make up for it and contribute to clarity.  This is essentially a 432-paged prose poem.  The writing style makes this a dense read as well as the content of the book.

Aside from style, this was such an amazing, inspiring, and in some ways a completely unbelievable read.  James was put into a six week rehab program and he ignored the rules a lot, didn't care for the twelve step AA program and made sure people knew, and just generally marched to the beat of his own drum.  Yet, he emerged from the program a completely changed guy.  Six weeks to go from F-up to roughly a put-back-together person.  It seems nearly impossible that that much change can happen in six weeks.

If you're looking for a book about a miraculous recovery, one that takes you through just about every step of recovery as he experiences it, this is a book for you.  Especially if you don't mind excessive swearing and little punctuation.

I give 'A Million Little Pieces':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, August 2, 2013

This Is What I've Been Working On This Summer...

This summer, I've been working on my college campus as a gardener.  It has been a wonderful experience and I really hope that I will be able to do this again next year.  My schedule is flexible, my boss is very understanding, and I've finally been able to take this section of sidewalk over as my area, so I am alone a lot of the time.  I am very fortunate to have such a job and to be surrounded by this much beauty.  

The area has really grown up since the first week of June, when I started (although everyone else started a week before me, but I decided to hang out with my fifth graders via chaperoning a field trip instead.  Totally worth it).  I decided that it was finally nice enough to share some pictures with you.